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NCFA Colloquia


    A Discussion Paper on the Four Founding Campaign Objectives of the NCFA.
    By Tara Byrne.

    This discussion paper is published in advance of a series four conversations that the NCFA has invited me to curate in 2013. The NCFA Colloquia will challenge the current state of the relationship between arts and arts policy.

    To put this discussion paper in context, it is structured into four parts that have been organised directly in response to the four founding objectives of the NCFA, which are:

    1 To work to ensure that everyone in Ireland can experience and participate in the arts.

    2 To work with others to build an evidence-base that will inform policy and allow the arts to innovate and reach a wider audience.

    3 To capture more fully the value of the arts in Ireland, working hand in hand with the arts sector, artists, the public, and Government.

    4 To build a deeper understanding of the mutual values of the arts and education and seek achievable means to embed the arts in education working closely with educational partners.

    In commissioning this paper, the NCFA has asked me to adopt a fully independent position and the following essay is therefore intended as a personal response to these founding objectives. Specifically, the paper reflects on a number of inter-related concepts raised by the objectives, touching on core questions and issues of cultural policy. For example, concepts, issues and questions raised by these objectives include: the question of the public and the arts (definitions, interactions, perceptions, understandings, contexts, expectations etc);  the concept and question of evidence and evidence-building (normative views, understandings, imperatives, agendas, impacts, policy cycles, ideology, advocacy); the possibility of establishing shared values, collective intentions, or understandings across the arts (languages, honesty, value systems, legitimacy); and finally, the question of education (imperatives, pressures and expectations).

    These interpretations form the basis for this short discussion paper and aim to stimulate debate, rather than address more pragmatic or administrative aspects of policy. They are therefore intended to inform the colloquia and to generate discussion, but not presage the individual contributions of the speakers at each colloquy. Equally, this paper does not intend to ‘prove’ or provide ‘evidence’, rather it takes a wider view of interpreting, analysing and provoking questions around key issues impacting on these very pertinent (if recurring) questions. The term cultural policy rather than arts policy is largely used here to denote the wider domain of cultural policy, unless referencing specific ‘arts’ policies. In order to start this paper however, a consideration of the public is needed. 





    A Public Conversation: The Eternal Question of Participation, Access and Engagement.

    Keywords: ‘the public’, engagement, hierarchies, expectations, apathy.

    (Colloquy #1 at the National Concert Hall, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, 15th May, 2013. Photograph by Tony Kinlan)

    From the outset, the question of engaging the public in a ‘deeper conversation’ about the arts raises a number of issues, starting with the concept of the public itself.  The question of the public and policy (whose etymology derives from the origin of ‘public’ via the Greek Polis), as synonymous concepts, is without doubt the core question of, and issue for, all public policy. What is ‘public’ therefore, how public are our arts policies, and are arts policies made for the public or should they be made by the public?

    Within a policy context, “the public” and the “public interest” have historically been conceived of as a wholly identifiable, singular and knowable entity, rather than a fragmented and contested construct (Parsons, 1995, p171). While this makes things easier for policy makers, other views of the public contend that there are many publics and counter publics, not least of which divide along the lines of those that are interested in the arts and those that are uninterested in the arts. This gives rise to questions of which public (as well as ‘public goods’ and ‘public interest’) is being served and how any one policy can represent all publics (a particularly political question for specifically cultural policies). The public, therefore, in cultural, as in all public policy, is a loaded term.

    However, there are other more specific issues with the term public within cultural policy, these are:  its (cultural policy’s) historic associations with elitism and serving of certain cultural publics (via ‘high culture’ and ‘arts policy’ interpretations of’ cultural policy’); awkward issues raised by participation studies (underlining class-based consumption, cultural capital, taste and the role of education); historical questions of the success of access and participation policies (and compatibility issues with concepts of ‘access’ and ‘excellence’); the low status of cultural ministries in government  (Gray, 2010); enduring difficulties with democracy in cultural policies (apropos of the prevalence of technical or expert decision-making committees in the arts); questions around whether the focus of cultural policy should be artists or the public (Quinn,1998,p 126); and as above, which public is being referred to and where do non-participating publics fit in? 

