Should the Arts Council get More Money?

Photograph Daniel Biber

(Photograph Daniel Biber)

So, with Budget Day just around the corner, a vague promise to double arts funding over the next SEVEN years while facing a crisis in housing, finance, health and – arguably – education, police and defense forces – I thought I’d ask the question: Should the Arts Council get more money? Continue reading

“I have a way? Is that better than a plan?” The Truth About Strategy

I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months thinking about strategy, and talking to various people about strategy, and developing strategies.  In seems that within the culture and creative sector Strategy has become something of a buzzword. Strategy is right up there with “well being”, “co-working” and “entrepreneur”, “growth mindset” and “multi-disciplinary”  etc.  Its a word that’s used in a lot of contexts but its actually very difficult to get agreement on what the word actually means (It’s very revealing to ask a roomful of business students or a board of directors to define strategy). Continue reading

Artists, Housework and Learning to Unsee

Had a fascinating conversation with a student about business training for artists. As we all know the real problem in the development of artists careers is that they have no business skills. Which of course is a handy way of shifting the responsibility for the failures in the arts sector onto the shoulders of the artist, and making sure that the artists know that they’re not as grown up as the business folk. As the leading cultural economist Arjo Klamer points out the heroic figure of the Cultural Entrepreneur is primarily a fictional character in a very particular economic narrative.

There are however other economic narratives that we can consider.

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Report on Culture 2025 – A Campaign Update

Download the Joint Oireachtas Report on Culture, Arts and Heritage Here

“Far too many wonderful words have been written about culture in Ireland and far too little has been done that has been sustainable”

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

I think its important to take a moment and review what last years Uplift petition and the lobbying and actions it provoked have achieved to date.

Last year – in June I think –  Fianna Fail’s Niamh Smyth, in response to this petition,  put down a motion and called a special debate  in the Dail. In view of a packed visitors gallery various ministers spoke to the importance of Culture, Arts and Heritage and of course the majority voted against the motion. In the course of the debate we were assured by Minister Humphreys that the existing configuration of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was ideal and no dedicated ministry was possible or desirable, and that additional funding would be made available as and when the economy improves.

Now, just over a year later we have a Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and a Taoiseach promising to double the funding to the Arts over the next seven years.  Given the very low starting point doubling over a seven period is not a particularly ambitious target,  but it is something we can measure progress against.

I’d call that a win. Well done.

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No Artists Need Apply

The Social Welfare Pilot Scheme for Artists

So the government has announced a new pilot scheme that “allows” artists to be self-employed and claim social welfare. Of course, this is a pilot scheme and only applies to visual artists (subject to verification by the VAI) and writers (subject to verification by The Irish Writers Centre). For the twelve month duration of the scheme performing artists will not be eligible, because as we all know they’re not really artists at all. (There’s an interesting facebook thread on this here led by Declan Gorman)

According to the Irish Times report on the scheme the artist will have to be registered as self-employed with the Revenue Commissioners and be able to demonstrate at least 50 per cent of their income has been derived from their art in the preceding year to be eligible.

“Once a person has been classified as a self-employed artist on the DSP system they would not be subject to activation process for at least a year.

The conditions associated with jobseeker’s allowance will continue to apply, as they do for all other claimants. Artists will have to prove that they are genuinely seeking other work, taking part in courses or classes like CV preparation, job-searching or referral to JobPath, Tús and Jobs Clubs, for example”.

I want you to think about that last phrase for a moment: “Artists will have to prove that they are genuine9ly seeking other work, taking part in courses or classes like CV preparation, job-searching or referral to JobPath, Tús and Jobs Clubs, for example”.

Its time we got something out in the open, so here it is:

THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR ARTISTS. NONE.artist_coder_featured

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman}

Continue reading

Arts and The Cannibal Economy

I was going to write a blog in response to the funding allocation made to the Arts, Culture and Heritage sector in the recent budget, until I remembered that the allocation is actually irrelevant.  Even if we got to the almost mythical level of 0.6% of GDP (difficult given the near fictional nature of our GDP) we still wouldn’t create the kind of sector we all dream about, we still wouldn’t create meaningful careers or alleviate the systemic poverty and its associated illnesses.

