Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Value for Money and Policy Review of the Arts Council: Discussion
I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile telephones or switch them to flight mode. Mobile phones interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. Television coverage and web streaming is also adversely affected.
The first part of our meeting, session A, has been convened to discuss a value for money report and policy review of the Arts Council and related matters. It is proposed that if not previously concluded, session A will be brought to a conclusion at 3.45 p.m. Is this agreed? Agreed.
I welcome Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh, assistant secretary, and Ms Deirdre Mahony, evaluation unit, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I also welcome Ms Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council, and Professor John O'Hagan, professor of economics at Trinity College, Dublin and chairman of the steering committee.
I draw their attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. It is proposed that opening statements and any other documents witnesses have submitted to the committee may be published by it on its website after this meeting. Is this agreed? Agreed.
I call Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh to make his opening statement and to introduce the witnesses in his company.
Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh:
Táim an-shásta go bhfuil deis ag an Roinn labhairt leis an gcoiste inniu faoin staidéar tábhachtach seo faoin luach ar airgead a fhaighimid ón gComhairle Ealaíon. Déanann an comhairle obair sár-thábhachtach ar son muintir na tíre. I thank the members of the committee for the invitation to discuss the findings of the recently published value for money and policy review of the Arts Council. I am assistant secretary at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and I have overall responsibility for the arts division within the Department.
I would like to begin by introducing my colleagues. Ms Orlaith McBride is director of the Arts Council. Professor John O’Hagan is professor of economics at Trinity College, Dublin and he supervised the review. Ms Deirdre Mahony was lead evaluator and she is also from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Arts Council represents a significant proportion of the Department’s overall Vote. The proportion was 21.5% in 2015. It is for this reason that the Department was anxious to ensure a robust examination of the outputs and outcomes of the annual investment in the Arts Council. The main objectives of the review were to examine how the Arts Council operated over the period 2009 to 2012 and, more important, what it achieved for the taxpayers' investment in the arts. The Department is pleased to note that the review found that the Arts Council has performed well over a challenging period and, in particular, managed to do more with less. While that is somewhat a cliché, I say it in particular in relation to its own administrative practices, while also noting that there has been a significant reduction in overall funding available for supports to artists and other cultural activity since the beginning of the economic crisis.
The review was undertaken in compliance with the Department's requirements under the Government's three year evaluation programme and followed the standard methodology for such reviews. It focuses on a challenging period for the public finances, from 2009 to 2012. The value for money review was overseen by a steering committee, chaired by Dr. O'Hagan, involving representatives from the Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Arts Council and an independent member from outside of the arts sector. Dr. O'Hagan is well known as a commentator on, and advocate for, the arts and his involvement was critical in ensuring the methodology for the report was robust and rigorously applied. Dr. O'Hagan also brought his considerable experience to bear on the examination of the societal value of the arts, which forms a critical part of both the report and the recommendations for the Arts Council.
I will now speak on the findings of the report. The review found that the Arts Council operates efficiently, administering its grant schemes in a manner that ensures the maximum funding available goes to artists and arts organisations. It has achieved this by reducing its administration costs and reorganising its work to better support artists and arts organisations and it has done so during a time of constrained funding and decreases in staff numbers.
The review also identifies areas where the Arts Council can improve. It recommends that the Arts Council should find a better balance between supporting its existing portfolio of organisations and providing support for new organisations. It makes recommendations about improving the transparency of its grant application and award process, building on the Arts Council's own good initiatives in this area. It recommends that the Arts Council examine the outputs of its annual investment programme to ensure there is a balanced distribution of arts opportunities across the country. The Arts Council has already moved to improve transparency with its recently relaunched website, where each allocation decision is shown along with the reasons for the award of funding on a user-friendly map of Ireland.
The review also makes recommendations about how we can better track the outputs and outcomes of the Arts Council's annual investment programme. In the short term, it recommends the introduction of a set of 11 performance indicators so, into the future, both the Arts Council and the Department will be able to answer questions about how it performs and, more importantly, what it achieves for the public's investment. For the longer term, and the more challenging question of understanding the societal value of public investment in the arts, the report makes a range of recommendations about how data can be better gathered, examined and reported.
The Minister is committed to ensuring that the findings of the report are used to improve access to, and support for, the arts in Ireland. She had a very productive discussion last month with the chairperson and director of the Arts Council on how this can be achieved. The Department will build on the positive engagement with the Arts Council in the preparation of the review to ensure that the recommendations are delivered. We will do this in close consultation with the Arts Council using the normal governance arrangements, including regular liaison meetings and the annual service level agreement.
The Arts Council has recently launched its new ten year strategy, which has incorporated many of the principles highlighted in the report. To clarify, the value for money review and the preparation of the arts strategy by the Arts Council happened in tandem, so there were lessons and learning from both processes which informed the outcome of both. Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council, will be happy to answer questions on how the value for money review will influence the implementation of the new strategy.
