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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 17 April, 2014

Column: Funding to the Arts can’t be stretched any further

The direct impact of the arts on the Irish economy is a good one. So surely an intelligent economic strategy would support this area, rather than starve it? writes Eoin Lynch.

Eoin Lynch

PEOPLE INVOLVED IN the arts in Ireland are a resilient and resourceful bunch. World-class music and theatre festivals are being produced on incredibly tight budgets all over the country. The Macnas Parade will take place later this month in Galway thanks to crowdfunding and the determination of the company’s artistic director. Fleadhanna in Cavan, films in Wicklow, concerts in Sligo, creative arts and events are going on all over the place.

From a distance everything seems to be running to form. However, a closer look paints a different picture, one that shows a sector being pushed to breaking point due to the ongoing reduction in state funding.

Ask five people how important it is that the arts be supported in Budget 2014 and at least two will respond along the lines of; “ it is not a priority at this time”. One of the five may well tell you that the arts, as a sector, is a luxury that we can no longer afford. The Arts council has seen a drastic cut in funding over the past five years from €85 million in 2008 to €60.7 million in 2013. It is a paltry amount when you consider that by 2pm on 2 January this year, the HSE had spent the equivalent of the council’s entire annual budget.

Let’s not kid ourselves though. There are, and should be, higher priorities on Minister Noonan’s mind as he prepares to tighten the belt a notch tighter in an attempt to squeeze €2.5 billion from the guts of the economy. However, before dismissing the Arts sector there are a number of points to be considered.

An invaluable indicator

Small sectors, in any economy, are invaluable indicators as to how an overall strategy is working out. Large sized sectors such as agriculture or communications are obviously more robust and are better prepared to weather the storm. And after two very heavy budgets may show signs of being battle weary, but they are, for the most part, still intact. After similar treatment in the past few budgets, the arts indicates to us that the FG/ Labour coalition has no medium or long term strategy in place, not only for the arts, but for the economy as a whole.

What is worrying in terms of the government strategy, or lack of, is the fact that the Arts have always returned a healthy profit to the Exchequer. Of the three agencies that implement the policy of The Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the clearest year-on-year figures come from the Arts Council. The most up to date figures show that in 2011, recipients of council funding returned an excess of €41.3 million to the Exchequer. It may not be a huge amount, a banker may not have risen himself from bed for this amount during the boom year but the point is that the government should be investing in, rather then subtracting from profitable sectors.

This amount is only from recipients of arts council funding in that year. When you include revenue from the wider arts, such as film, publishing and museums the gross added value in that year jumps to €713.25 million. Include what are called ‘creative industries’ such as software, radio and television, advertising and the added value is €4644.8 million

The figures are very clear; the direct impact of the arts on the Irish economy is a good one. So surely an intelligent economic strategy would support this area, rather than starve it?

Ireland’s reputation

The indirect impact is more difficult to show. However a RedC poll released last Friday tells us that 90 per cent of those questioned agreed that Ireland’s artistic reputation attracts tourism to the country (Failte Ireland figures show that in 2011, 3.1 million visitors were considered as ‘cultural tourists’). 51 per cent of those poled by RedC believed that Ireland’s reputation in the arts was a significant influence on multinationals’ decisions to locate in Ireland.

Ireland’s reputation and our track record in this area means that we are justifiably considered to be world class in the arts. If there were any doubt over this, the work that was on offer at last months Dublin Fringe Festival, or at last weeks Hard Working Class Heroes, shows just how high the standard is.

Some will argue that the true value of art cannot be calculated in economic terms and that it is the sense of community and of shared experience that art has its greatest value. That, I would suggest is a question for another day. I would also argue that the majority of Irish people, even those who do not consider it a priority, realise that the arts are deeply embedded within the Irish identity and it is something that we, perhaps more then other nations, have a great understanding and appreciation of. It is part of who we were, who we are, and will continue to be part of us as a nation.

What is vital within Budget 2014 is that the thin thread of funding to the Arts not be stretched any further. The wisest and most strategically savvy move would be to invest now and see the profits in next year’s figures. Artists are resourceful, give them a little more now and you will receive a great return in the future.

Eoin Lynch tweets at @Eoinlyncho

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