The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon has published a new pamphlet as part of the series The Value of the Arts and written by academic Kevin Whelan.
Speaking at the launch of the pamphlet, Dr Martin Mansergh, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and the Arts, stressed that the arts are central to life in Ireland.
"Especially in difficult times, we should remember the great value of the arts to society, but also to employment, to our communities, to education, to the economy and in particular to tourism," Dr Mansergh said.
The pamphlet, entitled Between filiation and affiliation: the space of art, describes the crucial role art plays in our development as a society, and the role of the artistic imagination in creating the future.
Mary Cloake, Director of the Arts Council, said: "Kevin Whelan reminds us that the artist undertakes important work on our behalf, generating new ideas and imagining ways in which the world can be different. New realities - for example innovation in the sciences, social improvements or positive political change - have to exist first in the imagination. The artist creates these imaginative possibilities for us."
Kevin Whelan, who is the Director of the Keough Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin, said that imagining the future in a different way is a difficult thing.
"If you don’t have art, you don’t have a pathway from the past, and the current, to the future," Mr Whelan said.
In the pamphlet, Mr Whelan argues: "The fusion of memory and art makes us heirs of the past and its utopian possibilities. The promise of a historical event is always more than what actually happened. There is more in the past than what happened; at any given point in time, multiple trajectories toward the future were open.
"Art can restore this openness to the past, and thereby nourish the utopian instinct, by restoring lost opportunities, and redeeming betrayed possibilities."
He continues, "The fundamental task of the artist is the retrieval of traces, the rescuing of voices, the expansion of the archive. The artist is ultimately a witness, who provides testimony and whose ethical position depends on trust, trust in the word of another."
The pamphlet, which is part of the series The Value of the Arts, was prompted by the publication of the 2006 study, The Public and the Arts, which was commissioned by the Arts Council / An Chomairle Ealaíon to provide information on the current behaviour and attitudes of Irish people to the arts.
The study finds that public attitudes to the arts are very positive and that attendance levels are above international norms. Current patterns of attendance, participation and purchase are revealed, as well as private ‘consumption’ of arts and culture via an increasing range of media.
However the study also showed some apparently contradictory findings - the public (as reflected in samples taken by the study) consider the arts to be important, even if they do not personally attend at formal arts events. This has prompted consideration of the many ways in which the arts influence day to day life, albeit sometimes invisibly.
Arising from the study the Arts Council / An Chomairle Ealaíon has asked a range of commentators to give their opinions and perspectives on The Value of the Arts. These pamphlets are intended to provoke discussion and to focus attention on the crucial role the arts can and do play in our lives as individuals, as members of diverse communities and as part of our wider society.