    The concept of ‘the public’ therefore, albeit complex, is the “starting point” for any discussion of governance or public policy. As a result, the question of engaging the public in a ‘deeper conversation’ about the arts (draft NCFA strategy document), suggests a number of things: that we know the public, that the public are already in a conversation about the arts, and/or that the public should be in a conversation about the arts. What are the grounds on which we base these evangelical questions, espousing the transformational, social and economic capacities of the arts?  What kind of conversation is needed, to what aim is it directed (understanding, engagement, funding), and why should a conversation take place? There is also the question of who is understood as part of this ‘conversation’, the cultural sector, the outside public, and/or the Department? What values inform the suggestion as to why this conversation should take place at all, other than the traditional premise that culture is “good for you” (Belfiore and Bennett, 2006, p 33).

    In ascertaining the thorny question of what conversation, if any, is taking place in relation to the public and the arts, while it may not be possible to conclusively or empirically answer this question, it is interesting to consider a number of indicative factors, beginning with the nature of research. Reports on public involvement in the arts are routinely disappointing (from a quantitative view) when compared with participation in the wider creative industries, and are often criticised as inherently problematic in terms of how they are conducted and what methods and samples are used as the basis for the research (Reeves, 2002; Markusen and Gadwa, 2010). Questions are particularly raised in relation to the independence (from the research) of those advocating bodies commissioning the surveys, despite both the lack of interest in conducting arts research outside of the arts sector and the perpetual imperatives behind research in the first place (often linked to funding and survival). This creates a ‘catch 22’ situation of sorts, whereby arts organisations are damned if they do conduct research (are the reports reliable?) and damned if they don’t (they may not survive if they don’t). What does this mean for how these surveys are perceived and received, how trusted are they and how can the cultural sector avoid this methodological trap?

    Other more specific factors point to how the arts are publicly and politically positioned in Ireland. From a ministerial point of view, statements from Ireland’s cultural policies seem to reflect the view that culture is good for societies and important to national economies and identities (“our strong cultural identity” holds “a distinct and intrinsic value”…”known the world over”).[1] Equally, the theme of the arts as a national reputational enhancer or emollient are also key, demonstrated in calls for the arts to “repair the damage” done to Ireland’s reputation by the recent economic downturn.[2] These supportive views are also demonstrated in Ministers’ claims of “Ireland's reputation as a cradle for the arts” (O' Donoghue, 2005, n.p.), statements that culture and creativity are “at the core of our status, our well-being as a society and our success as a nation” (Brennan, 2008, n.p.), that Ireland is where “creativity is seen as a crucial bedrock” (Minister for Arts Sport and Tourism, 2009, n.p.) and, descriptions of culture as the “primary driver of Ireland’s global attractiveness as a centre of creativity and innovation and as a destination for tourism and business” (Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, 2008c, p. 10). Notwithstanding whether these statements align with certain cultural value systems over others, these benign narratives of rebuilding brand Ireland, restoring its success, and salvaging its lost international reputation, which are by no means unique to Ireland, give the impression that culture and the arts are highly valued here.  Equally, industrial references to the importance of culture and creativity (via the Smart Economy and Innovation Island initiatives), the impassioned invoking of culture at Ireland’s economic forums (Farmleigh), and Ireland’s international reputation for culture, suggest a highly mobilised state approach to supporting the culture sector.

    However, though all policies are strategic, these uses for the arts raise questions as to the dominance of what might be perceived as non-arts outcomes proffered in arts policies (as above), if compared with for example, health outcomes in relation to health policies or economic outcomes in relation to economic policies, as well as the balance of types of outcomes and value-systems in policies. Equally, given that cultural policy in Ireland has been described as marked by “benign neglect” (Howlin, 2013, n.p.), it may not come as a surprise that the perception of the culture/arts ministry in government, and by the media, is highly problematic. This refers to broadsheet descriptions detailing how the career path of a new culture minister was cast in “a negative light”, represented a  “poisoned chalice”, “ the end of the political road” and was the “last step before departure from Cabinet” (Bacik, 2008,n.p.) a number of years back.

