Artists broadly welcome proposals despite doubts about council funding


The latest Arts Plan was largely welcomed by artists at the launch yesterday, despite some reservations about the aspiration to reduce artists' dependence on Arts Council funding.

Mr Jim Culleton, artistic director of the Fishamble Theatre said the company was in its last year of multi-annual funding, which came in the last plan, and this one builds on that in maximising the ability of arts organisations to plan ahead and develop resources and infrastructure.

He also welcomed the announcement of the increase in Arts Council staff. "Our concern has been that the Arts Council was so understaffed, and that created frustration for arts organisations dealing with it."

Mr John Scott, artistic director of the Irish Modern Dance Theatre said: "You can see they really have consulted with the sector and they have taken that consultation seriously to create the conditions for dance to flourish."

However, he expressed some doubt about the aspiration to reduce the dependence on Arts Council funding. "The alternatives are not vast in Ireland - in France and Germany the resources of local authorities are huge. Sponsors will be interested in the Abbey Theatre or high-profile companies but not small dance companies. And that means more reliance on box office, which may force artists to create safe art instead of taking risks and being pioneering."

Ms Ali Curran, director of the Peacock Theatre, said she saw the plan as an improvement on its predecessors. However, she said there are hefty aspirations on budget increases and "I would hope that the Minister would be successful in securing these essential funds from Government in this critical time.

"Perhaps, given that the finances in the plan are aspirational at this stage, it explains why there is no reference in the plan to the multi-annual funding structure which the Arts Council has implemented to a percentage of organisations over the past three years, a process which is still now chronically incomplete. This leaves many major clients in the precarious position of planning only within a calendar year."

Mr Tom Sherlock, manager of traditional artists welcomed the approach taken to Irish music, recognising the internationalisation of Irish music.

"I don't need to be told Irish music has an international audience. But what's new is the Arts Council embracing that hard-nosed aspect of it.

"They recognise that there are career opportunities here. They've looked at the career development needs of traditional artists - mobility grants, in-career training - they've recognised this is a business, this is an industry.

"The British Council, and the Koreans, the Nordic countries, the Canadians promote their own music very well - they recognise there's an artistic but also a commercial element to it."

Mr Michael Scott, artistic director of The Machine multi-media arts company, called for the Government to bring the Arts Council into the Department. Describing the current council as "calcified", he said: "It was established to work at arm's length from Government and have transparency, but in the last number of years the council's ability to deliver to the sector has diminished.

"The plan says that the theatre sector has professionalised in the last 10 years. Is that true?

"I've been working in the arts for the last 23 years and this plan has the audacity to tell me I've only been professional for 10 years. I'm sorry, I don't think they're accountable. I think it's a joke to say they should work at arm's length from Government - it hasn't worked."