Speech by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, at the launch of New Funding for the Arts


Sheila, Orlaith, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to meet members of the Arts Council, your dedicated staff and just some of the many artists you work with on an ongoing basis.

This is my first visit to 70 Merrion Square and what a wonderful setting it is. I want at the outset to acknowledge the important role that the Arts Council has played historically and the central part you play in arts policy, and in delivery for artists, arts organisations and people across the country in accessing and participating in the arts.

The Arts Council was a beacon for artists, and a shelter, in times when promotion of their art was difficult for anyone who walked to the beat of a different drum. It is instructive to look back at the difference between the Ireland of 1966 when we marked the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising and 2016. In 1966 many of the fine men who participated in the Easter Rising stood shoulder to shoulder outside the GPO. Alas, too few of the women involved were properly recognised or remembered.

But thinking now of 1965, its ultimate importance may not have been the commemoration that was being planned for the following year, but innovation and artistic licence instead. It was the year when there was a public reading of Enda O’Brien’s banned book The Country Girls and when John McGahern’s The Dark was published. In the visual arts, 1967 saw the beginning of a series of profoundly important Rosc exhibitions. A historic era was passing, but artistic energy and insight was making another, different age. John McGahern afterwards was a much loved and respected member of this Council.

Today, as it is my first opportunity to say so publicly, I want to commend the Arts Council for your extraordinary and rich 2016 programme. The interpretation of artists didn’t simply commemorate, it interrogated, it disturbed, it entertained and it left behind a legacy of interpretation that has added immensely to our understanding of those events, and how they impact on our time. That is especially true of the role of women, which as I mentioned, for too long was too little recognised.

Today is a welcome opportunity for me to thank each and every one of you for the work you do for art, for artists and for the audience in the wider community. Since its establishment the Arts Council has been a resource and a voice for artists. The artistic health of the nation rests with you.  It is a huge responsibility.

The Arts Council should be a place where artists can look for moral as well as for material support. Artists should feel they are welcome, at home and centre stage here in Merrion Square and I believe they do.

It is the absolute centrality of artists that underlines the central role of the Arts Council.  Today I am delighted to announce with you that more than 100 artists, arts organisations and projects, right across the country will receive funding of almost €7 million. Today’s announcement is a manifestation of the Arts Council’s new funding framework, which is designed specially to deliver on its strategy, Making Great Art Work.

It is a well thought-through, 10-year strategy which marries the Arts Council’s deep knowledge and expertise in the arts with its duty to develop the arts for today and for future generations. The strategy is focused firmly on the artist – without whom there would be no art at all! – and the public – without which no one would experience the art!

We, who are privileged in whatever role to work for the arts, have a clear and a central objective. We exist to support and to enable artists make work that is reached and accessed by the audience. Art is intrinsic to citizenship. Artists are as essential to a functioning republic as its legislature, its judiciary or its media. Without artists there would be a fundamental lack of fresh and different perspective, of interrogation, of interpretation, of storytelling, of beauty, of anger, of consolation and of hope.

Those searing, necessary encounters are supported year in, year out with practical help, with advice and with leadership from the Arts Council. We understand that art arrives not ready made, or freshly formed. It comes from practice, from education, for failure, from renewed effort and is only then the great success that is applauded and wondered at. Art comes from an ecosystem of people and of organisations that we as policy makers must seek to renew, so that is can replenish the arts in Ireland and so that Irish art can be a beacon for us at home, and for Ireland around the world.

The Arts Council is the engine of the state that invests in potential.  We know that it takes many years before we have world acclaimed writers, actors, visual artists, theatre makers, directors.  The Government’s commitment to increasing investment in arts and culture and in expanding our global footprint requires a vibrant arts sector and artists that can support the realisation of that vision.

So over the course of this year the Arts Council will invest €68.4 million in the arts.

Highlights will include:

  • €28.4 million through its Strategic Funding programme to 156 organisations in literature, music, dance, visual arts, theatre, street art, circus, spectacle, opera, film, architecture and the traditional arts, as well as through special areas of arts practice such as arts participation and young people, children and arts education.
  • Special focus on arts programmes for children and young people, including central role for Arts Council in Government’s new Scoileanna Ildánaca/Creative Schools initiative in 150 schools and a special investment of €600,000
  • Multi-annual grants for some organisations, to allow better planning for 2019 and 2020
  • Development arts funding for all 31 local authorities and Ealaín na Gaeltachta, and investment of some €2.4 million
  • Investment of €5.5 million in arts centres around the country
  • Abbey Theatre supported in its ambitious new plans with tours around Ireland with €7 million for 2018
  • Aosdána sustained and cnuas maintained to honour and support our established artists, with investment of €2.7 million
  • New national opera company bringing Irish productions from the great operatic repertoire, with overall investment in opera of €4.7 million

The real beneficiaries are us the people of Ireland, both individually and collectively, and as a society. The arts change our lives because:

  • Art enriches us personally
  • Art give heart and expression to our community
  • Arts leaves us more creative and imaginative
  • Art raises our spirits, consoles us and entertains us
  • Art drives our economy with creativity and innovation, and by making Ireland so attractive for tourism.
  • And most of all, the arts in Ireland bring us together — and keeps us together. Art is the interpretation, interrogation and expression of our diverse identity.

The arts in Ireland are famed around the world. Our artists are also deeply respected at home. The arts are essential to our identity as a country and to our lives as citizens. The arts have recently come through extremely hard times, a difficult few years of funding and resource cuts, where not all ambitions and hopes were realised. My job as Minister is not to make art, it is to support art and to enable artists. I appreciate your acknowledgement Sheila; that a corner has been turned, and I believe it has.

Now our job is to sustain momentum and investment.  It is to replenish the ecosystem of artists, of people who work with the arts and of arts organisations, that enables art to be made. I understand the deep roots of interconnectivity that permeate Irish creativity. I know, it is a complex, interlayered, connected series of relationships between arts education, arts organisations, individual artists and us the audience. I know too the essential, central role of the Arts Council in sustaining, encouraging and supporting the arts. I know and I fundamentally respect the essential arm’s length principle in arts funding.

The role of the state is to support the arts. It is to be proud that we as a people honour our artists. It is to say that we are endeavouring to make art intrinsic to the enjoyment of citizenship. The exciting funding programme announced here today will further that agenda this year and for many years to come.

I’ll conclude with a quote from actress Julie Andrews who in an interview opined The arts bridge cultures; they’re good for the economy, and they’re good for fostering empathy and decency” She went on to quote one of her favourite writers Katherine Anne Porter, who said “When all about is lying in ashes, it will be the arts who remind us who we are, where we’ve come from and where we can go.”

Thank you.

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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