Lenny Abrahamson: galling to see artists used as photo opportunity for politicians

Oscar-nominated director criticises failure to appoint a dedicated Minister for the Arts

Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson said it is "galling to see artists used as a photo opportunity for politicians" who at the same time demonstrate a lack of value for the work being praised.

Criticising the failure to appoint a dedicated Minister for the Arts, Mr Abrahamson said the Government seemed to view the “arts as some sort of optional decorative extra that you can add in when there’s a few quid swishing around and pull out when not.”

“That’s a really crazy way to invest because the gains you make when you invest are wiped out when you don’t.”

The Government has been criticised for an apparent downgrading of the status of arts and culture due to the varied range of responsibilities in the portfolio of Minister Heather Humphreys.

Her departmental responsibilities now include Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht.

Mr Abrahamson said the best way to guarantee a strong voice for the arts at the Cabinet table was with a dedicated Minister for the Arts.

The director of the Oscar-winning film Room, said that arts had been considered a second-class ministry. “Now to have its status further reduced is really depressing at a time when we have a real opportunity to build on the investment of the past. We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Mr Abrahamson said he had communicated directly with Ms Humphreys and believed she was a very decent person.

He told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that while the case for arts spending should be massively strong, both politically and economically, around the Cabinet table there was a competitive fight for resources. When things were difficult economically and money was tight, "the arts get pushed to the back of the queue," he said.

“Every Minister for the Arts in the past has said they believe passionately in the Arts; of course they do, they say they’re going to fight for proper funding.”

The director said the sector needed a “couple of very hard decades of consistent investment”.

Mr Abrahamson said he planned to make the case for more arts funding as strongly as he could to Ms Humphreys: “to give her the ammunition to do what she says she wants to do.

“There are so many things we do economically on a daily basis, when you place them against another hospital bed, or infrastructure in an underdeveloped region.

“Those equations are very compelling on paper. But if you step back look at it, money spent on TV and film, the money that is invested is relatively small , it comes back several fold, that’s an economic win for the country. It’s also a big employer.”

Mr Abrahamson said there was the potential, based on the calibre of those in the sector, to create a world-class film and animation sector. “We have been punching above our weight internationally, but if proper and strategic investment was made that could be grown hugely. They (the Government) seem to totally misunderstand the positive social and economic impact the industry can have. It’s so ready to be developed.”

Abrahamson’s criticism comes after Taoiseach Enda Kenny travelled to Washington to launch an Irish arts festival there with US vice-president Joe Biden. Speaking at the launch, Mr Kenny said he agreed with president John F Kennedy’s view that he saw little of more importance to the future of civilisation than “full recognition of the artist”.

An online petition to create an independent Arts department has gathered more than 10,000 signatures. The National Campaign for the Arts is also calling on the Government to raise funding for the arts, cultural and heritage sectors to the European average of 0.6% of GDP. In 2012, Ireland spent 0.11% of GDP on culture and the arts, putting it at the bottom of European countries.

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