Here’s a fact that nobody’s acknowledging: the vast majority of Artists across Europe (and the world) are poor – regardless of the levels of state subsidy. Its possible – as leading Cultural Economist Hans Ebbing points out  – that subsidy itself is responsible for the poverty.

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Everything you wanted to know about Arts Marketing

An old theatre colleague of mine – a brilliant teacher of actors – once remarked that you could take any single acting exercise and if you explored it deeply enough for long enough it would reveal everything you need to know about acting.  Watching that person in action made me wonder if the same principle applies to any practice.

So if we look at the very current practice of Arts Marketing what will it tell us about Arts and Culture? About our perception and understanding of Arts and Culture? After all  academic courses and modules in Arts Marketing abound; there are MOOCs, there are countless books on the topic, thousands of articles and many journals – not to mention endless opportunities for consultants to conduct audience research, run pilot schemes and develop organisational strategies.

But when we say “Arts Marketing” what are we actually talking about and what actually is the practice of Arts Marketing? Continue reading

The Log that would be King – Cultural Policy and Process

Business Process Design is a fascinating and highly creative practice.  What happens if we apply this highly creative practice to an analysis of our culture, arts and heritage sectors in an attempt to improve efficiency, productivity and outcomes – because lets face it there wont be any serious investment in the sector in the coming budgets so we might as well play with internal improvements.

First its important that we understand the idea of Process. So here’s a nice picture:


As you can see its a straightforward concept. You take a load of Inputs that are Transformable, feed them into a Transforming Process that changes the inputs, adds value and creates the Transformed Outputs. A rough-hewn log being fed into a wood mill and emerging as regular planks is the perfect image for process thinking.

If we look at the Culture and Creative sector then its pretty apparent that the process is “Individual Creativity”.  The output is a whole range of stuff and ideas and behaviours that we can group under arts, heritage and culture, which in turn become inputs.

The question then is where does the Department of AHRRGA and its various “arms length” agencies sit in the process. Are they inputs, part of the process or are they outputs?  This is an important question, because when we’re dealing with intangibles the status of each element can become confused.

I would argue that the transforming process is creativity. It’s creativity that transforms talent, ideas, money etc into cultural artifacts and value. It follows that the Dept and it’s agencies are clusters of inputs – some ideas, some human resources but mostly money. It’s the creativity that creates the value. 

All well and good, except for the fact that in our cultural sector the Dept and it’s agencies behave as if they were the transforming process. They set up policies and criteria and put out funding calls. The creative practitioners put their creative ideas into this as inputs, certain inputs are selected in the belief that the agencies can shape the outputs – essentially deciding what is and isn’t art and culture. In doing this they actively prevent and retard the effective working of the process, the creation of the culture.

It’s like trying to feed a timber Mill into a Log.

So what needs to happen? The dept and it’s agencies need to stop trying to shape and determine the outputs. The creative practitioners need to stop thinking that they are inputs into a culture Mill.  We need to ask are the legislation and funding tools feeding the creativity or are they impeding it? If they are impeding it we need to change them so that they feed and support the creativity.

In short we need to accept that dept and agencies serve the creativity and not vice versa. We need to stop getting the process arse about tit. 


Why are Artists Poor?

The Dáil debate on the motion put forward by Fianna Fail’s Niamh Smyth was an historic event.  For me the most exciting aspect of it was that the words Culture, Creativity, Community, Arts, and Heritage were used with almost equal frequency. This is an important development, signalling a fundamental shift in language and understanding.  The in-principle support offered by all TDs was to be welcomed and banked for the future. Enormous congratulations are due to the NCFA for their tireless lobbying.

The language from the Government benches was unambiguous. There will be no dedicated department of Culture Arts and Heritage; there will be no Minister of State; we all love the arts; more money will be made available as the economy improves.  That last phrase was repeated several times from the Government benches.

If that is the case then what possible strategy can be put in place now to address the ridiculous conditions under which the majority of artists live and work? How can we stop being poor? Continue reading