Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Irish Museum of Modern Art: Chairperson Designate
This session has been convened to enable the chairman designate of the Museum of Modern Art, Mr. David Harvey, to address the committee on the role he will play as chairman and his views on the future contribution of the Museum of Modern Art.
I draw 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 the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they 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 the opening statements and any other documents witnesses have submitted to the committee may be published on the committee website after the meeting.
On behalf of the committee I invite Mr. Harvey to make his opening address.
Mr. David Harvey:
I thank the Chairman for the invitation. May I introduce Ms Sarah Glennie, the director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art? I gather that the statement is taken as read but, perhaps, I could mention some of its highlights.
I am delighted and honoured to be asked to become chairman of a national cultural institution. I had the privilege before. It is really very exciting to be involved in something as dynamic as the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA. I have some significant board experience particularly in the cultural tourism sector. I was chairman of the National Library of Ireland up to recently. Prior to that I was also chairman of the St. Patrick's Festival and under its auspices the Dublin Contemporary 2011 exhibition. Currently, I am chairman of the People in Need Trust which, as the committee may be aware, is responsible for the RTE telethon on a periodic basis, raising funds for charities nationwide. I have also been chairman of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Across that sector I got some experience of not just dealing with boards made up of members from disparate groups and experiences but also dealing directly with Government and State Departments. I think that brings some valuable experience to this particular role. In the past I have had an opportunity to have an input into strategies, particularly in places such as the National Library of Ireland and the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in areas such as corporate governance, human resource management, financial planning, risk management and all of those things which, I think, a well structured board which is properly governed should have.
The cultural sector has gone through a very difficult time in recent years but most of these organisations have learned to adapt and most, if not all, are thriving. As I have said, I was very honoured to part of one in the National Library of Ireland where we had cuts in our funding and various pressures on the organisation but managed to make it through. That organisation is now thriving. Some of the areas I was involved in, which I mentioned in my statement, include the Heaney collection, which will be on public view in two years time in conjunction with the space at the Bank of Ireland. I was involved in the digitisation of the Catholic parish registers which has been a major change for the National Library of Ireland and various other things, including philanthropy. I can bring all of those skills to the Irish Museum of Modern Art. A very disparate and experienced board has been convened by the Minister. I look forward to working with it and the director and her staff. The director has been involved in a very substantial transformation programme in the organisation. It is on the verge of completion and will make a great difference to the way in which that organisation operates.
In summary, I am delighted to be involved. Some of the experiences I have had in the past, particularly in this sector, will benefit the organisation. I look forward to taking on that role.
I thank Mr. Harvey. I congratulate him and wish him every success in the role. There is an old saying that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Mr. Harvey has outlined that he is very involved and busy.
I congratulate Mr. Harvey on being appointed as chairperson designate. I hope it goes well for him. At times the IMMA has been in the public sphere for different and awkward reasons, particularly relating to corporate governance, legislation and board composition. With regard to legislation and amalgamations, I presume the IMMA has received reassurance that there will be no updating of legislation and no amalgamation with the National Gallery of Ireland? Will Mr. Harvey update the committee on what formal communication the IMMA has received from the Department or the Minister in that regard?
Mr. David Harvey:
I have not received any formal communication. When I took over as chairperson of the National Library of Ireland I had been a member of the previous board for some time. On my first day as chairperson I predicted that legislation to amalgamate the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland would not be brought forward for a whole series of reasons. I gather that the concept of amalgamation with the National Gallery of Ireland is now off the agenda, although I have not been formally informed of this. The director may know better, but anecdotally it is no longer on the list.
Will Mr. Harvey tell members what he considers his priorities to be regarding the challenges facing IMMA in the next five years? Is he pleased with the composition of the board in the context of the diversity of skills required in managing a museum of contemporary art?
Mr. David Harvey:
I will address the Senator's last query first. I hope I have already answered the first question.
I believe the composition of the board is excellent. Some members will change in January and some in February. There appears to be a diverse grouping. Several members are from the arts world, which is always important, but we can also draw on legal, organisational, facilities management and philanthropy skills. It is a well balanced board which reflects very well on the system and how it is now structured. Every member had to apply to be on the board. I have served on boards where there have been some surprises. One wondered where some people had come from and after a little analysis, it did not take too long to find out exactly why they were on the board. One wondered why valuable board places were sometimes given to people who had to be carried along. The IMMA board is, however, well balanced and it will be very workable.
Senator Fiach Mac Conghail spoke about legislation and asked about my priorities. I am surprised that the IMMA is not in the same statutory framework as other cultural institutions and this is something about which I would have concerns. The IMMA probably needs a very quick governance review to look at how it might operate a little better. There have been structural changes in the area of human resources in the past couple of years, with which management needs some assistance. The organisation had its budget halved in the past six or seven years and, looking at the numbers, one wonders how it is existing. Great credit is due to the organisation not just for continuing its programmatic work but also for expanding it without the budget required. Clearly, the IMMA is not just working better, it has also set down a marker for how it wants to work in the future, but that does not mean that it should state, "Listen, we are grand, we have enough dough." I do not think that is ever going to work. The organisation needs to make a case to the Government and the Minister and bring forward business cases. The National Library of Ireland became successful at showing clearly through business cases how the taxpayer would clearly benefit. The taxpayer is the ultimate beneficiary. That is often the best way to approach the matter. The IMMA has shown that it can programme using resources from philanthropy and partnerships and that will probably be part of the strategy on which I would like to assist.
There is also a significant business and brand imperative; the organisation probably needs to look at how it can create more value from what it already has. From speaking to the director and knowing what the recruitment plans are, that business and brand imperative is primarily on the commercial side to see how the organisation can leverage its very fine facility and unique position in the arts sector. However, like every institution, one steps back a little and asks, "What is its role?" Going on my most recent experiences in the National Library of Ireland which found that it was not just a library or a repository but that it also had educational, outreach, storage, digitisation and other functions, when one gets under the lid at the IMMA, one realises it also has curatorial, developmental, educational and incubation roles. There is a lot more going on than running just a commercial operation. It is important to find out how all of these things might sit together to create a more effective and enlarged strategic plan. That is what the board should focus on in the next five years.
I welcome the delegates and congratulate Mr. Harvey on his appointment, even though he not supposed to be officially appointed until this committee ratifies the appointment. I note that it is stated in his submission that he was a member of and has very relevant experience in boards such as the National Library of Ireland, especially of fundraising for the People in Need Trust, which demonstrates a person's philanthropic make-up. I hope he will bring some of it to the IMMA. We have spoken about bringing the arts into the community. In that regard, a philanthropic outlook on the part of the IMMA board would help to ensure works could be brought to those who cannot come to view them. Mr. Harvey's experience of serving on the board of the National Library of Ireland is invaluable. In this committee's opinion, when judging suitability, that is definitely one role that will benefit the IMMA board.
I had a query about change management, but Mr. Harvey has answered that question. As we have all read about him and seen him on television, we think we know him.
Although it was a while ago, he is no stranger to us. He has varied experience and his name pops up now and again in the media. Therefore, he is not unknown to us, as others would be. That itself is not bad when one has the experience he possesses. I congratulate him on his input to date which I hope he will continue on the board of the IMMA.