For my part, I wish to note how a number of our recommendations have already been applied to the Arts Council's investment strategy. For example, the council has undertaken to make clear the criteria used to make funding decisions, thereby improving the transparency of its operation. It intends to build sustainable relationships with organisations by supporting them to develop sustainable fundraising strategies and programmes and it has committed to better measuring and monitoring of the outcomes of its investment strategy, which will inform future investment decisions, including in terms of ensuring balanced regional distribution of arts opportunities. This ten year strategy will be followed by a series of three year implementation plans in which the Arts Council has committed to incorporating many of the detailed recommendations of the value for money review.
To conclude, the Department considers that this review is unique in terms of the scope of the analysis involved and it is a testament to the Arts Council that its work has stood up to this rigorous examination. The council has been proactive in changing its structures and working arrangements to better serve the arts community and the public. It has also maintained the integrity of its programme in a difficult financial climate, in part through significant cuts to its costs. The Department is confident that the Arts Council will build on this positive finding and, indeed, the momentum of its strategy development process to continue to improve its offering to the arts sector and the return on the investment to the taxpayer.
Beidh mé gairid go leor. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil le chuile dhuine a bhí páirteach san athchomharc seo. Is athchomharc tabhachtach é, ag tabhairt san áireamh go bhfuil thart ar €60 milliún á chaitheamh ag an gComhairle Ealaíon in aghaidh na bliana.
One could not but be impressed by the way this review was done. It is important that it has been done. It is even more important against a background in which we are campaigning continuously for greater expenditure on the arts and on the national cultural institutions at a time when there continues to be major restraint and pressure on the public finances. However, we conduct those campaigns in the context of an understanding of the importance of the arts to society and, indeed, the economic benefits that flow from having a vibrant, active and successful arts community.
One of the first questions that arises from this analysis is about data, the collection of data and the evaluation of the success of the various initiatives. Perhaps Mr. Ó Coigligh would expand a little on what is contained in the paper on the area of data collection. There are areas of the arts that are intrinsically somewhat nebulous and while they are terribly valuable, how does one collect data on or quantify in a real way the type of benefits that flow, as distinct from perhaps looking at what the pharmaceutical or farming sectors do and so forth? I wish to hear more about that.
Mr. Ó Coigligh also says that substantial work was done in the area of administrative costs. He mentioned a figure of 16%. How does that compare with administrative costs savings in other sectors? Does it compare favourably or otherwise?
Another matter mentioned in the report is the issue of transparency and the type of relationships that exist between the Arts Council and other bodies. The report mentions the need to build more sustainable relationships. What bodies are being referred to in that regard? Reference was also made to the relationship between the Arts Council and local authorities. Local authorities fulfil a vital role in bringing the arts to the people, particularly in rural areas. In so far as they play that role, they also facilitate the numbers of audiences, participants and people engaged in the arts in general to be grown, and grown exponentially if everything works effectively. However, there can be a conflict between what the Arts Council and the local authorities wish to do. One often finds a situation in which the local authority will argue that the funding should come from the Arts Council, while the Arts Council will argue conversely that the local authority should provide more. How can that be dealt with?
My final question is about introducing multi-annual service level agreements. What are the types of groups, bodies or agencies with which the witness would envisage such agreements being put in place and how does he envisage them working? Finally, with regard to the cnuas, can the witness give us an indication of the overall annual value of the payments included there?
Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh:
I will make a general response and we can ask Professor John O'Hagan and Ms Orlaith McBride to contribute on specific points. The issue of data is challenging for us all. It is worth pointing out that the Department itself is currently looking at developing an overall national cultural policy, Culture 2025. We have been going through a significant public consultation process with all the cultural institutions around the country, and many other stakeholders. Issues of data arise in terms of how we measure outcomes. We all know that investment in the arts and culture is good for society and personal well-being. It has mental health benefits through integration and reaching out to areas of deprivation. There are many benefits but it is terribly difficult to quantify them. The nut has not yet been cracked but Professor O’Hagan will have views on that.
In terms of administrative costs, the report shows that the Arts Council compares favourably with other organisations such as Fáilte Ireland and the Irish Film Board. It is difficult, as it depends on the quantum of money one has to give out. The Department has made similar levels of savings in terms of administrative costs, but on a very reduced budget in terms of where the total quantum of administration versus output rests. Ms Orlaith McBride will probably speak about the specific bodies but the Arts Council has ongoing relationships with key institutions such as Senator Mac Conghail’s Abbey Theatre, the Gate Theatre, the Wexford opera festival and many of the festivals we see every year.
The relationship with local authorities is very interesting. The need for greater recognition of the role of local community, and the role of local government in the provision of arts and cultural services is an issue that has come up frequently in the Culture 2025 consultation process. Local authorities are an important actor on the ground. They do not need to be directed from the top, but they do need support. The Arts Council has done some very good work with local authorities, as Ms McBride will probably explain to the committee.
Expenditure on the cnuas is €2.6 million. Perhaps Professor O’Hagan could speak on issues concerning the cnuas.
Professor John O'Hagan:
I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for his searching questions. I am pleased he has welcomed value for money studies because it is vital that they are continued. In the public arena at the moment people are talking about small increases in the budget and where they will be allocated but there is a huge existing expenditure in the public sector that should be constantly under review, not just in the Arts Council. Value for money studies have been very useful.
