Will Budget 2021 boost be enough to save the arts?

Variety of measures will impact organisations and some individuals in sector positively

The sector has been among the worst hit by Covid, as one of the first to go and likely one of the last to come back. Photograph: iStock

The sector has been among the worst hit by Covid, as one of the first to go and likely one of the last to come back. Photograph: iStock

 

Arts and culture are often poor relations at budget-time, barely getting a look in with the big hitters.

This year there’s a sense of the wider cultural sector – from the large scale commercial events industry to funded arts organisations, and to some extent individual, usually freelance, artists, arts workers and technicians – have got a look in, with recognition of how vulnerable the virtually shutdown sector is.

The sector has been among the worst hit by Covid-19, as one of the first to go and likely one of the last to come back.

A variety of budget measures will impact organisations and some individuals in the sector positively, including VAT and rates decreases, extension of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, housing and SME supports, and were met with approval across a diverse sector which has been battered and shuttered by Covid-19.

This follows solid, informed articulate lobbying, by the volunteer-led National Campaign for the Arts representing 55,000 artists, arts workers and arts organisations, by Epic (the event production industry Covid-19 working group), and by the Arts Council, all making a clear case both about the value of the arts, and its immediate need for support.

Restrictions Support Scheme

The Arts Council, the Government agency funding supports organisations, festivals and individual artists primarily in the non-commercial cultural sector, has got its highest ever level of funding, at €130 million for 2021.

It welcomed this, pledging to use it “to support artists and arts organisations through the Covid-19 crisis, and to ensure that people right across the country could continue to engage with the arts in 2021”.

On foot of the effects of Covid, it’s had an increase in applications, including from many who never applied for State support before, and the challenge is to adapt to support a larger cross section of funding applicants. Critical, surely, is how it disburses the money and to whom, particularly how it gets money to freelancers.

As well as Arts Council and live events and entertainment (€50 million) investment, NCFA welcomed the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) to support to arts organisations closed by pandemic restrictions, and the increase in funding to Screen Ireland and extension of the Section 481 for film and TV production.

Unsustainable situation

But the sector hugely is dominated by a precariat – highly skilled and innovative freelancers with irregular, poorly paid work, who were arguably in an unsustainable situation before any of this hit.

The NCFA sounded a note of caution about artists and freelance arts workers “not accounted for in today’s budget”, saying while the PUP income disregard will allow artists and arts workers to earn €120 per week without losing the PUP, they are disappointed the reduced tiered payments remain, and worry about what will happen in April 2021 when the PUP is phased out.

Of the €50 million fund for commercial live entertainment Epic observed, “This is the first time that we know of where the commercial sector has been recognised in a budget speech.”

As the National Campaign for the Arts Steering Committee watched the budget together over a Zoom call, there was a cheer when the AC funding of €130 million was announced.

Aileen Galvin, one of the eight members, said “above all, the overwhelming feeling is that the arts have become part of the mainstream.”

Welcoming how Minister for Arts Catherine Martin and the Government had backed the arts with “solid investments”, she said.

“The arts proved its necessity through the pandemic and seeing and hearing our sector and our communities included in Government briefings and being embraced as part of the news cycle is hugely heartening.”

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