Galleries told to be 'populist'


THE ASSISTANT secretary general at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, Niall O’Donnchu, has written to the directors of several national institutions, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma), the National Gallery of Ireland and the Crawford Art Gallery, suggesting they seek out “commercial opportunities” for their organisations, and adopt “more populist” exhibition policies.

A copy of one of the letters, seen by The Irish Times, states that while acknowledging that the institution already pursues “commercial opportunities and businesses . . . We would ask, however, that you and your board take a focused opportunity to examine afresh whether all commercialisation and commodisation [sic] opportunities are being exploited to the maximum by you”.

After querying the institution’s exploitation of merchandising and related activities, the letter also examines policy and programming and asks: “Could your exhibition policies be more populist?”

Four broad headings for “third-party revenue opportunities” are indicated. The first relates to “commodisation [sic] and commercialisation and to sweating, extending and, indeed reshaping existing business opportunities”.

The second is sponsorship, the third “an exploitation of philantrophic [sic] and giving opportunities”, in relation to which “the concept of reinvestment funds and so forth should be examined.”

The fourth is “collaborative partnerships.” The letter, dated June 30th, looks for a response within six weeks.

“What we are not looking for is a treatise or a defence of what you are already doing,” it says.

The letter also hints that the institutions may have to look increasingly to their own resources: “None of this should be taken as a criticism or indeed as a challenge. Indeed, we would view this perhaps as an opportunity to grow more independent of the inevitable vagaries in the public financing scheme of things.”

Imma director Enrique Juncosa was not available for comment.

A spokesman for the National Gallery of Ireland said correspondence between the department and the gallery regarding budgets for 2009-2010 was ongoing. Peter Murray, director of the Crawford Art Gallery, said: “I have no objection to . . . innovative thinking in terms of commercial initiatives.”

But commercial imperatives, he said, should not dominate at the expense of cultural value. He said there was a risk that institutions subsidised by the State might be seen to enjoy unfair advantages in competing with private concerns.

The letter comes against the background of a controversial proposed amalgamation of Imma, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Crawford gallery. A draft of Heads of a Bill relating to the amalgamation, has been circulated to the institutions’ boards.

Relations between the department and Imma have become acrimonious in recent months, with complaints from the department that details of board meetings were made public in an improper manner. Tensions have also emerged after staff and the boards of the institutions privately expressed reservations about the logic of the amalgamation.