Thursday, 7 November 2019
Report on the Arts: Motion
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this report. I commend the Chair, the committee and my colleague, Deputy Niamh Smyth, who is passionate about the arts and the benefits they can bring to society and all of our communities. There were nine meetings of the committee and it came to the conclusion that arts do matter. They matter hugely in our society and country.
If the Government agrees that this is the case, the Minister should commit to the implementation of the 28 excellent recommendations contained in this report.
The arts enrich all of our lives. People sometimes tend to think of the arts in the abstract, but they should not do so. Creativity is fundamental to every one of us and to every part of the lives of every human being. The capacity to imagine, to create and to explore must not be taken away from us. We often see this incredible capacity in children and young people. If it is unfortunately not nurtured, it has no place to strive and thrive. We must ensure it is nurtured.
The arts enable and empower us to reach our human potential. Those who do not have an opportunity to explore the creative parts of themselves are losing out on a big part of life. I put it to those who might not accept this argument that they cannot ignore the economic benefits of the arts. The 2009 Indecon report, which assessed the economic impact of the arts in Ireland, absolutely showed what those benefits are. While the arts are valued, there has been a lack of commitment and investment. If the State is to realise fully the potential of the arts, its statements of support for the arts must be backed up by the investment of public moneys. It was interesting to read in The Arts Matter that when Ms Garry Hynes spoke at the committee about the need for the Government to increase arts funding across the board - we all acknowledge that the arts are underfunded - she put it slightly differently by suggesting that the Government should "be funding its own citizens to make art in its own country". I could not agree more that arts funding is needed in communities and societies. It is shocking that a third of all performers earn less than the minimum wage and that 74% of our actors rely on other income.
The forms of creativity and culture that are contained within the arts are absolutely essential to our well-being. They give us different ways of looking at the world. They have a huge societal value. Deputy Lawless spoke about our festivals, which are of great importance for our communities, for our sense of place and for our sense of pride. Equally, I am thinking about the tools that our theatre groups and our youth theatre groups, including Kildare Youth Theatre, which is based in Newbridge, and Griese Theatre Company, which is based in Ballitore, have given to young people as they try to navigate their lives. They explore many topical societal issues, for example relating to sexuality, direct provision, immigration and domestic violence, through the form of theatre. I have been to see a number of productions in which young people have collaborated and improvised to use the arts as a means of discussing what is important to them, including the societal issues they want and need to be concerned about. The arts are helping to give them a voice and helping them to work through some of their thoughts and concerns. The opportunity to do this on a European and global level, as Peter Hussey has done with Kildare Youth Theatre in a number of European countries, is invaluable for our young people as they seek to navigate the challenges of the world.
The arts are an incredible gift that we love to talk about outside of our country. The legacy of our poets and writers is absolutely incredible. As we acknowledge and embrace the achievements of such people, it is equally important to help our struggling artists, poets and writers. The arts officers in our local authorities are really good and have a great knowledge of their subject. Every arts officer I know is passionate about the arts. In particular, I would like to mention Lucina Russell and her predecessor, Mary Lenihan. To be honest, they have worked miracles with the small amount of funding that has been made available to them. They have helped us to embrace our culture and to create our own culture. Culture changes all of the time.
I would like to speak about amateur dramatics. Given that 74% of our actors need to have another form of income, it is no wonder that amateur drama is thriving and doing so well. It gives opportunities to people who might love to pursue a career in the acting world, but absolutely cannot do so. The amateur drama scene is absolutely incredible. I was reared on it as a child. The week-long drama festival was the highlight in Rathangan every year. It gave us an opportunity to listen and learn about other places and other worlds. For one week a year, we had a chance to see how people in other parts of Ireland and other parts of the world were living, thinking and exploring the world.
When my father was 27, he wrote a play called "Straws in the Wind", which was performed at the time. He loved the world of the arts and the world of poetry. He also applied his creative arts to politics. Fifty years after his play was performed, a friend of mine, Mario Corrigan, who is the local archivist in Kildare County Council, contacted me to say he had found newspaper clippings about it. As my father had just passed away a few months earlier, we felt that putting on his play once again would be a wonderful way of celebrating his passion for the arts. A local drama group put on the play for three nights in our newly refurbished community centre, which my father had played a fundamental role in organising and getting the funds for. One of my brothers played one of the parts in the sell-out production, which raised funds for the community centre. As my father's child, I watched and listened along with my family and indeed the community. It was an incredible way of looking back on how our society had been 50 years previously. Basically, the play is about the impact of industrialisation on a rural agricultural village. There were many lessons we could learn from the play about the continuing impact of such changes on small towns like Rathangan. The play was also about the impact of change on a family. It was a wonderful way of viewing my father's thoughts on fatherhood because there is a strong father in the play. I was a baby when the play was written and my sister was a month old. Another nine children came after that. It was amazing for all 11 of us, and for my mother, to see my father's thoughts on stage. I mention all of this as an illustration of the importance of the arts at an amateur level. The arts can give us a snapshot of a moment in time and an opportunity to record what is happening within a community, a family and a society. Being able to look back on the production of this play has given us a deep insight into ourselves and those who have gone before us.
The recommendations in this report are excellent. Fundamentally, the arts matter hugely. The arts are about ourselves, promoting ourselves and listening to ourselves. I hope the Minister takes very seriously the recommendations that have been made by the committee. An opportunity was missed in last month's budget. We absolutely need to take these recommendations on board.