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Government criticised over schemes aimed at helping artists impacted by coronavirus

Minister Josepha Madigan made the announcement about a number of new initiatives today.

Image: Leon Farrell

THE DEPARTMENT OF Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has announced a number of new schemes today in response to the impact of the coronavirus crisis on artists.

However, the news has been criticised by a number of artists, including the group the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA).

The campaign said “it is extremely disappointing that today’s announcement shows such little respect for artists and arts workers and those who support them”.

The announcement, which was made today by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan, has a number of parts to it.

In response to some of the criticism received on Twitter, Minister Madigan said in a series of tweets that the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht provided €25m of funding to arts and cultural organisations in the two weeks after the closure of venues due to Covid-19. 

She said that the Arts Council paid €18m of this to artists and arts organisations over that two-week period, and that the initiatives announced today supports their work during the Covid-19 emergency, and is separate to supports available through Covid social welfare schemes and business supports.

€1 million fund

One initiative announced today was a €1 million fund from the Arts Council to enable artists to make new and original art during the Covid-19 crisis.

The scheme, called the Arts Council Covid-19 Crisis Response Award, is designed to support the creation of new artistic work and its dissemination online for the public benefit.

The Arts Council said it is creating a new digital platform so that people across the country can experience the work in their own homes.

“Artists and arts organisations have been playing their part in helping people get through this crisis. The Arts Council is fully aware of the huge impact the crisis is having on the livelihoods of everyone working in the arts. This new scheme is one immediate support to assist artists to make new work for the public to enjoy during this difficult time,” said Kevin Rafter, Chair of the Arts Council.

The €1 million fund will be made up of €500,000 from the Arts Council’s existing budgets, with €500,000 funding from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Minister Madigan said: “Budgets are tight, but we need our artists making great work for the public now more than ever, and the Government is proud to be able to provide extra funding for it.”

The award is open to anyone who can demonstrate a track record of professional practice as an artist, with no restriction on the type or form of art that can be created.

The Arts Council said proposals would be assessed and scored based on the artistic quality of the proposal, the potential of the idea to engage with the public, and the track record of the artist.

Successful applicants will be awarded €3,000 and there are 334 awards available under this scheme. Applicants must be resident in the Republic of Ireland, and agree to adhere to all public-health advice and guidance laid down by the HSE and by the government and with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Artists already receiving funding from the Arts Council across a range of schemes are not eligible to apply – full criteria and guidelines will be available at www.artscouncil.ie

In addition, Culture Ireland announced a new initiative, Ireland Performs. This is operated with Facebook Ireland, which will award €1,000 each to 100 artists/groups selected to perform on Facebook Live. This will also be broadcast on RTÉ. 

In addition, Creative Ireland will offer free creative resources online, and RTÉ School Hub and RTÉ Culture will showcase material from Ireland’s national cultural institutions, arts organisations and the Arts Council.

Fighting Words will provide online resources to support creative writing, TG4 will also provide cultural content and will partner with Comahaltas for a reimagined fleadh ceoil. The Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland project will see 50 writers producing monologues, which will performed in April.

Disappointment

However, the NCFA said it is “extremely disappointed” by the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht’s response to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the Irish arts community.

The NCFA said it believes that the announcement “goes nowhere near addressing the fears and concerns of the arts community in Ireland.”

Our sector needs to be ready to come back fighting after this crisis is over; the lack of vision shown by the Minister and her Department will do nothing to create those conditions.

In a statement, it said: “In a time when the Irish Government has acted swiftly and decisively to allay fears and secure the welfare of Irish citizens in this unprecedented crisis, we are dismayed by the lack of vision shown in relation to the arts.”

The NCFA said that the Arts Council fund of €1 million for artists to create online work “represents a small investment in individual artists, but does not apply to many kinds of artistic practice”.

It said that other initiatives like ‘Shining a Light’ (where people are asked to shine a light for those affected by Covid-19) “have little to do with professional arts practice and do not address the real damage that has been done to the sector through the ongoing crisis”.

Yet again, Ireland’s place at the bottom of the pile in terms of investment in culture and arts in Europe is demonstrated. Other countries have rolled out significant supports for artists in these challenging times (e.g. Germany €50 Billion, Arts Council England £160 Million, Arts Council Wales £7 Million).

The NCFA said that the recent crisis “has shown the Irish public’s support for and commitment to arts and culture in all its forms”.

It also said it is imperative that the arts sector is recognised as vital to the fabric of our society, and “that the creativity, innovation and multifaceted skills of artists, makers and arts workers will be a key component in the rebuilding of our country and economy”.

The NCFA concluded that: “There will be no arts and culture sector left without a significant vision for how the sector will be supported through these difficult times.”

The campaign group has now called on the government to make more funding available to the Department of Culture to allow it to add significantly more funding to the Arts Council measure, open up the restrictiveness of the scheme and make some changes to these initiatives “to really reflect how the Irish public value artists and arts organisations and to better support artists directly at this time”.

When contacted by TheJournal.ie, the Arts Council said it had no comment to make at this time. The Department of Culture has also been contacted for comment.

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