Arts campaigners told to broaden audience to get message across

Meeting discusses tactics following controversy over ‘downgrading’ of government department

Campaigners for the arts need to reach out beyond their core constituency if they are to achieve real political change, a meeting in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre has heard.

The public meeting for the arts community was called yesterday to discuss what strategy to pursue following the controversy over the perceived downgrading of arts by the Government.

The event, called by the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA), heard from Hannah Bird of What Next?, a UK lobbying group that works to articulate and strengthen the role of culture in society.

Public awareness

Ms Bird said her organisation’s grassroots #arts4britain campaign had targeted Conservative MPs, and had been “stunned by our success”. She cautioned that public awareness of arts funding was often non-existent.


The creation of a new Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht led to strong criticism from figures such as Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson. An online petition calling for an independent department of arts, culture and heritage and an increase in funding has been signed by 14,000 people. Funding for arts in Ireland currently stands at 20 per cent of the European Union average.

LGBT activist Brian Sheehan described his experience as co-leader of the Yes Equality campaign in last year's marriage referendum, and suggested some lessons that might be learned by campaigners for the arts. He asked whether the current campaign was too "vested in high arts practice" and spoke about the importance of crafting a message driven by positivity, visibility and accessibility.

Values-based message

“The important thing is understanding how to move beyond the already converted,” he said. “The message for us is always values-based. What are the values underpinning Irish arts? There’s a way of speaking to a regional audience in a way different from a square mile around Leinster House. People don’t respond to insult.”

Dublin Theatre Festival director Willie White pointed out that "the reason there's been a focus on this is because an Oscar-nominated director slagged off the Taoiseach".

Playwright and journalist Fiona Looney observed she never saw anyone from pop music, popular fiction or comedy at events such as yesterday's. "We have to get these people involved," she said.

Jo Mangan of NCFA welcomed the presence there of Opposition politicians, including Fianna Fáil's spokeswoman for arts Niamh Smith TD and Sinn Féin arts spokesman Senator Derek Warfield.

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan is an Irish Times writer and Duty Editor. He also presents the weekly Inside Politics podcast