The Chairman of the Arts Council, Ms Pat Moylan, has said it would be folly for the Government to treat the arts as some kind of luxury that would be easy to cut in a recession and has warned against "thoughtless hacking" at the Arts Council’s budget. Instead she said the arts should be embraced and its job creation potential exploited at a time of major unemployment.
Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on the Arts, where her delegation included actor Brendan Gleeson and writer Colum McCann, both of whom were funded by the Arts Council in the early stages of their careers, Ms Moylan said if successful Irish artists were sports stars, they would be more feted in Ireland. Also with Ms Moylan was actor Gabriel Byrne, who accompanied the delegation as a show of his support for the Arts Council.
She warned that if cuts went ahead to the Arts Council’s budget, there was a danger that the inspirational role of the arts would be lost. "There is no point crying over the spilt milk, let’s hold on tightly to what we have. I believe that the arts provide a vital uplifting of the soul of the nation. I know it is something not apparent to everybody. They might not realise it - until it is gone that is. Until theatres go dark, until festivals are cancelled, until artists and actors join the interview queue for Dunnes Stores. Until we reverse the progress of probably the most successful sector in Irish life. Until we turn our faces toward the prospect of a cultural desert."
Ms Moylan told the Committee: "I would like to illustrate the folly of treating the arts as some leisure pastime for the middle classes - Something nice to-have but not need-to-have, in tough times, something that the state can save money on at the moment without too much negative consequence. I don’t deride that point of view. I can understand how people carrying out an emergency exercise on the nation’s finances might have seen it as an obvious and legitimate target and moved on. But it is a flawed analysis and a faulty conclusion," Ms Moylan said.
"And I am saying this not only as a lover of the arts. I am saying it as a business woman. It simply makes bad business sense. The Arts Council supports 3,000 jobs (both directly and indirectly) with the €73 million allocation it receives from the taxpayer. In turn, those organisations pay €65 million in direct and indirect taxes each year.
"Artists, actors, musicians and all those in the broad arts family - work with a sense of vocation. Certainly they gain much personal satisfaction when their work goes well. But to follow this way of life they are prepared to submit to low earnings, periods of no earnings, to continuous assessment of their work and talent - much of it public, to insecurity of employment or the loneliness of working in front of a computer or canvas. There are no pension schemes, no lavish expenses, no sinecures. In other words there is no fat! Funding cuts go straight to the bone."
Ms Moylan said of the Irish winners of Tony awards, Booker prizes and Nobel prizes for literature: "They are well regarded in Ireland. But can you imagine how treasured these people would be if they were Olympic Gold medallists, Golf major winners, Triple Crown champions. How we would clamour for more facilities in pools, tracks, pitches, stadia, coaching and training to ensure more success in the future. And quite right too. But in the arts world that is exactly what we have. Proven champions and winners.
"Their success says much about them as people. But it also declares to the world that a country which breeds and produces such illustrious achievement, such creative talent must itself have a lot to offer. Something to offer to cultural tourists, to inward investors, to companies seeking to locate enterprises, to other creative organisations needing the feed of art skills to serve their own creative work.
"Thoughtless hacking at the artistic foundation from which they emerged will reduce our chances of future champions of the arts. Where will the next Seamus Heaney come from, the next Anne Enright or indeed the next Brendan Gleeson, the next Gabriel Byrne? These are the names that act like a magnet when it comes to bringing tourists into this country. Culture Tourism is worth €2.1 billion annually to the economy - it can’t be ignored.
Ms Moylan said the job potential of arts and culture, where another 10,000 jobs could be created, needed to be exploited. "There is tremendous potential for growing jobs in the interface between the arts and other creative industries. Let me give you just one example - the field of video games and on-line games. That is a growth sector if ever there was one. But this sector needs narrative, actors’ voices, visual artists, music etc. And there are other potential sources of creative and innovative enterprise starting or locating here in Ireland because of our reputation and the reality that we in Ireland are a creative people," Ms Moylan told the Committee. The Arts Council, she said, will be targeting this collaboration with creative companies as an area that can be stimulated.
"I'd say there are very few things I have done, books and plays, that haven't been enabled and cheered on financially -- and indeed spiritually -- by the Arts Council.
This is one modern Irish writing life that is indebted to it."
"I would describe the Arts Council Bursary Award as having been essential to my progress as a writer during 2009. On one level, receipt of the Bursary has enabled me to dedicate time to writing, which would otherwise have been spent trying to earn my keep in a non-creative way.
But more than this, since it is considered such a very great honour by anybody in the Arts in Ireland to be offered a Bursary, receipt of the grant has validated my work as a writer, boosting my confidence to persevere with my novel and inspiring me to consider broader possibilities within the writing field.
Specifically, this year alone, I have progressed well in my main writing endeavour: I am about half way into the first draft of my novel. In addition, I have been shortlisted for the Francis MacManus Short Story Award; two of my pieces have been published in a Literary Review in the United States; one of my poems was published in The Sunday Tribune/Hennessy Brandy New Irish Writing series, and Crannóg literary review in Galway is also publishing one of my poems in their October edition.
Thus, there is no doubt in my mind that I have progressed significantly in my work as a writer directly as a result of this generous grant, and am grateful to the Arts Council for it."
"I am Emma Fitzgerald - an artist working in the field of Contemporary Dance in Ireland. In Contemporary Dance the body is the system through which art acts. The bursary awarded me by the Arts Council affirms the significance and validity of my research into the forces which form my artistic practice and enhances the depth and quality of that research. I work in pursuit of an increased articulacy surrounding the current concerns and limitations specific to Contemporary Dance so that the language matrix in which we move can support the body in which language comes alive."
"I am very honoured by the assistance of the Arts Council in the documentation and preservation of my compositions, technique and playing style in the traditional music idiom. It is an incredible boost to me and a great honour to receive such an acknowledgement of my work over the years and indeed to assist in bringing to fruition a project that my heart is in, due to my love of those who cared and carried the tradition and the beauty of the music."
"I am of a mind that art ennobles and enables one to fulfil one's part of the social contract. Artistic activity is not a get-out clause. Its practitioners should, like any other service provider be paid a wage that is consonant with value. With Arts Council backing it has been possible for me to commission a wide variety of unique new works, both musical and visual, from across an extraordinary spectrum of arts-workers -some 19 new works in all."