The role of the arts in economic recovery


ARTSCAPE: BUSINESS SUPPORT for arts and culture here has grown over the past few years, though we’re in the ha’penny place with corporate and private patronage by international standards. What, then, of the future, given the meltdown of capitalism and the threats to business? How will existing, never mind potential, corporate-culture relationships fare this year and next?

At least there is now a picture of how things stood here at the height of business success, as painted by a survey by the organisation Business to Arts. Private Investment in Arts Culturefound there was more than €16.2 million invested by the private sector in arts and culture in 2007. The Deloitte research looked at investment income for 128 arts and cultural organisations from business, individuals and trusts/foundations and found 76 per cent of the organisations surveyed received some level of private investment. Business represented the bulk (€13m) of the investment, through sponsorship, donations, patronage and foundation grants, and 55 per cent of business investment went to festivals/events and venues. Consumer business, technology and the financial-services sectors are well represented. Some 47 per cent of participants had investment from individuals (41 per cent from friends/patrons schemes and 37 per cent from gifts). Only 11 per cent had investment from trusts, foundations or endowments, with 60 per cent of income going to visual arts. The full report is on the website

Minister of State Dr Martin Mansergh commented that “in these challenging times private investment in the arts will become more important than ever . . . there is an increasing requirement for arts and cultural organisations to build and maintain relationships with private investors. Responsibility also lies with business and investors to uphold the continued artistic success Ireland has enjoyed for centuries.”

Business to Arts chief executive Stuart McLaughlin stressed the need for cultural organisations to improve skills, and share those skills, in fundraising and developing partnerships with business.

While acknowledging it will be a challenge to fill the gap in public funding of the arts, Rowena Neville of Business to Arts is upbeat, stressing that if sponsorship meets a company’s objectives, it will continue, and that businesses that make the most noise during a recession will keep their business – and sponsorship is part of making that noise. She points out that the arts can offer better sponsorship value for companies than other sectors; opera sponsorship, for example, has done well in targeting wealthy individuals. And all is not doom and gloom, she says; for example, AIB has restated its support for Rough Magic theatre. She also points out that the arts can have a strong role in recovery programmes; in the US the value of the arts to the economy has been estimated at $1.6 billion (€1.2 billion).

In Ireland some effort needs to go into gathering information to measure the value of the arts for our economy, including the numbers of people employed in the arts.

Arts companies and freelance artists are trying to get to grips with the impact of funding cutbacks, and how it will curtail creative work this year, with cuts ranging from slight trims to 30 per cent for many companies, and more severe cutbacks for some. But in the meantime you could wonder about whether departmental responsibilities are shifting. Olivia Mitchell (FG) tabled a Dáil question (asking Minister for Arts Martin Cullen when the additional exhibition space at the National Museum, Collins Barracks will be completed), but was told this week that it’s not the Minister’s responsibility and queries must be directed to the Department of Finance. She points out that the Minister previously had no problem answering questions on national museums (citing two last June). “The OPW is responsible for carrying out work decided upon by the Arts Minister from funds negotiated by him with the Minister for Finance. The buck stops with the Arts Minister as confirmed by the Minister when he answered questions on this before.” It seems the Minister wants “no part of this aspect of his portfolio or indeed any aspect that involves communicating bad news”, according to Mitchell.

The earl of Kildare comes to Bray. Or rather, catch his birth at the first workshop performance of a new Irish opera, The Earl of Kildareat the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray next Friday (February 6th, 8pm, €10/€9). The contemporary opera by Irish composer Fergus Johnston to a libretto by Celia de Fréine is based on the historical figure of Silken Thomas (Thomas Fitzgerald, the 16th century earl of Kildare and deputy governor of Ireland) and his disastrous revolt against king Henry VIII.

The plot promises patriotism, treachery, love and intrigue and while the opera is sung in English, the score has been challenging as the opera has never been performed. Although the performance will use a piano score reduction and will not have full staging. there is a full cast (including Nyle Wolfe in the title role, Joan O’Malley as Frances Fitzgerald and Eugene Ginty as Christopher Paris). John McKeown directs, Fergus Sheil conducts and Miles Lallemant performs, and there will be a post-show discussion with the composer and the creative team. Living Opera (, a new company committed to new opera in Ireland, presents the performance in association with Opera Ireland, and with an Arts Council project grant. On February 27th, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, under conductor James McMillan, will perform the world premiere of Johnston’s new opera, Scenes and Interludes from the Earl of Kildareat the National Concert Hall.