    More recently, another Minister’s reaction to her appointment was so negative that it was described as like a “nasty disease” (O’Toole, 2010, n.p,) and widely interpreted as “a demotion” (O’Toole, 2010, n.p.; Stokes, 2010, n.p.). This response is also borne out by the downward career trajectory of six (former) arts and culture Ministers following their departure (none was awarded another ministry and three resigned from politics).[3] Frequent changes in the names of arts or cultural ministries (comprising of combinations of Arts and Culture, Heritage, the Gaeltacht, the Islands, as well as Sport and Tourism), may also indicate an equivocation in relation to ‘culture’ if not the arts.[4] Additionally, recent accusations of a degree of state cynicism in relation to the honesty of intentions behind the broadly cultural/tourism event of ‘The Gathering’ by (ironically) by cultural ambassador Gabriel Byrne, indicates a lack of consensus as to how governments manage and package major cultural events.

    Equally, other factors indicate a certain stasis in relation to both research and the quality of public debate on the arts in Ireland. These are: that there has been little significant investment in research at cultural policy level here (if compared with other similar size countries); newspaper reports typically ignore or polarise accounts of the arts as wholly positive (usually naive narratives of how the arts has transformed something/someone or made it/them more beautiful), or wholly negative (usually damning wastes of tax-payer’s money); there is a paucity of public platforms or debates on the arts in Ireland, and of course, the negative means-ends discourses surrounding funding decisions in relation to cultural institutions (such as the McCarthy report).[5] Cumulatively, these can be argued as pointing to a lack of sophistication in wider public sphere arts conversations.

    In considering the nature of public discussion on, or engagement with, the arts in Ireland therefore, these factors (lower than wished for attendance figures,  negative perception and changes in the name of the cultural ministry, lack of research, media dismissals) are unsettling. As such, the concept of negativity or worse – apathy – might be relevant to how the arts are perceived by the vast majority in Ireland. In the wake of the international financial crisis, and Ireland’s response to its new financial position, apathy is a word that this country can wholeheartedly relate to, repeatedly voting in the same parties, and apparently alien to the culture of protest, made all the more salient by putative acquiescence to repeated state and religious scandals and more recently, banking accountability. The question of whether there is political apathy (via the ministry) towards the arts is also a legitimate one, particularly given the response to ministerial appointments outlined above, the low status of arts or cultural ministries in governments and the career aspirations of politicians. One of the key questions here is whether political apathy reflects public apathy (or vice versa), or is apathy reflexive?

    Before leaving a consideration of arts/cultural ministries or departments however, particularly in relation to their status in government and the impact this has on public perceptions of the arts, their negotiating situation in government needs to be mentioned. One of the key roles of arts ministries (as all ministries) and policy, is to elicit trust and support from the wider sector, a difficult endeavour given the sometimes fraught relationship between the stakeholders of arts policy and thus policy research, suggested to be the ministry, the practitioner and the public (Holden, 2006). However, this triangle of stakeholders misses out on one other key stakeholder, the wider government. In negotiating the making of policy and securing of central arts budgets, wider government or more powerful ministries (ie the finance ministry)  ‘buy-in’ to budgets and policies are critical to the success or efficacy of arts ministries, indicating the often unacknowledged chain of persuasion and pressure that works both up and down the stakeholder network. This was illustrated recently in comments from Britain’s culture secretary, Maria Miller.  In addition to Miller asserting that in order to “fight the corner” for culture as a “commodity”  the ministry’s focus “must be on culture’s economic impact” , she also referred to the critical need to generate trust and support or “traction” from her government “colleagues” (Higgins, 2013, n.p.). This demonstrates the range of pressures working from within government beyond that of the culture or arts ministry itself, and suggests that in considering public engagement and perceptions of the arts, those that are not necessarily engaged or interested in the arts are also represented in central and non arts policy departments (as well as politicians).

    From these indicators, what is to be gleaned about the current state of the arts “conversation” in Ireland in particular? What can be said of who constitutes the public, and how they are, or can be engaged with the arts (as defined in the Arts Act)?[6] In addition, what is and what can be the arts community’s response to reports on arts attendances, particularly as it compares to the much greater non-subsidised cultural and creative industries (notwithstanding the trickle-down effect of arts subsidy)? What do low arts attendance figures say about the nature and rationale of public subsidy? (i.e. unpopularity = subsidy), and how do we feel about the way the arts is defined in Ireland (in a ‘high culture’ sense), in the context of the belated but growing policy interest in the creative industries here?  What impact will the new policy area of the creative industries have on arts policy, and who might manage it, is it a future ally or rival for arts policy in Ireland? And finally, what are the implications of the economically inflected and repeated uses of ‘creative’, ‘creativity’, ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’ in cultural discourses (via academies, courses and reports)? 

