Thursday, 7 November 2019
Report on the Arts: Motion
I thank the committee and the committee secretariat. I had the luxury of being Chairman of the committee when it finalised the report, although I was not Chairman when it was initiated. It is very a valuable piece of work, in particular in regard to the insights we gained from the artists and those who came before the committee, and their wisdom is reflected in the report, which should be read as widely as possible. Some of the recommendations are quite simple and can be delivered straightaway, as some have been, which I welcome and acknowledge.
I will focus on two areas, namely, recommendations 3 and 4. Recommendation 3 states: "Restore staff and funding to arts funding bodies, representative organisations, and individual artists to 2008-09 levels." Although the Minister said there has been some move towards that restoration, Arts Council funding in 2008 was €82 million and this year it is predicted to be €80 million, and while that is welcome, it does not take account of the significant inflation involved. We are going in the right direction but, at this stage, we need to be back to those levels because, if we are not, it is very difficult for those funding bodies to deliver fully on their programmes or to imagine other programmes beyond them. This, therefore, is a key desire.
Recommendation 4 states: "Release a substantial part of funding promised by the Taoiseach in December 2017 when he reaffirmed Government’s commitment to double funding of the arts over a seven year period." We have not seen that to date but the seven years is not yet up and, hopefully, he will not be Taoiseach for the full seven years, although we will let the electorate decide that.
One of the key findings of a recent survey by the Theatre Forum was that more than one third of artists and creative practitioners earn less than the minimum wage, with 74% of performing artists and creative practitioners relying on other sources of income. If that is the case, it means we do not get the full benefit of their art production because they are distracted by having to work to earn a living and pay the bills. Four fifths of the jobs they are working in are precarious jobs, which means it is difficult for them to plan and means they are always trying to figure out where the next buck is coming from. It also means they will always have difficulty trying to pay mortgages or to have the sources of income required for them to have a home and have the stability that is needed to be an artist in Ireland.
There was much discussion at the Theatre Forum about how artists are placed front and centre at many State events and tourism initiatives. That is pageantry without substance if we chronically under-fund artists and do not create the opportunities for them to have a secure income. There is a long way for us to go before artists in this country would answer ,"Yes", if asked whether they have a secure and stable income. This is one of the areas we should concentrate on.
The Taoiseach committed to doubling arts funding over seven years and, three budgets later, the funding has increased, which I accept. However, funding for culture has increased by 17.5%, which is a long way from an increase of 100%. We have a long way to go and, hopefully, that can be acted on and delivered within the timeframe he set out, or earlier, if possible.
As the Minister will be aware, we are near to bringing arts funding bodies to pre-recession levels yet we continue to lag behind our European counterparts. Even in regard to the target for the Arts Council, we spend much less on culture in GDP terms than many of our European counterparts. While the Government remains consistent in stating this is the commitment, that does not fully ring true when one examines the budget and how it is delivering for artists who are struggling to make ends meet. Without painters, dancers, performers, musicians, writers and storytellers, there will not be film, television and radio, although perhaps after yesterday, we will have difficulty with RTÉ anyway. There will be nothing on the stage, nothing on the walls, nothing to attract the many people who come to Ireland to enjoy our culture and nothing for communities to enjoy. There is no culture without the people and, specifically, no culture without artists. That is why the arts matter, a point I will return to shortly.
I referred to film and actors. Based on our committee deliberations, I know a report was produced on the film industry which made several recommendations, some of which have never been acted upon, although that was not the fault of the Minister in one instance. Nonetheless, we need sustainable jobs and we need to invest in the future. We need to encourage, nurture and promote art for the benefit of all whether in film or theatre. Artists need to benefit in order that society, our young and not so young, as well as tourists, can benefit. The Exchequer benefits from all of that, as was clearly outlined to us in Theo Dorgan's piece, which I hope to quote before I conclude.
While I am not an artist or musician, I come from a family of musicians, artists, sculptors and publishers, so I have an understanding of those who have suffered the consequences of not having a wage. Friends of the family struggled with their art and struggled with having no funds for periods of time, so I know how difficult that is. I also know of artists and musicians who left our shores and we did not benefit from their imagination for many years until they returned, although in some cases they did not return.
We therefore need to try to ensure we encourage, or find mechanisms to encourage, those who can earn a living in order that we value the arts. In so doing, we will say the arts matter. If the arts matter, we must ensure we protect them.
I return to what Theo Dorgan said in the report:
The artist is one of us, and their gift to us is the generous and necessary work they do in cultivating, exploring and demonstrating, day in and day out, the unstoppable and exhilarating power of the imagination. It is very much to our shame that while we profit from the work of these artists, while we glory in the achievements, we are content that most of them are ruthlessly condemned to live in poverty.
He went on to explain in a very enlightening way why the Department should respect and value artists a lot more. He offers us one example:
The Indecon Report of 2011 tells us that, of the €68 million assigned to the Council [that is, the Arts Council] that year, €47 million came straight back into State coffers as PAYE, PRSI and VAT from organisations kept in being with the aid of Council grants. The difference is €21 million, so that represents the State's investment [in the Arts Council]. The return to the economy directly attributable to the work done by those organisations, and the artists whose work they showcased and employed, was €148 million. So you give me 11 and I give you back 148 — tell me, in those circumstances, would you offer me double the next year, treble [the income]?
There is a lot more in the report. I ask the Minister with responsibility for arts, culture, heritage, the Gaeltacht and whatever else you are having for dinner to ensure that the Minister for Finance in particular and those in Revenue look at the Indecon report and this report to see the value of investment in artists and the arts. They get such investment back on the double, treble and more. Any investment in the arts pays us dividends, as a society at least, but if we are to bring it down to the brass tacks of finances, it also gives a much larger return than the return on many of our other investments.