A test of political will

Arts funding

The coming year may decide the fate of one, if not both, RTÉ orchestras. Photograph: Frank Miller

The coming year may decide the fate of one, if not both, RTÉ orchestras. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The great English poet and artist William Blake once declared: “Let it be no more said that the States encourage Arts; for it is the Arts that encourage States”. These days it should work both ways, and that appears to be the thinking behind the Government’s culture-based initiative, Creative Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s view that the project is one with underlying concepts that are “complex” perhaps explains why, in his own words, it “continues to stimulate debate and discussion”. These concepts will need to be further communicated this year, and with greater clarity, if the programme is to win the kind of support it deserves and prove that Creative Ireland is fulfilling its promise to “put culture at the heart of our lives”.

Turning the vision into a reality is another matter, so the test of the Taoiseach’s own credentials is whether his commitment to double arts funding is acted on. Financial stability has been the elusive factor in the arts for far too long. The new minister, Josepha Madigan, has her role to play in this and perhaps her inaugural challenge is to secure increased funding for the Arts Council, which is the direct conduit to artists. If there appears to be some division, even tension, between the council and the department over the establishment of Creative Ireland this has to be overcome and both bodies need to forge a more visible working partnership.

Ireland’s participation in the European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018 offers an opportunity “for all of us to connect with our cultural heritage on a local, national and European level”, according to Madigan. Hopefully it will also provide occasion to redress some of the neglect of recent years in safeguarding the fabric of our heritage.

Part of that heritage is our national orchestras. The coming year may decide the fate of one, if not both, orchestras. RTÉ’s recent overtures on the matter are certainly not in tune with the ideals of Creative Ireland. The preservation of the orchestras demands both political and public support in a year devoted to appreciation of our “cultural richness”.

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