A couple of years ago I had to end a business relationship with an old friend. Something I would rather not have done. However, it was necessary when I realised that that person’s company wasn’t a company. It was a legal fiction, necessary if he was to receive grants and commissions, it had no assets, no investors, and no long term plan. It did one thing (one set of tasks) and repeated it again and again – whenever it got a grant or a commission. Essentially this friend did one thing and hawked that skill around: they were a freelancer. Not a company. Not really. And this came as a shock to them.
As Peter Brook once remarked, theatre is now, and always has been, in crisis. Whatever the nature of the continuing existential threat that Brook Identified the truth is that theatre in Ireland (as in many other parts of the world) is facing a sustained economic and ideological challenge that will change how we conceive of, create, and experience theatre.
I was in conversation recently with one of our leading theatre artists. The topic of the government’s impending national culture policy discussion document, culture2025, came up so I asked their opinion. They looked up from under lowered brows and uttered, in that tired contemptuous tone, a single word: “Instrumentalist”.
I’m sorry, you say I’m doing what?
For artists, arts policy makers, politicians, strategists, consultants, entrepreneurs, CEOs and, well, mostly artists “the world is in a terrible state of chassis”, as Sean O’Casey wrote. (“Chassis” meaning “chaos’ for those of us not familiar with his work). Time was you could talk about Arts and Culture (nearly always with capital letters) and everybody – including you – knew what you meant. It’s why the Irish Arts Act lists what can be considered as art with great confidence and only included cinema in its second iteration. It made life easy for the funding agencies that were brought into existence to protect and develop The Arts (because we all knew what art was) and allowed us to quietly divide the society between the cultured (those who appreciated The Arts) and the uncultured (those who did not). Alas, all has changed, a terrible beauty has been born, as Yeats would say.
We now have to contend with arts, culture (no capital letters), heritage, co-creation, prosumers (yes its a word), creative, industry, imagination, creative industries, culture and cultural industries, Culture 3.0, and of course the ongoing manichean struggle between intrinsic and instrumental value. It ain’t easy.
So, with the Irish Government’s first ever cultural policy – Culture2025 – in the pipeline I thought I’d try to tease out some of the key terms that are going to get thrown around in the forthcoming debate. It’s important that we all agree on the meaning of the words we use in this debate and how they relate to each other or we’re in danger of leaving the table with very different expectations. Agreeing on the meaning of what we’re saying is the first step toward strategic alignment – that magical state where everybody works together toward the same goal.
So, you’re running an Arts Centre or a gallery or a “cultural Institution”; or you’ve just started a new festival or theatre or dance company. How do you decide what to programme? What will you actually do, and what factors – internal and external – will inform that decision? What criteria will you use to justify the massive investment of time, talent, energy and public or private money. It’s a tricky one. Continue reading Dogs, Stars, Cows, Question Marks and the Art of Arts Programming.
Making a living as an artist can be hard. I remember a conversation with journalist Donald Clarke many years ago about this. In his inimitable way he made the comment “You don’t see many ads in the paper do you? You know, Wanted: Novelist. No Magical Realists need apply”. The truth is that there are no jobs for artists. Never have been and probably never will be. Continue reading No Artists Need Apply – The reality of jobs in the Arts