Thursday, 7 November 2019
Report on the Arts: Motion
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion and I thank Deputy Niamh Smyth for introducing it. We are all in agreement that arts and culture are of the utmost importance in the life and well-being of our country. I share the objectives of the Oireachtas joint committee to develop the arts and cultural sectors. Arts can be a great driver of social change and they confer great benefits on society in general. I also welcome The Arts Matter report. I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for their work in completing a comprehensive narrative based on the wide-ranging consultations they undertook over a 13-month period. I note the report is informed by the committee's consultation with witnesses called before the committee from Departments, State agencies, arts and culture organisations, Irish language organisations and educational institutions.
The Government's recognition of the importance of the arts is underlined by its commitment to double spending on culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht by 2025. Total funding in the Department for the arts and culture sector will increase by 2% in 2020 from €189 million to almost €193 million. Primary support for the arts is delivered through the Arts Council and it has increased in recent years. Arts Council funding will reach €80 million in 2020. That is an increase of €5 million or 6.7% over 2019. Capital funding of €1.2 billion has been earmarked for culture, heritage and the Irish language in accordance with my Department's ten-year capital plan, under Project Ireland 2040. That includes investment of €460 million in Ireland's national cultural institutions and €65 million for cultural and creativity infrastructure nationwide. Work on the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives has already commenced, while other projects are progressing, including a new €4.7 million capital investment scheme for arts and culture centres across the country. The cumulative impact of the funding increases is testament to the commitment to double Government spending in the arts and culture sector.
I will address the 28 recommendations in the committee's report under the seven broad headings, which are Government policy, education, the Irish language, young people, society, access and arts festivals. Deputy Niamh Smyth referred to the first recommendation which relates to Government policy. It recommends undertaking "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." A working group has been established to research and commission a report on the establishment of a strategy for the Irish language and the arts. Members of the group include representatives from my Department, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Ealaín na Gaeltachta, TG4, the Arts Council and Foras na Gaeilge.
Recommendations 2, 6, 7 and 8 relate to areas dealt with by my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, whose officials are engaging with my Department on a range of programmes, including the Creative Ireland programme and the decade of centenaries.
I understand from the Minister that the school curriculum at primary and post-primary levels provides a broad, balanced approach to the range of subjects for study. His Department also supports activity outside of schools which includes the non-mainstream music education bursary and significant funding for Music Generation.
Recommendation 2 seeks greater representation of local authorities and local authority arts officers in the 16 education and training boards, ETBs. As part of the Creative Ireland programme, I understand the Department of Education and Skills is piloting local creative youth partnerships in three ETBs, Kerry, Laois-Offaly and Limerick-Clare. The purpose of these partnerships is to establish networks which enable information sharing and collaboration between local creative youth service providers, including local authorities, to bring about better use of existing resources, practices and initiatives in each ETB area.
The Creative Ireland programme has provided a platform for the Department of Education and Skills to further embrace arts and creativity and provide new ways for children and young people to engage with and be exposed to the arts. The programme builds on the 2015 arts in education charter which was agreed between my Department and the Department of Education and Skills. My Department has regular contact with the local authorities and arts officers through a number of channels which are critical to the Creative Ireland programme.
Recommendations 3 and 4 seek the restoration of staff and funding to arts funding bodies, representative organisations and individual artists to 2008 or 2009 levels. I remind the House that the 2009 allocation to the Arts Council was €73.3 million. This compares with the 2019 allocation of €75 million and the 2020 allocation of €80 million. Since the Taoiseach's commitment to double funding of the arts was announced in December 2017, the annual allocation to the Arts Council has been increasing, which can be regarded as significant progress.
The Creative Ireland programme works with many Government Departments and agencies to ensure that culture and creativity are embedded right across Government policy and given due prominence, thus addressing recommendation 9's call for cross-Government actions. Using these three guiding principles of creativity, collaboration and transformation, the programme works across Government and has made significant progress.
With regard to education, recommendations 10, 11, 12 and 13 relate to music education. I understand from the Minister for Education and Skills that, as part of the school curriculum at primary and post-primary levels, students are offered a range of artistic subjects to study, including music. At post-primary school, students are being given more freedom in their areas of study through the new framework for the junior cycle. New specifications in music and visual art are designed to provide more freedom in letting students study what they find interesting. The transition year programme, which is taken by more than 70% of all students, offers broad scope for students to explore and engage in arts-related areas, especially music. At leaving certificate level, students can continue to study music and art.
