Change vital to preserve cultural institutions
OPINION: This year €47 million came via taxpayers; and they deserve value for money
There has been some recent commentary concerning the package of reforms that I am progressing for Ireland’s national cultural institutions which I would like to address. At the outset, I’d like to set out the overarching principles and challenges as I see them.
First, these institutions perform a vitally important function on behalf of all of us, especially those who pass their threshold to view any part of their collection. Our ongoing challenge has to be how we maintain and improve services to the public from these institutions.
Second, at a time of decreasing funding, we must examine how we can save money by encouraging institutions to work together and share services while, at the same time, encouraging private investment in their work.
And, third, any institution funded by the taxpayer has to be open to scrutiny and reform if necessary. Our national cultural institutions have received €47 million from the taxpayer this year, and the taxpayer deserves the best value for money from this investment.
Taking account of this, I am implementing reforms at the cultural institutions so they will run more efficiently, provide a better service to the public, and raise funds independently of the taxpayer. Many of these reforms are, I believe, long overdue.
For example, boards and advisory councils will have fewer members and all will serve without fees. This will save some €350,000 per annum based on 2011 figures.
The three galleries – the National Gallery of Ireland, IMMA and the Crawford – will put in place a detailed agreement on the sharing of services including marketing, procurement, storage, security and retail services. My department will also provide services, such as IT and finance to some of the institutions. Staff performing these functions can instead focus on their core role – the management of important collections and the provision of services to the public. This, to me, makes common sense.
And, the work of the Culture Ireland division of my department will amplify the work of other Government departments and agencies that represent Ireland on the global stage. This is a small country and it is vitally important that agencies work together to project the best possible result for Ireland overseas, in cultural terms and as a good place to live, work and invest.
To me, these are pragmatic reforms which will make the most of the diminishing resources we have available. I know that funding available to me for the running of institutions will continue to decrease in the immediate future. This is a challenge that, as Minister, I have to face head on.
In recent commentary there has been a particular focus on the National Archive, National Museum and National Library which I would also like to address.
The National Archives is part of my department. It is headed by a statutorily independent director. It is ably assisted by an advisory council chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton. And it has proven itself successful in raising money from private sources to support its work. This is the model of governance that I am now introducing at the National Museum and National Library.
As part of this, I will bring forward legislation to strengthen the independence of the director at each of these institutions. A new national museum and national library advisory council will have an outward-facing role in seeking philanthropic support for these institutions. The two institutions will be working more closely together to share services. And my department will offer support functions so as to release more staff for the provision of services to the public.
I believe these reforms will allow for the best combination of what these institutions need to face the challenges ahead. These institutions should have, and will have, strong leadership from independent directors, along with more co-operation with other institutions and with the department, a new focus on attracting funding from private sources and the deployment of existing staff to frontline services.
There is no “one size fits all” model. Different institutions have different structures. The Louvre Museum in Paris is headed by a director who reports to the French government. The Smithsonian in the United States comprises a wide range of diverse institutions, including museums, libraries and zoos, all under one board.
These are different approaches, but the institutions concerned are among the most successful in the world. I believe that the reforms I’m progressing – with a robustly independent director at the National Museum and the National Library, assisted by an advisory council for both with a focus on philanthropy – is the best for the future for these important institutions.
* Jimmy Deenihan is Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht