Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Thursday, 07 May 2009
Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts
7 May 2009
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Mary Cloake ) Arts Council of Ireland
Mr Martin Drury )
The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I welcome Mary Cloake and Martin Drury, from the Arts Council of Ireland. Fáilte romhaibh. I ask you to please explain your respective roles and make your presentation.
Ms Mary Cloake (Arts Council of Ireland):
It is a great privilege for us to be here. This is my first time in Stormont, and it is a great honour to be asked to address the Committee. I am director of the Arts Council of Ireland, and my colleague Martin Drury is arts director with particular responsibility for the areas of the Arts Council’s work that relate to access and social connection. We will talk about those elements of our work, among others. I know that the Committee has time constraints, so I will summarise our written submission to save time and to allow for important questions, such as questions about the amount of funding that the arts gets from Government.
The Arts Council of Ireland is an autonomous agency, in the sense that it is an arm’s-length body that was set up by the Government of Ireland. It was established in 1951, but new legislation was introduced in 2003 because the previous legislation was somewhat archaic. Our functions are to stimulate public interest in the arts; promote knowledge, appreciation and practice of the arts; assist in improving standards in the arts; and to advise the Minister and other public bodies on the arts. We revisit those functions on an annual basis to ensure that we are doing the work that we were given to do by Government. The functions are very clear when they are set out in writing, but when it comes to interpreting them and applying them in practice, they can present challenges in respect of their definition, and so on.
In common with other arts councils in the anglophone world, we fund people and provide financial assistance, mainly to artists and arts organisations. We also help other organisations that support the arts but are not arts organisations, such as Age and Opportunity or Fáilte Ireland, which is relevant to cultural tourism.
We offer advice and information on the arts to Government and others. For example, if an artist applies for a tax exemption and revenue commissioners are uncertain whether to award it, they will ask the Arts Council for advice. We publish research and information to advocate the case for the arts and for the conditions of artists. We also undertake a range of projects, some of which we do in association with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The objective of those projects is to promote and develop the arts in different ways.
Our strategic plan is called ‘Partnership for the Arts’, and that covers the years from 2006 to 2010. We had ambitions to complete a programme of work called ‘Partnership for the Arts in Practice 2006-2008’, but, unfortunately, we did not meet our financial goals for that, so the document is still current.
Partnership is at the heart of the mission and business practice of the Arts Council of Ireland; it is the core of what we do. The best way for an agency such as the Arts Council of Ireland to be effective is to partner with people across all aspects of the public sector. Our main partner is the Government — especially the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism which is our parent Department. We also have a relationship, which we consider to be a partnership, with thousands of artists and hundreds of arts organisations, on behalf of whom we work and to whom we give financial and moral resources.
We also have partnerships with a range of local and national agencies and bodies and, particularly, with local authorities, which we consider to be the grass roots or the bedrock of arts development in Ireland. We also have partnerships in education, health, tourism and broadcasting.
In order to make sure that we fund effectively, we have five goals, which can be found in our strategy document. I will leave one copy of that document and, if members are interested, I will send more copies. Our first goal is to affirm and promote the value of the arts in society. Our other goals are: to assist artists to realise their artistic ambitions; to make it possible for people to extend and enhance their experiences of the arts; to strengthen arts organisations countrywide; and to ensure that we work effectively as an organisation.
Mr Martin Drury (Arts Council of Ireland):
I am delighted to be here. I was here as a 12- or 13-year-old schoolboy on a school trip. It was a big and impressive building then, and it still is.
More so now with the personnel who are around you. [Laughter.]
Was your visit here since devolution?
Thank you, Chairman. As we have discovered today, one is not talking for long about the arts until one is talking about money. The funding to the Arts Council of Ireland rests at about €73 million to €73·5 million. I will have to distinguish between funding to the Arts Council of Ireland and funding to the arts, because each jurisdiction or country differentiates between how it allocates the budget for the arts. For example, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the National Concert Hall and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra are not paid out of that budget.
Our broadcasting authority, RTÉ, underwrites the costs of the orchestra, and the Government separately vote money to the national cultural institutions, such as the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Museum of Ireland and the National Concert Hall. To compare the way in which different jurisdictions fund the arts is like comparing apples and oranges.
The budget of the Arts Council of Ireland, which is responsible for the living and contemporary arts, is pitched at €73·5 million. For obvious reasons, that is less than what it was a year ago. We spend that money across approximately 15 areas. As one would expect, those areas include different art forms such as film, literature, drama, dance and music. However, there are also a number of cross-cutting areas, for which I have responsibility. They are young people and children in education and arts participation, which includes arts and health, arts and disability, arts and older people, the amateur arts, and the local arts.
Local arts is key to the partnership that Ms Cloake mentioned; that is, the partnership between the Arts Council of Ireland, as a national agency, and the 34 local authorities. There is an enormous amount of spending on a partnership basis between us as a national agency and the municipal and local government authorities throughout the country.
As the submission states, a separate agency is responsible for funding the arts abroad. That is something that we used to do that. Culture Ireland promotes the arts in Venice, at film and theatre festivals and at arts festivals, such as those in Edinburgh, New York and Berlin. That is one measure of the maturity of the arts and the regard in which the arts is held politically; that it can address trade, enterprise and national prestige agendas.
Finally, it is particularly important to state in this forum that we have long-standing and good working relationships with our colleagues in the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, not only in a cordial way, but at a real and practical level. In addition to holding meetings and exchanging information at Executive and council levels, we jointly fund 16 or 17 organisations on which we spend approximately €3·9 million. The Arts Council adds value to that.
The organisations funded range from a company such as the Opera Theatre Company, to an artist retreat, such as the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Newbliss, County Monaghan, through to the Ireland Literature Exchange or the position of chair of poetry, which is currently held by Michael Longley. Such joint ventures and projects are best served on an all-Ireland basis. They represent some of the many key partnerships that we have with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
You are both very welcome. I noticed that you were sitting patiently through the earlier evidence sessions — hopefully you will have learnt something from those sessions. It appears that the Committee has a lot to learn from you.
What arguments were put forward in the Republic to persuade Government to spend much more on the arts there than has been managed here? Will you explain the strategic significance of the 16 or 17 arts organisations that receive funding from your organisation and from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland? You said that the Arts Council of Ireland spends almost €4 million on those organisations. What “added value” comes from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland? Is that monetary?
It is important to note that the argument for an increase in arts funding has been made for the past 20 years. If one were to pinpoint a year, 1987 saw the publication of ‘Access and Opportunity: A White Paper on Cultural Policy’, in which the important case was made that there was no artificial distinction between having, and aspiring to have, an ambition to make the most excellent of arts available to people. On one hand, there was the very highest of world-class artistic endeavour; on the other was the democratic impulse to make the arts accessible and create opportunities for people to have creative experiences right across the board, regardless of county, social class or gender.
We have been building on that important point since it was made in that White Paper in 1987. Therefore, the democratic imperative started in 1987, and an important policy that the Arts Council of Ireland undertook was to build up a grass roots arts sector and community. That is the key argument that has been built upon over the past 20 years.
Back in the 1980s, rather than simply sending the arts on tour by having shows travelling around the country, we decided to also build up an indigenous arts community or arts practice in every town and village. That was done so that every county, town or village would have its own artist and its own very particular and distinctive type of artistic expression. That is where it started; I do not think that there have been any simple and immediate, or expedient and pragmatic arguments made. I really believe that the arts must be embedded into the society in which people spend their day-to-day lives.
The arts has developed from a grass roots base that existed already, in the form of amateur drama, traditional arts, storytelling and choral music. For example, I am from Wexford and I know that there is a huge tradition of choral music among the working classes on the east coast of Ireland that has grown into an opera festival. People might have a superficial view that opera is an elitist art form. However, from years of personal experience of going to the opera and to the rehearsals that are offered cheaply to schoolchildren, I can tell you that that opera scene has been built up from an entirely indigenous tradition.
A long-term look at how the arts is embedded in our society is the only argument that can pay off and secure investment. Investment comes from the taxpayer and is guarded and administered by politicians. Investment will not be made unless the body politic really believes that the arts is important to people’s day-to-day lives. Our argument is based on those beliefs and values.
The grass roots movement has been given concrete expression by the Arts Council, and Michael D Higgins TD became our first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in 1993. That, and a little bit of prosperity, led to a huge capital programme that started in about 1993 — which was around the time that the North of Ireland began to receive lottery funding — and lasted until 2007 or 2008. There was a building project in every town, and even village wanted to have an arts centre. I do not know whether anyone here has ever been to Moate; it is a tiny place that one only ever passes through, but it has an arts centre and an arts committee. Capital infrastructure was developed right across the country.
A network of volunteers with skills, expertise and organisational ability was formed. That human network was consolidated and made more formal by the establishment of a network and infrastructure of buildings. By 2008, which was the apogee or zenith of our funding, there were more than 60 venues around the country that had been developed over the last 20 years. Those venues have people working in them who have pulled funding in and who have attracted money from the private sector.
From all that public-level support and local-level activity emerged an argument that, in addition to its intrinsic values, the arts helps with social cohesion, local enterprise and community development. The two groups that the Committee heard from in the earlier evidence sessions are absolute evidence that a dynamic 21-year programme of work at community level can generate jobs, activity and a positive self-image for people in communities of all kinds.
More recently, arguments have been pinned on what makes economic sense; indeed, we talked about economic value earlier. High-tech digital industries, such as Microsoft and Google, and smaller computer-gaming industries will drive economic development in the future. Those industries are dependent on there being an artistic population, and artistic activity acts as a research and development sector for them. It makes economic sense to look back on the last 15 years, and we can now see that Google came to Dublin because it wanted to avail itself of the young, artistic and energetic imaginations there, and not only the tax regulations.
The entire island of Ireland can punch above its weight internationally. The names Basil Blackshaw, Paul Muldoon, Michael Longley are known throughout the world. One effect of that is the big cultural tourism industry here, which is built on people coming to Ireland to sample the artistic life. I appreciate that the cultural tourism industry is not quite as developed in the North of Ireland as it is in the South, but the most recent Fáilte Ireland report indicates that that industry is worth €5·1 billion. An industry that is worth €5·1 billion is riding on public investment of about €80 million, which represents very good value for money. Furthermore, such an international reputation brings in foreign investment also.
I am glad that I asked that question, Mary. That was a heck of an answer, and I look forward to reading it. [Laughter.]
You mentioned local arts centres. I visited Kilcullen in County Kildare, where the local theatre is distinguished by its use of 150 Volvo car seats.
That is interesting.
I will respond to the second part of Mr McNarry’s question. There are several reasons why our working with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland provides added value but it is, largely, about economies of scale. Magazines such as Circa, an artist’s retreat such as Annaghmakerrig or an opera company such as the Opera Theatre Company, which tours on a medium scale, is better value for both arts councils and both jurisdictions if the country can afford to fund a small to medium-sized enterprise.
Poetry Ireland, which is one of the 16 organisations, is a resource organisation that does not distinguish on the basis of birth address or geographical address. Artists such as Paul Muldoon, Frank McGuinness, Medbh McGuckian, Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, and Derek Mahon are Irish poets on the island, and Poetry Ireland serves their needs and the public need in relation to them. Therefore, it makes sense that both arts councils co-operate and jointly fund such enterprises.
Do both organisations jointly devise the strategy for the 16 or 17 organisations?
Yes; there is a sort of bush telegraph —
Do you work it out, or do you decide it after presentations have been made to you?
Each council makes an autonomous decision. However, there is a degree of custom, practice and informal contact, after which formal meetings take place at staff level and in the arts councils. Issues are discussed at those meetings, which allows us to, in a sense, avoid a crisis or support a positive initiative.
You give €4 million a year to those organisations — what does the Arts Council of Northern Ireland give to them?
For those organisations, it amounts to a couple of hundred thousand, although I am open to correction on that figure because I have not calculated it exactly. However, the graph is sometimes different. In a sense, that reflects the population base and the scale of uptake, because Poetry Ireland probably delivers more services in the Republic than in the North. There is an aspect of proportionality.
Thank you for your presentation. I am delighted to hear your responses so far. We invited you to the Committee to discover why the Arts Council of Ireland receives much more funding than our arts council. In fact, its funding is the highest on these islands. What are the outcomes and benefits of increased investment in the arts in the South? Have you successfully attracted private investment?
I will answer the question in two parts. The amount of private investment could be higher. We have been somewhat successful, but the culture of investing privately in the arts is limited and needs to be developed more fully.
The impact of increased investment has been felt mainly at the local level. Although the sum looks large on paper, it must be remembered that we fund 60 venues across the country. Although it has improved, local authorities’ contribution to the arts is not as high as in the North. We have focused on creating a countrywide infrastructure of buildings. There have been other benefits, but that is the most tangible.
Increased investment has led to the normalisation of the arts. Twenty years ago, the arts was considered remote and elite. However, it is now embedded in local authorities, schools and health centres.
You said that you have an arts centre in Moate — is that a village?
Yes, it is.
Many villages in Northern Ireland would benefit from extra funding. How do you attract people to become involved in arts in the local community? You must be doing something to obtain such funding.
People are doing it themselves. The question will arise as to whether we can afford so many arts centres.
This might be a political question; is it a misconception that Michael D Higgins, as the first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, played a strong role in embedding that culture?
He is a symbol of it. I think he did not produce the whole project by himself; he had a good team. However, he marked the particular point in history when statesmanlike and erudite individuals such as he could draw together a lot of public opinion in sport or the arts. My answer, therefore, is yes, he did play a strong role in embedding that culture.
Mr D Bradley:
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Tá fáilte romhaibh agus go raibh maith agaibh as teacht agus as bhur gcur i láthair a dhéanamh.
You are welcome and thank you for your presentation. I want to ask about the traditional arts. David mentioned the discrepancy in arts funding between the North and the South, and that is reflected also in the funding of the traditional arts. For example, you have a full-time traditional arts officer and we have a part-time one. There is a huge imbalance in the funding. Why did the South decide to invest so heavily in the traditional arts and what benefits have come from that? Do you have any evidence of a spin-off from that into the area of cultural tourism, which you mentioned earlier?
On behalf of the Arts Council of Ireland, I am proud of the level of investment in the traditional arts but I have to say that such generosity is recent. A special committee was set up in 2003 by the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O’Donoghue. At that time, there was a lot of concern in the traditional arts community that traditional arts had fallen behind in the funding stakes, so the committee was established, a new policy was created and a full-time person was employed from 2006 onwards. It was very much a political movement.
The head of traditional arts was a new post. We were delighted to get Paul Flynn, who had formerly been the head of traditional arts in the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. That was very useful for us. The impact of that is that there is now confidence in the traditional arts community that artistic work in the traditional idiom is at least as honoured as, or has the status of, all the other art forms. That is the best way of describing the intangible aspect of the outcome.
The tangible outcome is that investment has gone up from about €630,000 to €4 million, of which €2 million is in the traditional arts budget and €2 million is spread around other budget headings and is used to fund venues, for example. The professionalisation and consolidation of the main organisations in the traditional arts is marked. Those organisations are professional, they have full-time staff and they deliver services to a much higher level. Confidence and the stabilisation of organisations were the principal impacts of that increase in funding.
Mr D Bradley:
What is the impact on cultural tourism? Is there any way of assessing that?
It is difficult to measure, but there is no doubt that, according to visitor surveys, it appears that people do not come here for the weather. They come here because they have built up an expectation from the films and television programmes that they have seen. One of the key things about tourism is that it has to deliver on that expectation. Therefore, traditional music sessions — whether in the pub, the club or outdoors — are important. The fact that it is a living tradition is critical. It comes back to Mary’s point about research and development.
Tradition, as Brian Friel says, is a living thing: it is not a fossil. One of the reasons that we invest so heavily is to keep that tradition alive. There is evidence to suggest that, when tourists come to experience the traditions, they may be disappointed with the food prices but they are not disappointed with the quality and prevalence of music. That delivers on our promise to Government that investing in the Arts Council equals good value in respect of cultural tourism.
Thank you for your very interesting presentation. Over what timescale do you allocate funding? Is it on an annual basis, or do you consider offering it for a longer period of, perhaps, three years?
We allocate funding on an annual basis. We would like to do it on a three-year basis, and have twice attempted to get a three-year structure in place, particularly for the main companies. We are funded through a vote of the Oireachtas, our Parliament, which comes annually. Only in the case of the national theatre, the Abbey Theatre, have we been able to make a forward commitment on a scale that allows the Abbey to plan. The ideal arrangement is to have three-year funding, which happens in certain jurisdictions. Many organisations do not, as they come to November or December, feel that their funding will be cut off. Many of them have 10-, 15-, 20- or 30-year relationships with the Arts Council. There is no reason to believe that they will not be funded the next year, but the level of that funding is in question.
How do you make decisions about the priority of funding to the different art forms, such as dance and theatre? How do you prioritise those?
We could spend at least three times the amount of money that we have. We mainly use the ‘ Partnership for the Arts’ document to assess how each of the art forms and areas of work meet the criteria and goals. In each art form — dance, drama and visual arts — there is a policy. There are also policies for venues, young people, children and arts participation. We have policies for each of our 12 teams. Each has to compete according to how they meet the goals and objectives that are set out in the document.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh, agus fáilte romhaibh. I listened very carefully to what you said about your involvement from the grass roots upwards, rather than from the top down. I have been critical of our Arts Council — I accused it of providing funds but not being proactive. I was very interested in that, and I would be very interested to see a copy of your ‘Partnership for the Arts’ document and pass it on to the relevant authority.
I was also interested to hear Martin say that you are not responsible for the symphony orchestra. How would you react if you were told that you were to take responsibility for funding the symphony orchestra without any change to your current level of funding? What effect would that have on your general funding of the arts?
We would react with dismay. It would throw what is a severely tested micro-economy into disarray because symphony orchestras do not come cheap. One of the reasons that we are able to calibrate our funding is because we realise that the Irish Film Board exists, so our role in film is quite precise because we know that the film industry is largely looked after by the Irish Film Board. Similarly, in the area of music — particularly classical music — we know that RTÉ has responsibility for the symphony orchestra. That relieves us of certain responsibilities and allows us to concentrate on the chamber orchestra.
We simply could not fund the symphony orchestra on the present budget. If we were politically forced to do so, a huge chunk of other work that we think is of very high priority would simply have to make way. It would be non-deliverable.
You said that the work that you fund is of a “very high priority”. Is it considered to be of such a high priority that it, rather than the symphony orchestra, would be given funding, should you have to choose? I am asking you to fundamentally compare what the arts of the cosmhuintir against the people who benefit from the symphony orchestra.
That is a dilemma for which we would have to change the terms of the question. If one considers funding an orchestra, one would have to change one’s expectations of how an orchestra behaves. Up to this year, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra has had a very good programme of going in residence to different counties across the country, such as County Laois and County Donegal. We would not put the orchestra in opposition to the things that we fund. Instead, we would determine the type of outcomes that we expect from an orchestra and assess whether we could change the basis on which the orchestra behaves.
The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra is attached to the broadcasting authority at the moment, so we do not see its value only when it plays in the National Concert Hall. It is a huge public resource; not simply by virtue of its residences, but by its coming down the airwaves into homes all over the country. Therefore, in relation to its delivery, it is a very democratic organisation.
What is the nature of the relationship between the Arts Council and the Abbey Theatre? Is it a direct relationship?
Yes, and it is a very good one. It is the only organisation in the last five years with which we have had a three-year funding deal. The Abbey has a long history of close contact with Government. There is always a lot of media interest in funding to the Abbey and so on, but at the moment it is a very effective organisation. It supports a lot of new writing and has extended its audience base and the social reach of its audience. It is coming to the end of a three-year programme of stabilising its internal workings. We have a good, if robust, relationship with the Abbey.
Mr D Bradley:
Does the Abbey receive a lot of private funding?
Not as much as we would like it to receive. That is one of the things that we will discuss when formulating the next three-year programme.
It has certainly enjoyed very positive publicity in the recent past.
When organisations are funded jointly by both arts councils, is the strategic significance of those organisations decided by the two councils, or is it a result of the dynamic of the group? Did Poetry Ireland, for example, demand that it be jointly funded, or was that a strategic decision made by the arts councils?
Our policies work in two ways across the board, not only in relation to the joint funding of organisations. We think that good ideas need encouragement, so part of our policy has always been to respond to organisations. We also direct our funding to different organisations. Therefore, it is a mix.
For example, Poetry Ireland is an organisation that requested to work on a Thirty-Two County basis and brought proposals to us. On the other hand, Opera Theatre Company is an organisation that, from the beginning, was more or less established by the Arts Council, and our relationship with that is far more strategic. Both arts councils agree that Opera Theatre Company has a role in both jurisdictions, and we ask it to fulfil that role.
This Committee has heard evidence and has seen research outlining the different levels of per capita funding in the North, the South, England, Scotland and Wales. You spoke about the role of Michael D Higgins. Do you think there is a need for us to provide more funding? The case has been made, but we do not seem to be able to break through the ceiling and provide more funding. If you were to give advice on how we break through that mentality or mindset, how do we do that? From listening to the evidence, it is clear that there is a demand for the arts, such as that which created the circumstances for someone such as Michael D Higgins to allow the arts flourish. How do we change the mindset of the funders? In many ways, it is we in Government who need to change our mindsets.
There are several things that could be done; I will suggest two. Northern Ireland has, and has always had, some of the greatest artists in the world. There are not many areas in which a population of this size punches above its weight, but there is a roll-call of artists here. When one thinks about Scandinavia one thinks about good design. When one thinks about Japan, one thinks about technology. When one thinks about Northern Ireland, one thinks about great writers and artists. That is a matter of pride and prestige.
The second argument, which relates to that, is that when the studies are done about inward investment from some of those multinationals that Mary mentioned, there are three things that families tell the chief executives of those companies are important when they are considering relocating. They are interested in the physical environment and landscape of the area into which they might locate; the quality of first-, second- and third-level education; and the cultural facilities. As well as making sense for lots of intrinsic reasons, it makes economic sense that, if you want to attract and retain inward investment, culture is one of the pieces of the jigsaw.
I had to nip out there for a short time, so you may have discussed this in my absence. On the issue of artist royalties, you skipped over a bit about tax benefits. Are artists drawn to leave Northern Ireland to go to the Republic and avail themselves of those benefits? Is that working against Northern Ireland?
It is only a matter of speculation, but I do not think so. I do not think that any incentives — financial or otherwise — will make a material difference to where an artist decides to live. It may be a factor, but I do not think that it would be a deciding factor.
There was a proposal to abolish the artists’ tax exemption. We made the point that Ireland — North and South — is identified with the arts. It is more about creating an encouraging environment for artists and letting them know that they are thought of as important and are wanted in our society. There are only a few people who move simply for tax reasons.
We have had representations here about the difficulties that actors face in securing employment. It is a very open-ended question, but do actors from your area experience the same difficulties with securing full-time employment?
It is very difficult. We did a study two years ago about the living and working conditions of theatre artists. We are very pleased that we are now working in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to address that very question, to see what the living and working conditions of artists are across the Thirty-Two Counties and how can we improve them, or make the life of an artist more viable.
Whether an actor at the top of his or her profession can work full time for a year is a moot point, but I know that some of our best actors are living on an income of €7,000 a year, which is very difficult. Investment in the arts creates more activity as well as more opportunities and more employment for artists. That might not be in full-time, permanent jobs, but it will be in gainful employment.
Is that a downer when attracting young people into the arts?
No; it can be a plus. I do not think that someone would choose not be an actor because it is not a well-remunerated profession for anyone but those at the very top. If someone is put off being an actor by the money, they probably should not go into the business in the first place.
I was put off being a footballer because of the money, but now I wish I had not been. [Laughter.]
That brings the evidence session to a close. Thank you both for your contributions.