We need a serious discussion about how Ireland values arts

Olwen Dawe.
Olwen Dawe.


In the wake of the recent Cabinet announcements, and more specifically, the creation of a department for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht – it’s fair to say that a sense of ennui, or more accurately, abject dismay, has enveloped the arts community.

Seeing the narrative illuminate Twitter and other social media platforms since that announcement was made, simply highlights the palpable frustration felt by so many arts and creative-sector professionals whose livelihood is more-or-less being demoted by the continual erosion of arts funding and policy since austerity measures began.

Ireland currently boasts a place at the bottom of the European League for Government Investment in Culture and the Arts –  the Council of Europe data shows that in 2012 Ireland spent just 0.11% of GDP on the arts and culture, compared to a European average of 0.6% of GDP. Continual funding cuts and a low priority ranking in terms of policy placing, means artists, producers and organisations are continually under pressure.

Having grown up around the arts, I can’t imagine new theatre, music, performance, literature or access to our cultural institutions being revoked or reduced by funding cuts. However, the reality is that this threat is very real – and in certain instances, forcing individual organisations to operate on scarce or hugely reduced resources.

The long-debated conundrum of big data versus great art in terms of economic evaluation (particularly in relation to funding and project support) rages on, yet there seems to be a complete lack of understanding that art and public engagement with the arts is bigger than a bunch of figures.  As a recent student of economics and policy, I can attest to all the evaluative exercises required for policy programmes – but are we really asking ourselves the right questions when it comes to understanding the true value of investment in arts and culture?

I am someone who’s very proud of the creativity in my DNA.  The reality is – this country’s very fabric is woven with great art.  It is an integral and elemental aspect of our collective DNA.  None more so illustrated than in the recent commemorations which clearly pointed to the fact that many of those so centrally involved in Easter 1916’s Rising were poets and writers.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.