More indications that arts are far down the agenda of Government

 

The arts in general and our cultural institutions in particular have been done great harm through the scale of cuts in State funding in recent years, but nothing demonstrates the blatant disregard – even contempt – for this sector than the abuse of a cultural board for political opportunism.

The last minister, Jimmy Deenihan, failed to deliver a lasting legacy ( the windfall of philanthropy has yet to appear; the arts in education remains aspirational). Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered a gross insult with his use of the Museum of Modern Art board as a stepping stone for the Seanad by-election candidacy of John McNulty and placed his new minister Heather Humphreys in an invidious position in the eyes of her arts constituency.

The most strident note in the Arts Council’s new strategic review rings true; that the arts “are poorly served by the absence of an overarching policy”. In a recent interview in this paper, Ms Humphreys did little to indicate a clear broad agenda beyond her number one priority – “the 1916 centenary”. A discussion paper on a “national cultural policy” is promised, but rather late in the Government’s term.

In declaring herself “a business woman”, she seemed to be placing emphasis on what has been the main focus of official interest in the arts in recent years: as a spare part for the economic engine. While the Minister acknowledged the “benefit of the arts to society”, she repeated the much-vaunted link to tourism.

There is of course much merit in the arts learning from business but care needs to be taken that we don’t come to neglect their more intangible qualities; the economic case – their role as Ireland’s “signature and hallmark” – forms only part of the argument for funding the arts. One disquieting comment in the council’s review is the implied acquiescence to the cuts; surely its advocacy function demands a more robust challenge to government. The Imma debacle is not a good start for the minister; her efficacy at the Cabinet table will soon be tested with the budget.