In terms of the benefits of the arts, one must distinguish between personal benefits and benefits to the taxpayer. Someone might like going to the Abbey Theatre, or to a concert or they might like gardening or hill walking. There is a personal benefit to them from such activities. The issue here is what is the benefit to the taxpayer and society at large. That is what we have to pin down. People often confuse the issues. There is a wonderful opera festival in Wexford which should be funded because people enjoyed it so much, but people should pay for their personal enjoyment. The report tried to point out that there is a benefit for broader society that could be justifiably funded out of taxpayers’ money. What one needs to do is provide evidence for that. Two reports have been done. The Arts Council is just a small part of the arts sector. Personally, I think it is inappropriate that it is burdened with collecting data and evidence on the sector. It should be done by the Department, like it is done in Britain, because the Department has an overarching brief.
There is a need for a much bigger survey and survey data. As the Deputy correctly said, what is required is not just quantitative data, it is qualitative data and narrative. Others have heard this story, but I remember meeting Compton Mackenzie who is an impresario in the West End and I asked him about the subsidised theatre sector in London. I thought he would be totally against it but he said, on the contrary, the subsidised sector is where they test talent and plays. He said if there was not a subsidised sector in London there would be no West End, but that needs to be tracked. If some people are very successful on TV now, they start their training in the subsidised sector and evidence seems to be built up for that. The Deputy is quite right but the evidence must go much wider than quantitative data, it should be qualitative and narrative, telling a story like that. I thank members for their questions.
Ms Orlaith McBride:
I will respond specifically to the question about local government. The Deputy is absolutely correct in that in the past 30 years since we developed our first partnership with local government back in 1985 it has probably been truly the most transformative thing in terms of the arts reaching people right across the country. The value for money report recognises that and our new strategy, Making Great Art Work, also recognises that. One of the key pillars underpinning the new strategy is that we will recommit to our relationship with local government. This month we will launch a new memorandum of understanding, MOU, between the Arts Council and the County and City Management Association and then we will sit down with every local authority over the next three years and agree a new funding agreement and service level agreement with them, which will very clearly outline how we will proceed. The reality is that there are particular concerns that may be only of local significance and then there are particular concerns that the Arts Council also wants to support and fund. Therefore, the new memorandum of understanding with each local authority will identify those particular initiatives that are of interest exclusively to the local authority, those particular initiatives that are of interest exclusively to the Arts Council and those that are joint concerns. There will be no ambiguity in terms of the Arts Council’s role and responsibility at national level and then at local level. We recognise that our relationship with local government is the most important relationship in terms of identifying other bodies with which we can partner in the coming years.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. First, on a potential conflict of interest, I run the Abbey Theatre and it gets funded through the Arts Council and the Department. I always need to put that on the record just in case I have any enemies out there, but I not have any enemies. Second, I am one of the founding members of the National Campaign for the Arts and before I became a Senator we advocated a lot of policy initiatives that are suggested by Professor O’Hagan as chairperson of the steering group.
I congratulate the Arts Council. It is great to note its clean bill of health in terms of managing its resources through what I would consider traumatic change and cuts. It must be difficult to manage that in terms of staffing, restructuring and having to take tougher decisions. We all felt that in the arts world and we all got cut. It would be fair to say there are findings and recommendations but ultimately it is a good news story in terms of how the board, the chairperson and director have managed the Arts Council’s role.
I have several questions in no particular order. The first is directed at Ms McBride. I am picking up on Deputy Ó Fearghaíl’s line of questioning. There seems to be a constant theme in Professor O’Hagan’s authored report around data collection and measurement. I do not wish to put words in his mouth but it appears to be consistent that there is very little evidence. Although we might have data I get confused myself as to where all the data is, where it is centrally located and until that is clear, in my view it leads to potential for poor policy decisions. I know there are recommendations in the report regarding diversifying more funding towards various regions but in order to build confidence around policy I would like to hear what is being done in terms of data collection and how the information is disseminated and if there is a specific role within the council in that regard.
Professor O’Hagan correctly mentioned that the value for money report is about the benefit to the taxpayer.
Ultimately, the Arts Council needs to look at how to illustrate the benefit to the citizen and how that can be measured, qualitatively or quantitatively, to leverage additional growth and income. I would like to hear its views on that. Is any research planned? How will that be linked with data collection?
I understand from the latest strategy, and I noticed it in the O'Rourke report published over a year ago, that the arts community called for an advocacy role for the Arts Council. What is its role? Is the role to act behind the scenes or is it to be more public in terms of advocating value and calling for increased funding for the arts? Those are questions for Ms McBride.
