Thursday, 7 November 2019
Report on the Arts: Motion
That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht entitled 'The Arts Matter', copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 15th May, 2019.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I welcome this opportunity to open the debate on this important report. The joint committee has a wide remit, as is evident in its title. However, the one key term missing here is "the arts". For fear of giving the impression that the arts may not matter, the committee took it upon itself, as part of its 2018 work programme, to explain the theme "The Arts Matter". Over the course of nine meetings, the committee accommodated 30 witnesses, representing Departments, public and private arts agencies and individual artists over a period of approximately one year. The witnesses were chosen to represent those areas in particular where the arts continue to be most vulnerable. These pertain to governance, the Irish language, education, music, society, and festivals. The witnesses, along with our society at large, were all in agreement that the arts do matter. That being the case, the committee wished to ask why the arts are still marginalised and often shoved to the side and away from the mainstream when it comes to funding, educational programming, workers' rights and wider society in general. The committee learned a lot from its deliberations and from the presentations it received.
During its deliberations we learned how strong people are who are working in the arts, how difficult it can be to set up and access funding programmes and how the arts are still inaccessible to large tranches of society in Ireland today.
I will now focus on the committee's engagement on the topic. The report we are discussing reflects the several themes that were discussed as part of the committee's deliberations. They are governance and funding in the arts, the arts and education, music in Ireland today, the arts for all, national arts festivals, the Creative Ireland programme and why the arts matter, with general observations.
In its first meeting on the topic in January of last year, the committee heard from representatives from the Arts Council as well as the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on governance and funding in the arts. The committee discussed what could be done to strengthen the protections that exist for those working in the arts sector. The second meeting took place in February 2018 and discussed the theme of arts in education and subsequent meetings between February and the end of 2018 looked at the following topics: music, arts in society, arts festivals and the Government's culture-based Creative Ireland programme. Four Irish organisations were also invited to present to the committee. The strong message that we heard was that an Ghaeilge should be central, but it was disappointing to hear that is not the case currently. In the final meeting of the committee on The Arts Matter, which took place in January of this year, members heard from contemporary artists, to discuss more generally why the arts really matter. The witnesses expressed the view that while the cultural and artistic legacy of Ireland continues to be present, it is threatened by a world that has become more virtual and artificial.
All these meetings allowed the Oireachtas joint committee to gain a deeper and broader understanding of the Irish arts sector and the challenges it faces. Discussions with representatives of Departments and agencies involved in administering and funding the arts highlighted a need for a deeper commitment at policy level to longitudinal research in arts participation. That would provide real evidential data on the impact of the creative arts for all of society in building informed strategies to meet the needs of a changing society.
The report's recommendations reflect the main priorities of those from the arts sector who presented to the committee. These concerned, in the main, stronger commitment at Government policy level, greater arts officer presence across more local and regional areas, ample funding for arts funding bodies, initiatives in education, access to the arts for all, stronger arts strategies for the Irish language, arts education from an early age and improved tax incentives to assist those wishing to contribute to the arts. A total of 28 recommendations are set out in this report, under the following headings: Government policy, education, an Ghaeilge, young people, society, access and arts festivals.
I wish to place on record some of the report's key findings, which reflect the main priorities of those from the arts sector who presented to the committee. There is a need for commitment at Government policy level to longitudinal research in arts participation, which would provide real evidential data on the impact of the creative arts for all of society in building informed strategies to meet the needs of a changing society. Another recommendation is to restore staff and funding to arts funding bodies, representative organisations and individual artists to 2008 and 2009 levels. A further recommendation is to provide a new examination of models of intervention throughout the primary and secondary school cycles that will result in stronger art literacy in order that the contribution of artists to education can be further understood, valued and acknowledged. Immediate steps should be taken by the Department of Education and Skills to establish a more structured approach to music education partnerships guaranteeing that all children receive a quality music education regardless of their socioeconomic background or the part of the country in which they grow up.
The three key Departments with responsibility for the arts, namely, the Departments of the Taoiseach; Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; and Education and Skills, should adopt a joined-up approach in the development and implementation of the Arts Council's Creative Youth plan by setting up a development unit, or support for a similar resource. That is something I feel very strongly about, especially given my previous work as an arts education officer for Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board. The first time two Departments worked collaboratively was when the high-level implementation group was first brought together and the arts in education document was produced. That was the Minister's Department and the Department of Education and Skills. We see the fruits of that now in what is being delivered through the Creative Schools projects right across the country. Artists are going into schools and working along with art teachers instead of the old way of expecting primary and secondary school teachers to be masters of all trades and to deliver everything. That was not possible and it was not fair to the students or the professional artists who are eager for work. I have always made the point that there is a wonderful opportunity for them, in particular through the education and training board sector. There are 16 education and training boards across the country and they provide a useful vehicle for the Department to engage with and continue to roll out creative skills.
Another recommendation related to the need to encourage much stronger co-ordination of arts festivals to facilitate programming and administration in enticing authors to attend and in recruiting volunteers. I thank all those who appeared before the committee for the valuable insights it gained over the course of its engagement on this topic. The report highlights the issues raised and the recommendations contained in it set out how these might be addressed. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.