The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has been effectively disbanded, and the arts and cultural sector is now overseen by Rural Affairs. The downgrading of the department – and the inevitable downgrading of the Arts Council and Local Authority Funding is all part of the Fine Gael led neo-liberal passion for austerity and increasing inequality.
(The Campaign to Create a Department of Art, Culture and Heritage is here https://my.uplift.ie/p/dach if you wish to sign it)
The only relevant questions are how will this play out, what will the impact be, and what is the strategy for resistence.
The downgrading of the department of arts means no significant funding increase to the Arts Council, which means that the council cannot pursue their stated of objectives of Supporting the Artist, Investment or Spatial planning. It means that the department will prioritise the National Cultural Institutions as they support international image, tourism and provide the odd photo opp.
The Council, in its pursuit of “excellence” will continue to fund what they have always funded – a strategy that will further divide the sector between the haves and the have nots. The sector as a whole will call on the council to lobby and “advocate” (something they are evidently not very good at) for increased funding which they will not get, so the sector will neither trust nor support the Council. This interneicine struggle will be used by the government as proof of the ineffectiveness of the Council and an argument for its dismantling.
The call from the sector for retaining the council and for increased funding – if it gets any media coverage at all – will further alienate the public, the majority of whom derive no discernible benefit from state investment in the arts.
Without widespread, vocal public support the arts have no political leverage; so long as the sector has no public support and is divided within itself as a result of historic dependency and funding policies, then the Arts Council has neither support nor mandate and all its lobbying and advocating will be in vain.
I am not pointing fingers at individuals here by the way. The situation will not change no matter how many faces come and go. The system is perfectly designed to achieve what it achieves: a divided sector, elitism, separation from the public, learned helplessness and powerlessness.
The Arts Council’s Making Great Art Work is a useful starting point. It unintentionally identifies both the problems and the solutions.
The solutions are Engage The Public and Develop Capacity. The problem of course is that the Council in its customary self deception assumes that these are things the council will do.
The Council cannot engage the public – only the artists can do that, if they choose.
The Council cannot develop capacity – only the sector can do that
We must remember at this time that the Department and the Council create nothing, and produce nothing. In focusing on excellence they have elevated an exclusive notion of high art at the expense of culture, promoting a divisive and elitist notion of art that does not engage the wider public.
The vast majority of artists are now, effectively, on their own. The only courses of action are carrying on as always hoping for recognition and support form a funding system powerless to deliver it, or start the difficult task of engaging the public and developing our own capacity. It means putting our skills and our talent, our passions and moral convictions, our creativity at the service of the public, it means collaborating like never before, it means breaking the mindset of dependency and entitlement, it means breaking rules and probably laws.
It means acknowledging that the world has changed, that creativity is now common currency, that people don’t just consume culture any more they create it, participate in it, they co-create and they collaborate.
Building capacity is not just about sharing office space (remember all the talk of hubs a couple of years ago?). Its about self education so that we are all aware of the economics and policy implications of what we do; its about looking at the sector as a whole and understanding its value – social and economic, its about planning together outside the silos and categories created by funding tools and decisions.
The real opportunity of course is to take back the power, by realising that only we can plan for the development of the arts sector, by turning our attention away from the council and back to the public – because without their support and understanding we have nothing.
All of this starts with talk. Talk that is not complaining about the council or the politicians or the departments. Talk that produces plans that we can execute and that serve the interests of public.
I would love to convene the first such meeting. Let me know,