Opinion: As venues reopen, Aileen Galvin of the National Campaign For The Arts writes about the need to embrace the positives that have emerged for Ireland's cultural community in recent months.
It took the global pandemic to inspire a wider governmental and public understanding of the societal value of the arts, the work of Ireland’s 55,000 strong workforce of artists, arts workers and arts organisations.
When the streets emptied and our homes became our entire world, artists got on with doing their jobs. Their products, their output – their art - quelled our fear, absorbed our grief, gave us joy and respite, and reminded us again and again that despite being apart we were not alone.
The limiting effects of necessary restrictions and lockdowns kickstarted the demystification of 'the arts’, what the arts are, who they are for, how the arts can forge the building blocks of a just, healthy, inclusive, progressive, and diverse society, why each citizen could be confident and proud to assume the role of a contemporary ‘patron of the arts’ through their tax euros. The artists, their many and varied artforms, the day to-day graft, the multi-layered processes of making art, and the time needed to do that work, gained better and widespread understanding. The return on investment in the arts was revealed. The arts bled into the national consciousness, as Ireland reclaimed artistic expression as a simple and vital part of everyday life for everyone.
It seems often forgotten that artists and arts workers do not live in a parallel society: they are as impacted by crises in health, housing, education, climate action and equality as all other citizens.
As we head towards Budget 2022 and full capacity re-opening of the arts and cultural sector on October 22, 2021, we have presented Government with the National Campaign for the Arts Pre-Budget 2022 Submission: A New Journey Into A Better Future, with 10 cost effective and straightforward recommendations that will ensure the future of Ireland’s arts workforce. It is important that we keep a focus on the challenges that continue to face the funded arts sector and the long term impacts that restrictions will leave in their wake.
As we move forward in this new phase of life, we must ensure that the work of artists, arts workers and arts organisations, so widely lauded and embraced across Government throughout the pandemic, is properly bolstered and nurtured into the future. We cannot go backwards. We must not lose the positive momentum in societal understanding, appreciation and demand for the arts in its myriad forms, that the very worst of times has paved for us.
While much of the noise over the last number of weeks has centred around large scale commercial live events, within the funded arts the pre-existing financial crisis remains. Government investment in the bodies that underwrite the artistic output of the nation have barely recovered since the 2008 crash. Ireland continues to languish on the bottom rung of European investment in culture. Remuneration for Irish artists and arts workers is consistently and significantly less than the national average, and the working day continues to lengthen. The funded arts sector has always existed at the discretion of those who decide the pecking order of societal needs. If proof of value is key to investment decisions, NCFA strongly asserts that the last eighteen months are clear proof of concept: invest in the arts and the arts will return manifold. It seems often forgotten that artists and arts workers do not live in a parallel society: they are as impacted by crises in health, housing, education, climate action and equality as all other citizens.
We must not lose the positive momentum in societal understanding, appreciation and demand for the arts in its myriad forms, that the very worst of times has paved for us.
Budget 2022 provides Government with the golden opportunity for a renaissance moment, to reset the pilot light for Ireland’s 55,000 artists, arts workers, and arts organisations, secure the livelihoods of our artistic and creative workforce, and guarantee a sound working future for the next generations of Irish performers and creators.
The key points laid out in the Pre-Budget Submission are the basic building blocks from which the arts sector can commence a new journey into a better future. By committing to equitable and sustained investment in the arts, Government can ensure continued economic return on investment from the sector and guarantee the rights of more than 5 million citizens of our island to reap the wealth of life-affirming benefits that the arts provide.
We ask now that the nation stands with our artists and arts workers to protect the future of those makers and creators who bring joy, light, connection and hope to the nation every day of the year through their hard work – their writing, music, performances, artworks, live experiences and so much more.
Aileen Galvin is Managing Partner at Sync & Swim, working in strategic arts marketing and communications, and a member of the NCFA steering committee.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