Speech by Josepha Madigan TD at launch of Bealtaine Festival 2018
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
It is an honour for me to be here today to launch the vibrant and fascinating festival of BEALTAINE, and to offer my thanks to all who have worked to bring it about. Truly, you have done us all a great service.
I want to begin by congratulating Age and Opportunity, the national agency whose mission it is to promote the participation of older people in society. In 1996 they established the Bealtaine Festival as a month-long arts festival to celebrate and advance the skills, experiences and exposure that can lead to a rich creative life for all older people. Since then it has gone from strength to strength.
As a measure of its success, I can point to the fact that in 2017, the Festival worked with 510 festival organisers all over Ireland and had 97,000 participants. It is also worth pointing out that 90% of events were full or sold out.
These figures speak to a phenomenal outreach, and it is worth dwelling on this level of take-up for a moment. As Minister for Culture, one thing stands out for me, and it is this: in every aspect of the Festival, there is an adherence to the highest artistic standards. No compromise. Only the best is good enough. I am convinced that this is a key element in the way the whole of Ireland has taken the Festival to its heart.
From the very start, Bealtaine has worked with artists who deliver an excellent standard of arts practice. There is nothing tokenistic about the myriad of events that take place all over Ireland during the month of May. It is a mark of the artistic integrity of the festival that it is the only organisation with a specific focus on arts and older people that is funded by the Arts Council.
The Arts Council have supported Bealtaine from the beginning and indeed their total funding to date amounts to €1.4 million. Age and Opportunity shares the vision of the Arts Council, and indeed my own vision, of the centrality of the arts in developing and expressing our sense of self and identity. We also share a belief that excellence of the work must go hand in hand with the democratisation of access. On both these aims, Bealtaine has always delivered.
An organisation that focuses on the convergence of older people and artistic practice is making a particular kind of statement: it says that with age comes not only experience, but also the capacity for joy in creative expression, an appetite for health and well-being grounded in the practice of, and the enjoyment of, creativity. I might mention here some quality of life research from the 2017 Report of AGE UK which indicated that older people rate access to creativity over – and this may surprise some – financial security and even health.
Our older people are our guardians of memory, and without memory there can be no civilisation, – but there is nothing passive about memory. Memory is the base from which we continue to develop as human beings.
The idea that after 65, for instance, people should stand aside from society because they are no longer either vital or productive is absurd. That is why Government has arranged that public service staff recruited before 2004 have the option, on reaching 65, of staying in post until they reach 70, and has further arranged that staff recruited after 2004 have a retirement age of 70, or in some cases have no compulsory retirement age.
We can see among artists just how productive older people can be:
Samuel Beckett lived to be 83, and was productive all the way through;
Pablo Picasso produced a torrent of work between 1968 and 1971when he reached 90;
The Franco-American artist Louise Bourgeois was active until she was 99
The great Doris Lessing was contemplating a new novel at the age of 94!
But Bealtaine is not just a powerful demonstration of the contribution to the arts, and therefore to society, that older artists make; it is also a powerful promoter of social cohesion, mixing older and younger artists, older and younger audiences, to the general enrichment of all of our lives. If Bealtaine makes a strong social statement, it is this: all of our lives as citizens and as human beings are inextricably intertwined; we are all of us in this together, young and old.
One of the great strengths of Bealtaine as a festival lies in its ongoing engagement with the best of our artists, but this engagement is itself based in a wider set of relationships. Among Bealtaine’s key strengths are the meaningful connections that they foster with other arts organisations and artists. In this case associations are made with Visual Artists Ireland, Irish Theatre Institute, Local Authorities, Dance Theatre of Ireland, Association of Irish Choirs, KCAT, Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann, and many more.
I am pleased to note that Age and Opportunity plans, this year, to go forward with a new perspective, in that they plan to develop more formally into a National Resource and Development Agency for the Arts and Older People, which would operate outside of as well as within Bealtaine Festival activity. They can be assured of my wholehearted support in this, and I congratulate their Chair, Ita Mangan, their Board and festival director Tara Byrne on their work and advocacy to date, as well as their ambitious plans for the future.
Guím gach rath orthu sa todhchaí, agus molaim go h-árd iad as a bhfuil bainte amach acu go dtí seo.
This government has, rightly, placed great emphasis on securing a firm economic base for Ireland’s future, but that is not the whole of our work, nor the whole of our intentions. We recognise that a sound economy is no more than the base for a progressive civil society in which all citizens can find scope for the full expression of their humanity, in all its many aspects.
Our identity as a people and the health of our civil society depend on a vibrant, fearless and independent arts sector. I can think of no better example of the good that flows from such work, than this magnificent and enduring Festival of Bealtaine.
We find in the early mediaeval manuscripts Sanas Cormaic and Tochmarc Emire that on Lá Bealtaine, May Day, the Druids would light two great fires and the community, with their cattle, would pass between these two great fires to mark the beginning of summer.
Perhaps in its own way the Bealtaine Festival encourages us all to pass between the twin fires of our living culture and our vibrant heritage so that, year after year, we may be reborn in the joy of life.
To quote 19th century American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
It is with enormous pleasure, then, and with a lively sense of anticipation, that I now declare Bealtaine 2018 well and truly launched into the world. Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.