    Many of these questions represent key areas of research and ‘evidence’ for those in cultural or arts policy, most particularly in relation to public participation rates and practices (The Arts Council of Ireland, 2006). These reports and evidences are typically used to help argue for changes in policies, financing, or simply increase understanding about the sector we work in. The concept and use of ‘evidence’ within cultural policy therefore, is far from straightforward and will be considered next.

    [1] See URL: http://www.globalirishforum.ie/PressRel.aspx?yr=2012, accessed 31st July, 2012.

    [2]Available: http://theatreforumconference2011.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 25 June 2011].


    [3] The three ministers who resigned were Sile de Valera, Martin Cullen and John O Donoghue. Founding Minister Michael D Higgins (1993 – 1997), on retiring from the ministry following the coalition (Labour, Fine Gael and Progressive Democrats) party loss in the general election of 1997, is the only  ex arts/culture Minister to have remained in politics. He became the labour Party spokesperson on Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, was re-elected to Dail Eireann in 2007 and 2011. Sile de Valera, who occupied the ministry from 1997 – 2002, lost her seat in the general elections of 2002, became a Junior Minister and retired from politics in 2005. John O Donoghue (2002 – 2008), was appointed Ceann Comhairle or chairperson of the government, following the elections of 2008, and resigned in 2009. Seamus Brennan died shortly after leaving office, Martin Cullen (2008 – 2010), resigned from his Ministerial office and as a TD in 2010, Mary Hanafin (2010 – 2011), withdrew from public life following losing her seat in the election of 2011.

    [4] There have been seven Ministers (including the current Minister) for the Department since its foundation in 1993, and four who have spent less than a year in office and between 2007 and 2011 ( Seamus Brennan, Martin Cullen, Mary Hanafin and most recently, Jimmy Deenihan).

    [5] This refers to the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes set up in 2008, whose work, when published, became informally known as the McCarthy Report.

    [6] The Second Arts Act of Ireland defines the Arts as: any “creative or interpretative expression (whether traditional or contemporary) in whatever form, and includes, in particular, visual arts, theatre, literature, music, dance, opera, film, circus and architecture, and includes any medium when used for those purposes”. See: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2003/en/act/pub/0024/sec0002.html#sec2 [Accessed 4th April]. 




    Keywords: ideology, disinterest, discourse and power, state and longevity, civil servants.

    (Colloquy #2 Newpark Hotel, Kilkenny, 12th August, 2013, Photograph by Patrick Moore)

    […] the exercise of power and the desire of policy makers for the maintenance and enhancement of the prevailing order and of their own status within it can short-circuit the thorough use of the available evidence.” (Stevens, 2011).

    As suggested above, though evidence in a cultural policy context can be applied to any number of interests or purposes, it has been predominantly used in relation to quantifiable activity, specifically the economies of culture, social inclusion, as well as audience attendances and participation rates. The origins of normative evidence-creation in culture and the arts, essentially reflects a series of management ‘turns’ that informed policy ‘reforms’ in the financially constrained contexts of the late 1980s and early 1990s, predominantly in the UK, but also in Ireland. These new functions for arts and cultural policies highlighted the managerial imperative behind (and pressures on) arts and culture sectors to behave like other policy sectors in justifying themselves and becoming more accountable, as well as attempting to gain greater traction within governments. Terms such as ‘evidence’ have therefore become commonplace and are consistent with management terms such as ‘investment’ and ‘return’, purportedly empowering the culture sector as professional and enterprising rather than supplicant and disempowered sectors.

    As a result, the emphasis on evidence has a strong claim to neutrality and independence and appears to offer a democratic, meritocratic and importantly, convincing mechanism of persuasion (within government). As suggested above, evidence also tactically aligns cultural policy with other policy sectors, framing it as a sector responsible and accountable to the public in the same way as any other. Equally, evidence provides a comfort factor for those making policy, because they can point to it as a rational driving factor behind decisions, creating distance between civil servants/politicians, the focus of policies and decisions. Within the scope of what we mean by evidence however, are ‘good’ evidences and ‘bad’ evidences, which are worth clarifying here. Evidence-based policy, apparently driven by ‘hard’ data, rather than ideological or political imperatives, is generally held up as best practice by all sectors. This is particularly so when compared with advocacy and less quantitative, empirical or ‘scientific’ reports, the views of experts, and the pejoratively framed concept of policy-based evidence or research.