My next comments are to directed to Mr. Ó Coigligh. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, DCAL, in Northern Ireland and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in England have a full-time economist, or policy unit. Again, I am linking in with Professor O'Hagan's comments. I understand Mr. Ó Coigligh has only recently been appointed but I would like know his view of the recommendations in the value for money report. I think Professor O'Hagan just mentioned it but is there a greater role for the Department in monitoring data and looking at other research in the medium to long term and in linking policy. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is working on Culture 2025 but in a way that is kind of a culture policy. How does the Department monitor and back up such a policy? Has it discovered national or international examples of policy and surveys? I am thinking of the Department of Health's survey called TILDA, The Irish Longitudinal study on Ageing. For many years, there has been a campaign advocating the annual harvesting of data, biannual surveys and cultural participation. Is there scope for the Department and the Arts Council to do more in partnership with the Irish Research Council? I have been a Senator for almost five years and I am concerned that there is a lot more collaboration between Departments and NGOs in other areas, such as social justice. I would like to hear Mr. Ó Coigligh view on that.
My final questions are for Professor O'Hagan and Ms Mahony. Professor O'Hagan wrote an interesting and provocative article in The Irish Timesrecently. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl spoke quite eloquently about the matter but we are always defining the value of the arts in terms of absence. What if the Abbey was not there? What if Yeats was not there? What if Beckett was not there? However, people have grown tired of that argument as it is a less sophisticated one.
I have read the report and found it to be very strong, particularly the final chapter. It has looked to the arts council in England in terms of what it considers to be the best or the latest best ways to measure or evaluate. This is always difficult. The arts should not attach itself to economic benefit alone. We have tried that argument but it becomes so instrumental that we lose and become less sophisticated. I include myself in this that we are less sophisticated in arguing the benefit of the arts in a way that is confident and based on data or measurement. It does not have to be based on actual economic indicators. The biggest crisis facing our argument for arts funding is that we - I include myself in this - have not come up with a sophisticated argument where we can go to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and say not to cut our funding because the arts are good for people. How do Professor O'Hagan, as an economist, and Ms Mahony approach that? I refer to research and development and the commercial world. We would all argue that "Love/Hate" would not have succeeded without the extraordinarily talented actors and writers, a lot of whom started off in a theatre. How would one argue that? That is a question for Ms McBride in terms of advocacy. The final line in Professor O'Hagan's article states: "Such evidence can be and has to be found, be it qualitative, quantitative or by way of convincing narrative. It is the only way to secure the future growth." What is the solution?
Ms Orlaith McBride:
Two of the questions are inter-related because the question on data collection and illustrating the benefit to the taxpayer are linked into our advocacy. I will deal with the advocacy piece first. Over the past number of years, the Arts Council has been in crisis management. There has been a significant collapse in funding, so we have not been as active in the area of promotion or advocacy as we should have been. As our money was reduced, we wanted to ensure that as much money as possible was leaving the building. What the report clearly identified and what our strategy identified, in terms of objective 20, was that the Arts Council needed to become much more active in the area of promotion and advocacy. I have just come from a session at the Royal Hibernian Academy where there was a call from the sector that the Arts Council needed to lead that public discourse in terms of the value of the arts, making a case for the arts and demonstrating the impact of the arts. We do not currently have the resources to do such work, and I am not just talking just about financial resources. We do not have the inhouse expertise to do that. In the past two years, we have established a strategic development department. The Government would not have been able to conduct a review of the Arts Council prior to the establishment of the strategic development department because we did not have the capacity to generate the evidence that Professor O'Hagan and Ms Mahony required to even begin a value for money review. The Arts Council has been deficient in terms of its internal capacity to look at the whole area of promotion and advocacy and measurement of the impact of the public investment in the Arts Council and the investment and return in terms of arts organisations and artists. We have committed to this in the strategy. The sector is very conscious that for us to invest in advocacy and promotion, we will need to divert resources in the short-term so that in the long-term, it will, hopefully, release additional public resources into the Arts Council. We are playing the long game but we need to upskill ourselves. I do not believe we have the internal capacity currently to attend to this area. We have strategic partnerships with the Irish Research Council. We already work with the ESRI and are looking at the Growing Up in Ireland survey. We are developing a partnership where we will take the evidence from this longitudinal survey to see how we can use that to better effect in terms of the impact of arts and culture on the lives of children and young people. We have started this work but we are playing the long game.
In terms of other arts councils, there is evidence that there is an absence of any international set of indicators. Next week I will meet my colleagues in the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies, IFACCA, to look at how best we can, as arts councils around the world, begin to develop a set of indicators that are arts led rather than rely on other aspects of public policy-making.
On the question on partnerships with bodies that have the skills, we are the Arts Council and not a research council. Therefore, we need to look at how we can employ research methodologies through people who have expertise in this area and bring those skills into the Arts Council. We must do better in advocacy and promotion but in order to do better in the long term, we need to invest more resources in the short term. Over the past number of years, we have not wanted to spend as much money internally on ourselves because we wanted to protect as much as we could in terms of the external environment for artists and arts organisations. I will hand over to Mr. Ó Coigligh to respond to the other questions.
Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh:
I thank the Senator for his questions. A very important point to make, and to pick up on what Ms McBride said, is that while the report is directed at the Arts Council, much of it is applicable to the Department. It is just a level up. Many of the issues apply completely to the Department in terms of the arts. There is greater room for more research.
