Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Brendan Gleeson made an impassioned plea for continued support of the Arts Council.
"I started my acting career with the Passion Machine theatre company, which was established to bring theatre to new areas. It was all about inclusion. It sought to bring theatre to people who would not normally think of theatre as having anything to do with them. Artistically, the company explored and reflected people’s lives. The audiences, who came in their thousands, felt a real sense of identification with what they experienced. It was uplifting. The support of the Arts Council facilitated the expansion and development of the company. We ended up playing to packed houses in mainstream theatres. When we did ten-week runs in the Olympia Theatre, it was jammed to the rafters every night. In the midst of the dreadful economic desert of the 1980s, tens of thousands of people came to our shows and felt less isolated and less anonymous. They laughed a lot. They felt we were in this thing together, and so did we.
When the economic tide finally turned, we were ready for it and up for it. I would like to think we played our part in it. Our audiences, in turn, inspired many of us to take the leap and commit full-time to the artistic path. I refer to people like Paul Mercier, Roddy Doyle, Ger Ryan, Liam Cunningham, Liam Carney and dozens of others, including myself whose creative careers were fostered at that time. The Passion Machine’s cultural dividend is pretty strong. It would be interesting to add up the funding the company received over its lifetime and place it alongside the revenues the country accrued from the careers of those it nurtured. I would say the country would be well in the black, perhaps from Roddy Doyle’s "The Commitments" alone. The Passion Machine was just one company. I see that Garry Hynes and Fiach Mac Conghail are in the Visitors’ Gallery. We should remember those who emerged from the Project Arts Centre, including Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson. Visual artists and sculptors, such as Bobby Ballagh and John Behan, have also brought extraordinary credit to this country and helped to define it.
Millions of pounds, euro and dollars have been spent in Ireland as a result of the nurturing of the talent I have mentioned. From its inception, the Project Arts Centre has been able to operate in large part due to the support of the Arts Council. One can imagine the cultural and financial loss we would have suffered if it had been otherwise. It is immeasurable. Gabriel Byrne has asked me to mention the Sense of Ireland project, which went overseas in the 1970s. Do the members of the committee remember it? It was all part of the work of the Project Arts Centre. An unprecedented sense of this country was brought to an international audience as a consequence of something that had been created with the support of the Arts Council.
Arts funding is vital, for national morale in the first instance. This country was founded by dreamers and poets who strove, in the words of Pádraig Pearse:
To give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulk of actual things
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.
That dream led to the foundation of this State. Despite everything, we have forged a distinct place among the nations of the earth, in large part due to our sense of self, the vigour of our commitment to artistic excellence and the uniqueness of our cultural expression. It is important to us and others respond to it. In times of recession and flagging spirits, it is especially important to reassert that sense of ourselves, for ourselves. The arts provide that above everything else. We need to communicate that self-belief to the world at large.
We punch well above our weight internationally, partly because we are and are seen to be creative. In literature, theatre, movies and every other branch of the arts, we continue to successfully demonstrate to the world that we can be a productive, innovative and dynamic people. This has economic as well as cultural benefits. People want to come here to be a part of it, whether to work or to play. It has an almost unquantifiable value. It is crucial that we maintain it if we are to emerge from our present difficulties. Funding is critical if we are to continue to enable intelligent and creative people to produce work here that has an intrinsic value to us and our well-being, promotes our reputation and standing abroad and generates revenue."