    In contrast, policy-based evidence is evidence that is viewed as dependent rather than independent of political agenda and therefore explicitly (rather than implicitly) hegemonic, as well as ‘unscientific’. Not surprisingly, this kind of evidence is decried in cultural policy circles and scholarship, on the basis that it follows the politics (and potentially money) rather than the objective evidences. However, policy-based evidence is a tactical reality acknowledged by policy makers (Finnish Ministry of Education, 2009c, p 9), and though apparently bad practice, is not necessarily more ideologically led than its counterpart, evidence-based policy. Evidence-based policy can be viewed as ideological or at least flawed on the basis of one department, politician, civil servant or agency being responsible for the decision that evidence of something is needed, pointing to an agenda or policy they wish to pursue (one of the main problems in relation to arts sector commissioning evidence in the first place).

    However, evidence in cultural polices has typically represented quantitative or economic evidence and has become part of the widespread conversation about positive and negative ‘instrumentalism’ (or using culture as an instrument to achieve something non-cultural), suggesting the perception of good or bad uses for culture. Evidence therefore typically points to the apparently unstoppable framing of cultural benefit or value as singularly economic and social. Though social benefits may appear more laudable, they often refer to social cohesion, forming part of transformative agendas for marginalised typically urban areas, and are ultimately intended to generate economic spin offs from making places more liveable and thus ultimately economic. Equally, these social benefits contrast with internal social benefits, which might be considered artistically instrumental, and are directed at evaluating or auditing the personal experience of and engagement with the arts.

    Notwithstanding the methodologies developed to describe other kinds of evidences more concerned with the individual’s encounter with, and the individual impact of, the arts (McCarthy, Ondaatje and Zakaras, 2005), it is unclear whether the status of this kind of (internal or intrinsic) evidence is as high, or as persuasive as other (external or extrinsic) economic or social evidences. The overwhelming emphasis on the latter, together with advocacy-oriented research, can ultimately be seen as indicative of the poor position of cultural ministries and cultural policy’s dependency on, and proximity to, scarce central government funding.

    Ultimately in addressing the paucity of research information in a country like Ireland, the question must be asked of what kind of evidence is needed (do we need a balance of evidences), how do we understand and contextualise this evidence (intrinsically or extrinsically), what is the status of long-term (necessarily expensive and therefore rare) versus short term evidences, how do we reconcile questions over the methodologies applied in evidence-gathering (i.e. not taking into account comparative investment in other sectors when evaluating economic evidence), and  is there a consensus on the purpose evidence serves and to whom it is directed (the public? the state?).  Equally, does ‘better’ evidence (depending on what we mean by this) lead to better policy, given the long cycle of policy-making and the ‘moment-in-time’ evidence on which it is built. In light of arguably under-resourced cultural agencies, does evidence get serious attention and does it actually make any difference to policy? Can evidence lead to a limited interpretation of value and lock relationships into a restrictive expectation/delivery cycle, creating an inextricable relationship between evidence (as well as research) and advocacy (which cannot claim to be neutral or disinterested) (Selwood, 2002, n.p.)? While few would disagree with the view that evidence, or at least documentation, provides information, some would argue that it does not present a conclusive image of what is going on within cultural activity and can be problematic when viewed in isolation from wider contexts of understanding, particularly in relation to its limitations and in relation to other valuations of culture. How to reconcile this view and these issues with democratic and publicly accountable policy needs, is a key question for all cultural policies.



    The Value of the Arts in Ireland: the Arts Sector, Artists, the Public, and Government

    Keywords: collective intentions, language, cultural value, honesty, legitimacy/trust

    (Colloquy #3 Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, 7th October, 2013. Photograph by Tony Kinlan)

    Success, and competition.