The national campaign for the arts was acknowledged in the report as making a positive contribution, but there is greater room to work more closely with the Arts Council on much of the work it is doing. For example, with regard to the geographical and spatial spread of resources, we have been criticised in the past for the fact that our capital funding schemes have not been sufficiently policy or strategically-led. Rather than recreate the work Ms McBride has done, we need to work more closely with the Arts Council and other partners to bolster that aspect of our business.
As a caveat, I met my counterparts from the UK jurisdictions last Friday and they are in a different economic place. A different economic approach is taken in the United Kingdom. During the recession they kept the economy primed, but, now that the economy is recovering, they have decided to cut and burn. They are looking at the levels of cuts we had to take in the past few years. My colleagues in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said they had put together good arguments showing that personal well being arose from investment in the arts and culture, but they did not know whether they would get any purchase when it came to finding the money. It is often stated we have the lowest level of spending on the arts of any jurisdiction in the European Union, but we cannot say that because we do not have the research. The information does not come only from the Department or the Arts Council and we will not be in a position to argue that case until we carry out the research required. There is much for the Department to learn from this report, too.
Professor John O'Hagan:
I thank Senator Fiach Mac Conghail for his questions. I used to teach him, but he is now getting his own back. The first point he made was very important. The report is generally very favourable about the operation of the Arts Council in terms of governance, transparency and the information provided on inputs and outputs. It is a positive report on the council's operation at a time when there were significant cuts in expenditure. It is not just the data that tell us the organisation is changing and adapting. We need more data and a strategy unit, but it should be centralised in the Department. As Mr. Ó Coigligh said, there are implications for the Department, as well as for the Arts Council.
The Senator asked what would happen if we had no Abbey Theatre or no Joyce. We asked students about the role of the European Parliament, but as we could not get them interested, we rephrased the question and asked if they thought there should be no European Parliament. All of a sudden that engaged them; therefore, it can be useful to ask the same question in a different way.
The report went way beyond economic benefits and there was quite a bit on societal outcomes. Economic benefits were only third on the list.
The Senator asked how we provided the evidence. I started in this area by producing a study of the economic and social benefits of the Wexford Opera Festival, 27 years ago. One of the things on which we focused was what did the festival do for the community in Wexford in the sense of cohesion. I went there this year to get a sense of the feeling in the town, although I never go to the opera. We interviewed a lot of people and documented the findings. They said it was beneficial, even though they also never went to the opera. The Wexford Opera Festival is a niche offering as it just includes rare operas and specialises in new design. The innovation argument can be tracked, however, as it is possible to interview a lot of people. We can find people on "Fair City" and track their careers back to where they began. Did they begin in the public, subsidised sector and was that the test bed for them? In West End theatres they say new works of art would dry up without the subsidised sector. We need to ask if the commercial sector could survive without the subsidised sector. A lot of evidence can be provided in that regard.
We also looked at the economic benefits to Wexford. These are not just to bed and breakfast establishments, although almost half of the people who come to Wexford for the festival are from outside Ireland. We also tracked the reputational effects, which astonished me. We went through The New York Times, the Financial Timesand other newspapers and the reviews were astonishing. That is qualitative evidence. It might be a tale, but the sector needs to make some attempt to provide these data. Rather than just saying there are no data or that they have an argument in principle, they should provide a convincing narrative.
I welcome the value for money report and the review of arts policy. As public representatives, we tend to think that anything that involves spending taxpayers' money should never be divorced from the reality that, whether it is for the arts or anything else, somebody is paying for it. If one asks the ordinary person in a rural area where or how he or she had experienced the arts, he or she would probably answer that it was probably through the local authority. We have an excellent authority in County Mayo, from where I come, which delivers arts programming and events. Arts centres and venues have grown in recent years and that is what is real to people on the ground. It is probably their best opportunity to experience what the arts have to offer.
I am a board member of Ballina Arts Centre and Theatre and have been involved for perhaps 17 years. Arts venues are under an awful lot of pressure. Thankfully, we got a new theatre a few years ago, but most arts organisations are lurching from one year to the next and budgets and finance dominate discourse as people try to get the best value for money. The arts centres, venues and local authorities are experts on getting value for money. Of all the cuts to Arts Council funding in the past few years a disproportionate amount have fallen on arts organisations and local authorities around the country, compared to the big arts institutions centrally based in Dublin. I am not saying communities set the standard for the arts, but in their delivery there is an economic as well as a commercial and tourism side and we must think outside the box.
One of the greatest joys I have is to see communities enriched by the arts. It often takes people by surprise because we battle with the words "the arts" and many people who have no experience of them ask how they are relevant to them. It is almost that the arts are seen as an indulgence instead of something very important, a part of creating the rich tapestry of our society. As we will call these things our "heritage", there are many reasons we should invest. I would like to see a further outreach from our national institutions. They have the benefit of the focus they can bring and can uplift the activities already happening in communities.
A number of questions arise from the review of policy and the value for money analysis. More detail will come as we have these important debates. Who decides what is a balanced distribution of arts opportunities across the country?
