Artists threaten ‘strike’ action over funding cuts

Move comes after changes to the department viewed as a demotion by the sector

Heather Humphreys at the Dáil in April.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Heather Humphreys at the Dáil in April. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Strikes by artists are an option on the table, according to the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA).

The arts community has reacted strongly to the new Government’s decision to widen the portfolio of Minister Heather Humphreys to Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht.

Asked if the NCFA was now considering demonstrations or sector-wide action such as an artists’ strike, chair Jo Mangan said “All of the above are on the table.” She said that the latest changes meant there had “finally been a galvanising of the sector”.

The NCFA was set up in 2009, and is a volunteer-led, grass-roots movement that is one of the strongest advocates for the arts in Ireland.

Mangan said that the current unrest is about more than artists. “This is about access to culture and the arts for the country. This is about the country’s pride in itself. We are realising as a nation that we are more than just worker bees doing the bidding of multinationals. It’s time for us to grow up and embrace who we are and our nation state, and to stop apologising for investing in it.

“It’s time to stop thinking of the arts as a middle-class pursuit; everyone who gets up, every day engages with the arts in their daily lives. This is not for artists; it’s for all of us.”

Earlier in the day, representative from the NCFA had met with the Minster for the Arts Heather Humphreys. They described the meeting as “positive” and said the Minister was widely supportive of their concerns “regarding the need for greater investment, policy reform and a strong long-term vision for the arts”. However, the NCFA received no solid commitments from the Government, and while the Minister said she would “working very hard” to retain the additional €50 million that went into the Department for the 2016 Commemorations, she could not make any guarantees.

The widening of the department’s remit has been portrayed by Government as a positive move, as it would give the Department more heft. According to the NCFA, the widespread feeling in the arts community is that it is a demotion, despite coming off the back of the perceived great success of the 1916 commemorations.

There has also been some disquiet that heritage has fallen off the department’s title altogether. “We’ve become vocal about arts but I don’t know where the voice is in terms of the heritage sector, particularly considering the arts have been involved in commemorations,” said Mangan. “It’s arguably a heritage event.”

Speaking after the meeting, Oscar-nominated film producer Ed Guiney of Element Pictures said: “Saudi has oil, we have creative talent. For generations we have been punching so far above our weight when it comes to our success in the arts internationally. So it’s now time to mine our greatest natural resource and to seriously engage and fund the arts in order to grow the sector into the world beater we know it can become.”

Council of Europe data shows that in 2012 Ireland spent 0.11% of GDP on culture, compared to a European average of 0.6%, putting Ireland bottom of the European league. NCFA is asking for this to be raised to half the European average, or 0.3% of GDP.

This week Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in Washington to launch the Ireland 100 arts festival, with US vice-president Joe Biden, and quoted former US president John F Kennedy, saying: “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the artist.”

The NCFA said he “must back his words up with actions, commitments and investment”.

In a column for this newspaper last year, Fintan O’Toole called on artists to “stand up for themselves” with a national arts strike. “Pick a week far enough ahead to allow for proper co-ordinated planning, and do nothing. Close the theatres, the galleries, the museums, the arts centres, the concert halls, the music venues. Publish no Irish books, hold no poetry readings. Launch no films. Broadcast no soaps. Play no sessions in pubs. Maintain radio silence.”

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