Programmes of professional development for teachers help to develop and augment their capacity to deliver the arts in classrooms. This includes teacher-artist partnership in primary schools, where artists visit schools to work with teachers who they have collaborated with during the summer break. At post-primary level, the arts in junior cycle initiative offers professional development for teachers to support innovative and imaginative ways of engaging with the arts and learning in the junior cycle curriculum. The Department of Education and Skills provides significant funding for Music Generation. As part of the Creative Ireland programme and the national expansion of the Music Generation programme, five new music education partnerships have been established this year in Kerry, Kildare, Longford and Tipperary. In addition, the non-mainstream music education bursary is supported by the Department of Education and Skills for organisations to apply for annually. The bursary has been valued at €100,000 for the past three years.
With regard to the Irish language, tuigim go maith tábhacht na n-ealaíon mar a bhaineann siad leis an nGaeilge. Recommendations 15, 16, 17 and 18 relate to the funding of artists and arts organisation working in the Irish language. Ealaín na Gaeltachta Teoranta is an organisation set up specifically to fund the Irish language arts. It is jointly funded by Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Arts Council and the Department to promote the development of the contemporary and the traditional arts in the Gaeltacht. It provides services and grant schemes to support the development of arts organisations and individual artists as well as initiatives that help build the capacity of and infrastructure for the arts in the Gaeltacht.
Recommendations 14, 19 and 20 relate to policies in the Gaeltacht division of my Department. An example is the grant of up to €325,000 made by my Department to Ealaín na Gaeltachta to promote a programme of activities in the traditional arts for young people throughout the Gaeltacht over the 2018 to 2019 school year, which addresses a commitment in the five-year action plan for the Irish language. A working group has been established to research and commission a report on the establishment of a strategy for the Irish language and the arts. Members of the group include representatives from the Department, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Ealaín na Gaeltachta, TG4, An Comhairle Ealafon and Foras na Gaeilge. This research will cover a comprehensive audit of what is currently available, the various organisations operating in this domain and the access and services available to the public. It will cover an audit of the education, training and development opportunities from preschool to postgraduate and adult education available in the sector; an assessment of the economic, social and linguistic impact of the arts on the Irish language; and an audit of the current and potential sources of funding available for the language-based arts.
With regard to young people, recommendations 21 and 22 speak to the need for a separate production award and a commissioning process for artists with disabilities to create new work for children, young people and their families as well as implementation of the Arts Council's creative youth plan. I note Deputy Smyth's acknowledgement of the merits of creative youth. Through this plan, which falls under the Creative Ireland programme, my Department is working in partnership with the Departments of Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs and the Arts Council. A working group meets regularly to ensure the commitments under Creative Youth are being met. This is a very successful forum and it is also used to discuss new and innovative approaches to the arts, creativity and education. In addition, an expert advisory council, chaired by Dr. Ciarán Benson, has been established to guide the direction of creative youth and to assist the working group.
Other programmes being delivered as part of Creative Ireland are designed to help further develop arts and culture in schools. This is being done through the creative schools and creative clusters programmes.
As recommendation 23 relates to tax legislation, it is a matter for the Minister for Finance. The recommendation suggests amending tax legislation to allow tax benefits for private citizens who donate to arts organisations. Under Section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, private citizens can obtain tax relief for donations to the State of items of significant cultural value. In 2018, cultural works to the value of €4.4 million were donated to the State. The implementation of this tax incentive is under review. Other existing tax reliefs for arts, culture and film include the artists tax exemption scheme under section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. Film tax relief is available under section 481 of the Act and the Film Regulations 2019.
With regard to access, recommendations 25 and 26 relate to universal access. The arts are for everyone, so must therefore be accessible to everyone. The Arts Council funds organisations such as Disability Ireland to provide audio description and captioning for the hard of hearing. It also funds touring and usually provides the resources for the receiving house to hire in audio description and caption technical material as well as for any conversion required.
Recommendation 26 calls for a network of performance venues where audio description, captioning and Irish Sign Language could be made available, as well as suggesting parameters for the provision of access at commercial arts venues. I fully intend to continue to work with all stakeholders on this to make accessibility to the arts a cornerstone of departmental and Government policy.
Recommendations 27 and 28 relate to new work and stronger co-ordination of arts festivals.
The council has a significant festival support programme for more than 150 festivals every year. It also allocates funding to larger festivals such as the Dublin Theatre Festival, Babaro Children's Festival, Kilkenny Arts Festival and Waterford Spraoi. I would like to acknowledge the other governmental stakeholders, such as the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Fáilte Ireland, in regard to the promotion of festivals around the country.
I hope I have given a flavour of the significant advances made by the Government in the arts in the five months since the publication of the Oireachtas committee report and, indeed, before that, and I very much welcome all the work that has gone into this report. The Government will continue with significant investment across the arts, delivering ongoing dividends in the industry in line with the overall objectives of Project Ireland 2040. I again thank the committee members for their work in preparing this report. The arts can play a critical role in enriching the lives of all the people of Ireland and it is right that we, as Oireachtas Members, reflect on how best we can support those opportunities for engagement with the arts for the greatest number of people.