I do not believe it exists at present. Is the Arts Council best placed to do this? Is there not a conflict of interests? If it is the Arts Council, why is that the case? There is another body in the arts office that should have an equal say in that. I would also like to see a democratic quotient included in the equation of how we decide on the balanced distribution of arts opportunities across the country. For whom do these arts opportunities exist? The litmus test for a good arts policy is how well it is reaching people. How do we counter the idea that the arts are for the elite or a privileged few who can access them?
Regarding the Arts Council supporting organisations to develop sustainable fund-raising strategies and programmes, is this realistic given that arts infrastructure in the country is relatively new? Most of these arts venues and organisations are struggling because of the disproportionate cuts they have experienced in the past five years. Some of them have had their entire funding eradicated. In light of the way the Arts Council was going in the past, I had a sense that there would be one venue or a centralisation of funding and that the local authority would be obliged to come up with funding. That is not on in my area because the council can barely get by with the funding it has for the arts notwithstanding that Mayo County Council supports the arts extremely well in very strategic ways.
These venues did not come about without input from the Arts Council in the first instance. Much of the delivery of arts venues has been organic in the sense that the need was identified within communities. Some communities might have had a great passion in a certain area of the arts, much of it from an amateur perspective. They engaged with professional artists and this is how these venues came into being. They should not be abandoned, they should be supported. They should be a key plank of how the Arts Council rolls out these balanced arts opportunities.
Is this the right time to be offloading and asking local authorities to come up with funding, if that is the Arts Council's intention? I suggest this should be a longer-term goal. Many of these organisations are on their knees and barely getting by. I am talking about arts venues throughout the country.
Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh:
I will make a few general comments. We all admit it has been a very difficult period and both national organisations and local groups have had insufficient resources. That is a difficult space. The report refers to issues of participation. We will never have X amount of money per person per county; it does not work like that. For example, in the south east, Wexford might skew it because a significant amount of money goes to the Wexford Opera Festival.
The issue of local government is very important and has been one of the most exciting developments in arts policy in the past 20 or 30 years through the role of the arts officer and the local groups that have been supported by the Arts Council and where the facilities have been supported by the Department. We recognise that those facilities need to be supported and the Minister has put in place a new scheme starting next year to help reinvest in those centres. That is very important. We cannot necessarily say that local authority members have to prioritise in terms of how funding operates and their policies in funding. We know that some of the difference in provision is not necessarily an issue regarding Arts Council provision but rather that it relates to the emphasis individual local authorities place on the provision of arts. That may be acceptable because local democracy and prioritisation is part of the decision-making process. There is a complex issue of how national support and local priority fit together.
Ms Orlaith McBride:
The Deputy is absolutely right. We have withdrawn funding to more than 100 organisations since 2008. As we lost one third of our funding, we ceased to fund approximately one third of the organisations we were funding in 2008. That was an inevitable consequence of our reduction in funding.
The Deputy asked about balanced distribution across the country and the perception of disproportionate cuts to venues and local authorities. We apportion the same reduction across all art forms and all areas of practice. So it is not true to say that venues across the country have been disproportionately cut in terms of their funding. It would have taken the same proportionate cut as every other area of our expenditure. I accept there have been cuts and we have had to make tough decisions. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis as opposed to comparing one organisation with another in a particular county.
Mr. Ó Coigligh spoke about arts venues and spatial planning. Many venues throughout the country were built without any conversation with the Arts Council. So they were not part of a planned policy of the Arts Council working in partnership with local authorities. Our new strategy document clearly states that there needs to be a much more strategic partnership between the national government spend on capital investment and the Arts Council's spend. For the past 30 years, national government has made decisions on capital expenditure and then the Arts Council has been asked to step up to the plate in terms of the day-to-day running costs. We need to have greater alignment between national and local investment in infrastructure in coming years.
I did not understand what was implied about a conflict of interests and that the Arts Council should not be making-----
Ms Orlaith McBride:
As I said earlier, our new memorandum of understanding with the County and City Management Association clearly indicates that we are very committed to a strategic relationship. This will cascade down and then we will sit down with every local authority and have a local conversation with each of them. They will identify their priorities and we will identify ours, and we will work together in that context. Those local conversations are taking place between the Arts Council and each local authority. That is where the local flavour will come into the conversation but the local authority will bring that to the table.
I apologise for not being here for the presentation. I am intrigued by the value-for-money audit principle. I can understand how Departments want to have value-for-money audits in the arts. However, I have concerns about that type of language. It is very good that the value-for-money audit has shown that the Arts Council offers value for money and operates very efficiently. As someone who worked in an area where one had to account for the State moneys being spent, I get a sense that it is possible to over-commodify the arts.
The value for money audit suits the good administrators in the organisations, it does not necessarily suit those who are doing the best art. That is one of my concerns in this area. I do not know whether the witnesses have any views on that. I am also interested in hearing a little more about how one maximises the socio-economic value of the arts. There is a sense, in particular in the arts community, that the funding regime in the past has always favoured the big arts organisations and the institutional arts. It has almost led to a corporatisation of the arts. That is felt very much among artists on the ground. The question is whether in a value for money audit one is favouring those organisations again. Many people find that what one gets from the arts then is a kind of middle of the road, bums on seats mentality to filling the theatres or exhibition spaces that plays to the common ground but turns the arts more into entertainment than arts. One is clocking up the numbers. It is like on television when one has certain soap operas that appeal to more people so one gets bigger numbers watching them but one could ask if they compare from an arts perspective. Would the Arts Council have commissioned Samuel Beckett, W. B. Yeats or others to write some of the plays or poetry they wrote? They were not mainstream or middle of the road. They were a little bit left or right of centre. I would welcome the thoughts of the witnesses in that regard.
