I’ll keep this simple and, hopefully within the limits of fair comment. Altering States, Cliodhna Ní Anluain’s series on 100 years of the arts in Ireland, is being repeated by RTE. I tuned in the to hear what the series’ contributors had to say about the “regional development of the arts.”
I was struck by the position taken by Johanne Mullan, speaking as manager of the National Programme at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Mullan was critical of the lack of investment in professional personnel or appropriate spaces in venues in the ‘regions.’ It seemed completely at odds with her role as one of the longest serving members of the board of birectors of Siamsa Tíre Teo.
Since 2010, Mullan, along with the other members of the board, has overseen the dismantling of a professional visual arts programme in an organisation that received €332,000 in public funding in 2016. Inadvertently Mullan has pointed to the issue of governance and the relation between governance, venue management, artistic policy, and funding as an important factor in determining the level and quality of arts activity at a local level.
This is very topical. The Government has just launched its Creative Ireland Programme, a plan to “build a legacy of 2016” by promoting “active engagement with arts and culture.” The Government has also launched Realising Our Rural Potential, a plan to mobilise economic, social and cultural resources in the regions with the aim of “improving the lives of those living and working in rural Ireland.” The plans come together around the key objective of increasing access to the arts and enhancing cultural facilities in rural communities.
This suggests a more active and direct role by government in promoting the development of the arts at a local level; a role that has, until now, been carried out by the Arts Council and its clients. This comes at an interesting time. In 2015, Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts, brokered a deal whereby his department replaced the Arts Council as the primary funder of Siamsa Tíre.
It was a brazen act of clientilist patronage that politicized arts funding in an unprecedented way. It begs the question: is this the logic that is now driving government thinking on the arts in the context of rural development? That, in turn, raises all sorts of question about the Government’s Creative Ireland Programme.
So here goes. This blog is intended to start a conversation around these issues. The first ‘episode’ is entitled Altering States: the curious case of Johanne Mullan’s critique and Jimmy’s chocolate teapot. It deals with the rather curious case of the disappearance of the visual arts in Siamsa Tíre.