Naturally enough, today's budget is currently the subject of ongoing debate and analysis - check RTÉ's excellent Budget coverage for constant updates. On the back of an extraordinary year of Irish cultural activity, both on a national and international level, the arts community were keen to see how culture would fare in the budget after years of perceived neglect on the part of a government preoccupied elsewhere.
A lot of people watching very closely. https://t.co/mOesjjbtuX— lenny abrahamson (@lennyabrahamson) October 11, 2016
Then came the cold, hard figures. Broken down, the government's own press release on the matter stresses the following:
An additional €5 million for the Arts Council, an 8% increase in its annual budget;
Boosts in funding for all of the National Cultural Institutions;
€2 million to allow for the opening of the newly restored historic wings at National Gallery of Ireland and the opening of Killarney House on foot of significant capital investment by the State;
An increase of €2 million for the Irish Film Board and €1 million for Culture Ireland;
An additional €1 million to assist the Heritage Council with its work;
Funding of €5 million for implementation of Culture 2025/Ireland 2016 Legacy Programme;
The immediate reaction from Arts Council director Orlaith McBride was unreservedly positive:
A closer look suggested that the budget had in fact been cut by 16% - last year's arts budget, however, included a significant allocation for Ireland 1916 centenary projects.
So €18m of the €48m spent on 2016 commemorations has been retained for spending on Arts #Budget2017— Laurence Mackin (@LaurenceMackin) October 11, 2016
While subject to considerable criticism from the extended arts sector during her initial tenure as Minister, in recent months Heather Humphreys has shown an increased willingness to engage in active dialogue with the community, not least via social media. Today's budget has already been welcomed by a number of arts organisations, with Barbara Galavan of Screen Producers Ireland declaring it “ a very welcome step in the right direction”.
Elsewhere, the National Campaign for the Arts expressed disappointment with the figures. "While recognising the positive impact of the steps taken," said NCFA Chairperson Jo Mangan, "we are disappointed that the outcome was not more positive for the sector. There is strong disappointment coming from members who expected a significant increase from Budget 2017, in order to make extraordinary art happen for the citizens of Ireland. At 0.1% of GDP, Ireland’s expenditure on Arts and Culture is at the bottom of the list of EU countries compared with an average of 0.6%, surely something no country can condone."
The official statement from Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys read thusly:
“Through Budget 2017, I am determined to build on the positive legacy of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme by providing increases in funding to the key institutions and agencies under my remit which deliver arts and culture to people right across the country.
“As committed to in the Programme for a Partnership Government, the Arts Council and the Irish Film Board are both receiving funding increases for 2017. The additional funding of €5 million for the Arts Council will allow the Council to continue to enhance support to artists and arts organisations around the country on both a small and large scale, from locally-based groups to the Abbey Theatre.
“The increased allocation for the Irish Film Board will provide further vital support to the Irish film industry and allow them to build on the unprecedented level of success enjoyed in 2016. All of our National Cultural Institutions will receive a boost in funding in 2017, including €1.7 million for the National Gallery, which will allow it to open its recently restored Milltown and Dargan wings. The expansion project, which has received more than €30 million in State investment, has transformed the Gallery into a world class exhibition space, and represents a hugely exciting new chapter for this outstanding cultural institution.
“I have also secured €5 million in funding to deliver a Culture 2025/Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme legacy initiative, further details of which will be announced in the coming weeks. It will focus on boosting cultural provision and participation in communities and harnessing the goodwill and very positive public engagement generated by the successful delivery of our ambitious and diverse commemorative programme during 2016."