We have a lot of quantitative evidence. I did a degree in commerce, followed by marketing. One has the quantitative and the qualitative evidence. How are we measuring the qualitative value of the arts to communities and how are we getting into communities in rural areas, to which Deputy Mulherin referred?
I commend the Arts Council on its collaboration with Ealaín na Gaeltachta. As someone who comes from a Gaeltacht area and is an Irish speaker, I think the value for money that is got from that collaboration with Údarás na Gaeltachta is fantastic. The level of arts that has been experienced in Gaeltacht areas from very small levels of funding has been incredible and it has increased the vibrancy of the arts in the Gaeltacht areas and that is important. On the other hand, I am very disappointed that most of the national institutions have relinquished their obligation to do anything in the Irish language. A number of national institutions would say they do not see any value for money in doing Irish language productions, for example. I do not agree with that. I heard an interesting radio debate recently in which the point was made that the Abbey Theatre, for example, has not done any Irish language production in recent years. Senator Mac Conghail will have views on the matter. That is disappointing
That is an important factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Which does one give priority to? If one is programming something, can the Irish language be given a greater priority among those institutions? Can the Arts Council say in its policy that an institution is a national one but it also wants to ensure that Irish language is close to the top of its agenda?
In terms of the value for money of artists in the community, many individual artists say to me that they struggle on a very meagre income. How do we support artists who are creating art in the community if they are not connected with an institution, as such, or an organisation that is getting funding? I concur with all that has been said about funding through local authorities.
When the previous Minister, Deputy Deenihan, was Minister he made many trips around the country, including to Galway. It was said there that we undervalue the role of the artist in opening up minds and thoughts in other institutions of the State. The suggestion was made that an artist should be appointed to every State board, if only to include critical thinking and creative thinking in the decisions made at corporate level. In one sense we are corporatising the arts or measuring the arts using a corporate stick so perhaps we could influence the corporations as well and the semi-State bodies that think very corporately with the arts. It might bring a little bit of creative thinking by appointing artists to State boards. I am not sure if that is within the remit of the group before us but I welcome their contributions.
Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh:
I will ask Professor John O'Hagan to address some of those issues. Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised many philosophical and even higher level issues above what can be contained in a value for money study. I think some of the things he has mentioned in terms of support for artists ought to be considered ach caithfidh an Ghaeilge a bheith ann go ginearálta sna hinstitiúidí cultúrtha. We are grappling with some of those issues in the national cultural policy we are dealing with, which will be high level document. It is not the case that we will necessarily have answers to all of those points but they are certainly issues that arise again and again as part of the process. Perhaps Professor O’Hagan can add something.
Professor John O'Hagan:
I apologise as I do not speak Irish but I have three grandchildren going to an all-Irish school so we are making up for my deficiencies.
The report did not look at the allocation in any particular area, it was trying to establish was whether decision making in the Arts Council was transparent and based on very clear criteria, and it is. There is a very clear process in place. It is the same in Trinity College when we allocate money; some people will be disappointed but what matters is that the process is transparent and based on fair criteria and I think it is.
The Senator is quite right, but I think chapter 8 in the report went way beyond commodifying the arts. That is always a danger. That is why we put a lot of emphasis on information other than the quantitative data because then it becomes about bums on seats, as the Senator said. We have moved on to other societal benefits that are very hard to measure. Bums on seats or the economic benefit is only third on our list. I will give one example. If, let us say, the Abbey Theatre is going to have far more innovative plays, especially in the Peacock part of it, normally for that type of play there will be very few people but that is the nature of experimental work, so there is this conflict between having lots of people attending or whether one wants the theatre to be a test bed for new works and new actors. The Senator is quite right but I feel the report did not over-commodify the arts by adding that last chapter.
I welcome the witnesses to today’s meeting. I noted what was said in the value for money report. I was chairperson of the arts facility in South Dublin County Council and I wish to put on record that, as Deputy Mulherin said, local authorities have done as much for the arts in counties as the Arts Council and Ms McBride was the first to recognise that herself. She did say she had to cut back on funding. I urge her to put funding for local authorities at the top of her funding priorities as I can see best value for money coming from the meagre budgets councils now have. I say that from the perspective of more than 23 years on the council. Local authorities put a lot of their own money into capital provision for the arts but the ongoing day to day funding and support from the Arts Council is very welcome. Such funding should be a top priority as it brings the arts to the people. Another speaker asked about the social value of funding for the arts. That would be evident if one did an audit of social value in local areas. People are now engaged in the arts who were not involved heretofore and access has been greatly improved.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about funding for traditional arts and culture. I was always strongly of the view that a separate allocation should be apportioned to traditional arts versus the modern, if one likes. I do not know how it could be done but if traditional arts are not funded, they fall by the wayside. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú always promotes traditional music and Irish language facilities and plays for people who are not traditionally involved in the arts who were great artists such as Travellers or others. It is important for them to have plays in their own language on occasion. Funding for such minority groups and women is important to ensure they are given an opportunity.
