The Irish Times view on arts funding: A New Deal needed

Government’s €20m emergency funding somewhat meagre as pandemic wreaks havoc

 Minister for  Arts and Culture Catherine Martin: Government will need to be much more generous to the arts given the pandemic’s drastic impact on the sector.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin: Government will need to be much more generous to the arts given the pandemic’s drastic impact on the sector. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

It is tempting to compare the £1.57 billion rescue package for the arts announced in Britain to Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal that benefited more than 10,000 artists laying the foundation for something of a renaissance in the United States at the time. Whether such comparison is valid remains to be seen, but what is not in question is that this significant sum recognises the economic, cultural and social value of the arts and what Britain’s culture secretary, Oliver Dowden called “the soul of the nation”.

Northern Ireland will receive £33 million from this stimulus measure, a figure that, in the North’s smaller arts landscape, makes the Government’s €20 million emergency funding to the Arts Council appear somewhat meagre. This injection of capital came in response to the council’s task force report warning that the “sector is unravelling”, and the scale of its losses may “push many organisations into bankruptcy”.

At the best of times funding for the arts has never come close to levels comparable with supports provided by our European neighbours, despite political lip service to their role in Irish society. Many artists who previously barely survived have now seen their livelihoods vanish altogether.

It is evident that theatres and other performance venues will struggle to reopen or to function viably. There has been imaginative and innovative use of digital platforms, but the task force is to the point in saying that “the Covid-19 crisis has struck at the heart of what every artist is driven to do: present work to an audience”.

An EY (formerly Ernst and Young) analysis commissioned by the Arts Council is stark: “the recession of the arts sector will be between -34.6 per cent and -42 per cent compared with -11 per cent in the Irish economy as a whole”. While much credit is due for its initiatives so far, such a drastic outcome suggests that the Government will need to be much more generous and look closely at what Britain is doing. The relationship between the arts and the economy has been well measured; their role in general wellbeing is beyond measure.

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