The Irish Times view: Dignity of the artist
Funding for culture
The plight of artists in need of better pay and more opportunities extends way beyond the Abbey Theatre. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
In 2016 the Arts Council set out a three-year strategy that boldly stated that by the end of 2019 “artists and their representative organisations will report positively on our initiatives and actions to improve artists’ remuneration”.
The furore over the new model of programming and co-productions at the Abbey Theatre, and its implications, has demonstrated how far that hoped-for outcome is from being fulfilled.
But the plight of artists in need of better pay and more opportunities extends way beyond the national theatre.
Belief in our artists is not so evident in government funding that places Ireland at the lowest level of public subsidy in culture in Europe
The arts – in all forms – are thriving, but when it comes to the rewards, most artists operate, if not in impoverishment, then close to it. That has been borne out in research and surveys, including Theatre Forum’s findings this year that more than a third of artists earn less than the national minimum wage of €9.95 an hour.
To its credit the Arts Council has put greater emphasis on the public funding it circulates going directly to the individual art makers, as well as supporting more bursaries and residencies.
However, those resources are limited and becoming more so in a growing population that has more young people opting to devote their lives to the arts.
As with the dedicated older generation, they do it because they believe in the arts and in its role in society. But belief in our artists is not so evident in government funding that places Ireland at the lowest level of public subsidy in culture in Europe. Investment in cultural capital projects seems to have taken priority over investment in the actual artists.
The Arts Council can only dispense what it receives from government, but it has other duties too. In the coming months a new director will be appointed who, as well as being a vital arbiter in how artists are treated, will preside over the 70th anniversary of the council in 2021.
This will be an opportunity for renewal of its vision, and to the forefront of that vision there has to be stronger and more public advocacy for the dignity of artists and the value of their work.