The internal audit has the responsibility for audit on expenditure but in practice, because expenditure only involves 10% of the overall budget of the Arts Council there was a recommendation in the report and a circular was sent by the Department as well, Circular 13/14, that the internal audit on expenditure should encapsulate programming and expenditure.
I could not see the performance indicators in the report. Have they been drawn up or who will draw them up? In local authorities one can look at the 40 or 50 performance indicators.
Where can I find the 11 performance indicators? That is why an artist is very valuable. There is left brain and right brain thinking and drawing up performance indicators but what is important to one person might not be important to another. Therefore, whose responsibility is it to draw up the performance indicators?
I also note from the report that it takes two months after the meeting when an organisation is granted funding for the minutes of that meeting to appear online. It should be possible to reduce that timeline. As the report says, there is very little redaction in the minutes. If that is the case, one could almost put them online in the following three days. Instead of two months, the timeline should be reduced to one. That would be a huge help for the general public. If one is seeking transparency, the kite has flown after two months and it is too late to do anything about anything then.
I congratulate the witnesses on the report. The overall synopsis of the report is that there is good value for money from the Arts Council. I congratulate the council on that performance.
Ms Orlaith McBride:
I will reply to the questions about the traditional arts and the minutes. It takes up to two months because the minutes of one meeting go to the next meeting to be formally approved by the council. The meetings are held every month to six weeks so that is the reason it is usually approximately two months before the minutes are published on the website. They must be formally approved at the next council meeting. It is procedural but in terms of good governance that must be the case. We cannot put the minutes of a State agency on the website without the formal approval of the council.
Regarding the traditional arts, there is a separate budget line for those. A total of €3.2 million is going to the traditional arts. The traditional arts were named in the Arts Act 2003 for the first time. Following that Act a special committee examined how the Arts Council might engage with the traditional arts. Until then, it had not done so in a real way. One of the recommendations from that committee was that a separate budget line which would attend to the particularities of the traditional arts - recognising that they are different, that there is a huge amount of amateur contribution to the traditional arts and that they happen in spaces and places outside of traditional arts venues and so forth - had to be established. As a result, there is a separate allocation for the traditional arts. There has been a huge growth in the traditional arts in Ireland and in the recognition of their value and how they contribute to enhancing our creativity as a people because of the State recognising in 2003 that the traditional arts had to be named in legislation. That happened in 2003 and we will continue to ensure that there is a separate budget line.
Ms Deirdre Mahony:
Chapter 6 includes a set of 11 performance indicators which we hope will be introduced over a period. They are largely quantitative in nature. They are about evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of the Arts Council's investment programme. They count items such as the number of artists and arts organisations supported and the number of new and original works performed and made. They look at detail on audiences, such as where audiences are and whom they comprise.
They will take some time to introduce because not all of the data collection methods are in place, but we have had good engagement with the Arts Council and a commitment to move in that direction. They are quantitative and different from the longer-term piece of work we have spoken about in terms of the societal outcomes of the investment in the Arts Council, which are more qualitative. However, I believe that in the future engagements such as this will be easier because we will have a nice set of indicators to which we can speak.
There was a question earlier on the administrative costs and the good work of the Arts Council in reducing those costs. In fact, of a number of international jurisdictions, the Arts Council had the lowest percentage administration costs of the five jurisdictions examined.
I will not go into detail but I wish to emphasise the critical issue of funding for arts venues. They are an integral part of rolling out the arts to the people. I maintain my position that there have been disproportionate cuts. Ms McBride cited the fact that 100 organisations have had their funding withdrawn since 2008. That is hardly proportionate. I am aware of cases in my county where that has happened. It has not been proportionate. I am saying that we must be given a break. Real meaningful work is taking place in the arts. I believe it should be a central piece of arts programming, the delivery of the arts being the objective of the Arts Council.
I will respond on that. The review recommends that the Arts Council should give greater feedback to unsuccessful applicants for funding. There is always huge demand on funding. It would be a big help if those who apply for funding were given a detailed explanation of why they were unsuccessful. The review also recommends that a portion of the money be set aside or ring-fenced for new organisations or groups. Do our guests intend to address that suggestion?
Ms Orlaith McBride:
Yes. Unfortunately, however, making such decisions means there will be casualties, to talk to the Deputy's point. If we are to ensure there are new opportunities available to new and emerging artists and to new organisations, we will have to reduce the funding to existing clients. We have not received an increase in our funding so we are still dealing with the same amount of money. We will have to make tough decisions in terms of reductions to recurring clients to ensure there is money available for new and emerging clients to come through as well. That is the difficulty we face all the time, to ensure new voices are coming through as well as those that are historically funded.