Culture policy: pious words, dismal reality

Scepticism as to whether Government will put flesh on bones of Creative Ireland plan

Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys. Ireland lags extraordinarily far behind the European average in terms of the percentage of public funds it spends on the arts. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys. Ireland lags extraordinarily far behind the European average in terms of the percentage of public funds it spends on the arts. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The publication this week of an Oireachtas committee report on Culture 2025, the first national cultural policy in the history of the State, offers an opportunity to take stock of where that policy now stands. The Council of Europe’s Compendium project, which monitors public expenditure on culture, reveals that Ireland lags extraordinarily far behind the European average in terms of the percentage of public funds it spends on the sector. Such statistics are far from abstract: their consequences may be seen in chronic underfunding across the cultural landscape.

To take just one example, the National Library has only one-third of the staff numbers employed by its equivalents in Scotland and Wales. That dismal reality is repeated across the arts, culture and heritage, making a mockery of pious declarations from political leaders on the importance of culture and the arts.

Creative Ireland will require unprecedented investment in the creative industries, education and cultural institutions if it is to achieve its objectives

Little wonder that widespread scepticism persists as to whether this Government will put flesh on the bones of Creative Ireland, the ambitious plan based on the principles of Culture 2025 and also on last year’s successful 1916 commemorations. Creative Ireland will require unprecedented investment in the creative industries, education and cultural institutions if it is to achieve its objectives.

The State cannot will great art and culture into existence, and money alone cannot do so either

To be fair, considerable groundwork has been done over the last eight months on elements of the plan. But the real test will come in the autumn with the publication of the estimates and of Budget 2018. Will these reflect the Taoiseach’s recent statement that there needs to be new emphasis and importance attached to the promotion of arts, culture and heritage in Ireland, “matched with an appropriate budget”? If that proves to be the case, it will represent a significant turning point in public policy.

The State cannot will great art and culture into existence, and money alone cannot do so either. But it has an important part to play in helping to build an environment in which creativity and original ideas can flourish. The next few months will tell whether that opportunity will be taken.

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