On the Record: artistic pester power and the fight for funding

As election 2016 barrels along, Ireland’s arts community needs to step up and begin seriously agitating about its future

 

Politicians are currently roaming the land promising the sun, the moon and all the f**** space a body needs. So it’s the right time for various bodies of concerned citizens to come together, do a spot of agitating and get some results. Strangely, however, one constituency is absent from the cast of general election 2016.

Such clientelism is why we will soon have a rake of new Independent deputies sitting in the 32nd Dáil. And pester power is also why many of their demands will be met by whoever wants to be taoiseach.

It’s strange, then, to note that artists are largely missing from this discourse.

True, the National Campaign for the Arts released a pre-election manifesto outlining measures to get Ireland off the bottom of the European league for government investment in culture, and a call to members to contact their local would-be TDs. But aside from this pre-election strike by the lobby group for 466 Irish arts bodies, there has been little in the narrative about or from the sector.

Of course, other issues – from housing and health to education and jobs – will always take precedence when an election is in full swing. Yet other, more localised issues will inevitably begin to be sorted when the post-election jostling for power begins. Shouldn’t the arts community be taking advantage of this opportunity?

The reason why nothing is being said about culture in this election campaign is because no one is pushing them up the agenda. Maybe outgoing Minister for Fun Heather Humphreys is giving it socks on the stump about the need to fund spaces for the next generation of musicians, visual artists and ballet dancers. If so, it’s certainly not making headlines.

It’s not enough to leave it to the politicos, and you have to wonder about the reticence shown by the artistic community. This quarter always have much to be says about how government and the political parties only regard the arts and culture as window-dressing. But when an opportunity comes along to make a song and dance about it at a time when singing and dancing attracts a crowd, the opportunity is spurned.

You can be sure that those elected to the Dáil will give plenty of lip service to the importance of arts and culture when it comes to commemorating the Easter Rising or any of the other gazillion centenary events over the next few years. It will be a far different matter, however, when it comes to funding and supporting the people who produce this work year in and year out.

The time to make a noise about this imbalance is now, when every politician is out there making nice in return for votes. Artists who were giving out yards about reduced funding, fuming about capital cuts and angry over the closure of artistic spaces over the past few years are missing a trick by not seizing the moment.

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