The Irish Times view on arts funding: the value of culture

The level of funding provided for the arts in the budget was unprecedented not only in scale but also in recognising the value of culture in Irish society

After decades of neglect, sidelining and lip-service, the arts have at last “been embraced as an intrinsic part of Irish society, no longer outliers”, said Angela Dorgan, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts. Minister for Culture Catherine Martin deserves credit. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

After decades of neglect, sidelining and lip-service, the arts have at last “been embraced as an intrinsic part of Irish society, no longer outliers”, said Angela Dorgan, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts. Minister for Culture Catherine Martin deserves credit. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

 

‘This sickness doth infect the very lifeblood of our enterprise” – words spoken by Hotspur ( Henry Percy ) in Henry IV and written by Shakespeare, an artist who knew about the effects of plague on live performance.

The level of funding provided for the arts in this week’s budget was unprecedented not only in scale but also in recognising the value of culture in Irish society, as well as being an acknowledgement that the “lifeblood of the enterprise” – the audience – will be missing for some time to come.

For its 70th anniversary next year, the Arts Council will be in a better financial position than ever before, having received an extra €50 million to bring total exchequer funding to a record €130 million. The €50 million for the live entertainment business was an equally exceptional move.

Unfortunately the council’s milestone anniversary will coincide with the greatest challenge in its history: keeping the arts on life support for as long as the Covid-19 pandemic prevents a return to normal business. The effect of venue closures has been devastating to artists’ incomes and the loss of access to theatre, music, exhibitions and other cultural activity detrimental to public well-being. The imaginative steps taken by the sector to provide alternatives – on digital channels, in outdoor settings – have shown the willingness of artists to expand the boundaries of their imaginations.

After decades of neglect, sidelining and lip-service, the arts have at last “been embraced as an intrinsic part of Irish society, no longer outliers”, said Angela Dorgan, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts. Minister for Culture Catherine Martin deserves credit. She and her colleagues are no doubt aware of the role the arts can play in providing comfort and stimulus in a time of fear and anxiety as well as making a contribution to future national recovery. The Arts Council has taken a generous approach in its dealings with a sector that is likely to be among the last to recover. Having received significant public money, it now bears great responsibility in sharing those funds fairly and wisely.

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