This Time its Personal – Why Arts Dept Now?

When I started writing this just over a week ago 7,572 people had signed a petition for the creation of an adequately resourced Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage. I put the petition on Uplift  because I was angry and frustrated that the tireless efforts of the many people who work in arts, culture and heritage, that the incredible impact their work has – and could have – on the community, on the lives of so many, had been downgraded again. The new department has droped culture and heritage entirely from its name and it appears, as Emily Mark Fitgerald said in her blog that Arts had been stapled onto the end. The response to this petition has been overwhelming.


I thought about taking an academic approach to this blog, of citing the cultural economists, the educationalists, the policy thinkers, the urbanists who have all produced research clearly illustrating the value of creativity, culture, arts and heritage to the well being of a society in personal, social and economic terms. But that would take a longer article. Instead I want to share some conversations I had with people over the last week – in particular with actor Clare Dunne. “Recently I became a writer. Well no one told me. I just decided. That’s how most writers start. I was never backed by any ‘body’ officially or paid. I just ran on some gut feeling that I had a good idea and it would reach a bunch of people in the world that maybe don’t get to see reflections of themselves on screen that often that are bit more hopeful.”

And that’s what so much of the work is about. Can we capture what others are thinking and feeling, and can we say it back to them in such a way that it liberates, that it empowers. It’s like what Seth Godin, the American marketing guru, said; “Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does… An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally”.

Clare went on to say “I met a lot of people over the last couple of years researching for my film and I kept coming away from each conversation re-iterating to myself the very kernel of why and who this film is for. A niche? A minority? No actually. Possibly a massive amount of people that feel just as disempowered as this artist feels and that probably need a new, uplifting story to experience”.

We’ve been told a lot of stories over the last few years, stories about the banking crisis, about mental illness, about homelessness, about Health, about how we’re the best little country to do business in, about how we “punch above our weight culturally” etc. etc. I don’t think very many of us believe those stories anymore. We need new ones. Stories of empowerment, stories of hope, stories that imagine how we make a better world, not how we stick this one back together, because deep down we feel that this one isn’t working. Its our creativity that will save us, our culture – the one we make everyday – that will save us, and it’s the art that will express it.

As a stranger at a bus stop said during the week as we chatted about what I was doing, “you have to show us something beyond this life”.

And that’s what artists try to do. And it’s hard. As Clare put it:

“After being an emigrant for about 5 years.
After coming back and not getting work here.
After the thousandth conversation with an actor or writer in a cafe giving up on even why they do this thing – this story telling art.
After hearing complaining about finance and lack of support.
After seeing so many talented people flee Ireland to somewhere they can hear the sound of their own voice before being muted by a ‘woah that’s too risky, you’re not experienced or we cannot give you enough money’
After my own experience of the industries abroad where they just make more more more stuff and constantly fail and then go but what if? And go further and  create amazing new things…

I’ve learnt…nobody is right or wrong. And no one person has ALL the power or the answers. It’s all a moving thing. And in that respect I just feel that we must be all inclusive. (like a holiday resort) And we must look into the whites of each others eyes and face up to – actually – a much better adventure.”

Social Media has lit up with this conversation, but one of my favourite comments was from Mark O’Brien, “If self expression and empowerment aren’t a priority then we’re doing something wrong”.

It would be foolish for one person to say what a campaign is “about”. But I suspect that part of this is about being heard and being listened to, it’s a refusal to have the power of our culture and creativity ghettoized into an “arts community”, defined by a single power,  and consigned to a bureaucratic back corridor.

Because the culture and the creativity is everywhere, in all of us, it is the whole community and yes there are artists living in it as well. Because creativity, culture is our tribal call.

There are now 13,770.

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