Panic in arts community over cutbacks, meeting told


THERE IS a sense of panic within the arts community as it is being forced to defend itself against “a very real threat” due to cutbacks, the head of the Irish Film Institute warned at the weekend.

Sarah Glennie was one of several speakers at the 2009 Douglas Hyde Conference in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon who warned that it was important not to resort to purely economic arguments in order to justify the arts. Ms Glennie said that while it was important to acknowledge the importance of cultural tourism and job creation, she was reluctant to “trumpet too loudly” about attendance figures in her organisation. “We will end up with a very dangerous way of thinking about how to fund the arts,” she warned, saying some art forms were never going to match cinem audiences.

Garry Hynes, founder and director of Druid Theatre Company, said she shared the unease about “getting strangled in figures”. Poet Alice Lyons warned that “obsession with economics can lead to the ravaging of culture”.

Hynes expressed concern about the “growing commodification” of the arts and the “insidious” way artists were now required to justify themselves within certain structured paradigms when applying for funding. Responding to a suggestion that the location of the Abbey Theatre was a “political hot potato” Hynes said the debate had gone on so long that it was “a political cold potato”.

She said that given that a proposal to site the Abbey at the GPO had been “lobbed in”, it was important, 100 years after the Abbey had kick-started the cultural revival of the nation, to ask whether the national theatre should be about an iconic building or about being based around the country, as in Scotland.

Prof Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, said he felt the McCarthy report had been designed to provoke and was both “disingenuous and patronising”.

“It reminds me of a child who is expecting a lot of presents for Christmas and he is told not only are you going to get no presents but you have to give back the ones you got last year. So when Christmas comes and he gets two presents rather than six he is delighted.” Prof Ó Súilleabháin said this was a patronising way to have a discussion at national level.

“It is unimaginative and I am sure . . . that the word imagination does not appear in any glossary of the report because of the view that imagination does not make money and actually costs money, a view that is not entirely correct.”

He said it would be “economic nonsense” to close down Culture Ireland given its role in promoting successful Irish events abroad.

David Kavanagh, chief executive of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, said the income of many of his members had “fallen through the floor” because of the recession.

He said that 35 established writers had already signed up for a course his organisation was running at the end of this month on how to get into the television industry in England, because there was no work here.