    The question of ‘cultural value’ informs and is key to evidence, whereby value systems can determine what is considered evidence (i.e. social and economic) and what is less so (cultural), particularly in relations to the ‘responsibilities’ of the subsidised arts. Though there are a number of attempts to describe ‘cultural value’, a now common term in UK cultural policy, it often refers to crucial agreements between the tactical needs/values of the politician and the policymaker, the putatively artistic/cultural needs /values of the cultural practitioner and the audience/participant needs/values (suggested to be artistic or at least not economic or social) of the public (Holden, 2006, p59).[1] The term ‘cultural value’ was deliberately constructed in the course of the 2000s to create a legitimising cultural analogy to the concept of ‘public value’ (with its managerial overtones), to garner political traction for cultural ministries, as well as an attempt at creating a shared language for culture, in the hope of establishing a clear mandate for cultural policy. Definitions of public value are legion, but can be considered as involving “contingent” valuation, or the willingness of the public to pay for the service/policy (Frey, 2003, p 20), the capability of the service/policy, and crucially, the legitimacy or trust in the service/policy (Lee et al., 2011, p 290; Keaney, 2006, p 13). Though ‘public value’ is arguably abused or at least over-used in political rhetoric as a persuasive device, it has formed the basis for thinking about cultural value.  As such, along with evidence, ‘cultural value’ aims to suggest the democratic nature of why states support culture, and more pragmatically, provide an “acceptable” framework for funding decisions (DCMS, 2010, p5) “commensurable with other calls on the public purse” (DCMS, 2010, p9).

    The creation of this term was also intended to hand (back) power to the cultural sector in terms of a shared language to describe value in the arts (and increase trust amongst the stakeholders), a key factor in commissioning ‘evidences’ in the first place. Significantly, attempts to develop more ‘appropriate’ languages to describe culture from a cultural perspective have been noted by British politicians in claims that they have “enough reasons to support culture on its own merits to stop apologising for it by speaking only of it in terms of other agendas” (Jowell 2004, p. 17cited in Gray, 2007, p206), claims from media commentators that “it is almost impossible to defend art honestly” (Jones, 2012,n.p.), statements from policy researchers concerning a “lack of concern with truth”, or to put it more bluntly, the prevalence of “bullshit”in cultural policy (Belfiore, 2008, p 1),  and senior arts figures in the UK demanding a “unique language of the arts” (Tusa, 2011, n. p.). Notwithstanding the difficulties in knowing or agreeing key ideological and normative concepts such as “honesty/ly”, the “truth” and “unique”, the message here is clear: that we need to be careful but also sincere in how we frame cultural policy conversations, so that both pragmatic policy contexts, as well as other value systems and languages are taken into account.

    With this in mind, it is easy to see how difficult it might be to reach consensus in relation to value and value systems (which are value-laden), particularly when value can simultaneously mean value as both price and priceless (Miller, 2005, p1122). This perhaps neatly sums up the competing mandates of cultural policies to satisfy what might lazily be described as public, cultural (sector) and government needs. In this respect, cultural value as an attempt to reduce the vastly complex concept of the value of culture, through the ambiguity of the term value, may counteractively represent a reductive “bottom-line” approach, failing by its own criteria “as a means to add value” (Miller, 2005, p 1130).  However, as policy analyst Sara Selwood has commented, “it is no good trying to relate all the value of arts and culture to monetary valuations, and equally unhelpful to try to justify the arts as some kind of special case, different from all other spending priorities and subject to unique criteria” (Selwood, cited in DCMS, 2010, p 13). Nevertheless, questions remain as to how to reconcile different value systems in cultural policy, and the non-cultural outputs proffered through it, which may somewhat undermine Selwood’s suggestion that the arts are no different to other policy areas.


    The suggestion of subjectivity at the heart of many of these questions also raises the perennial question of determinations of ‘excellence’ and ‘quality’ in arts decisions. Subjectivity here should not be interpreted as inexpert, unfounded, unverifiable or lacking in credibility, rather it is an acknowledgment of the extent to which, ultimately, individual judgment is brought to bear in arts decisions, based on the necessarily unscientific, amorphous and shifting nature of the arts (as expressions of shifting humanity), even with the formulation of identifiable and tangible criteria. As such (and arguably), determining quality, though a highly rigorous and expert process, while important for accountability purposes and to consider a variety of judgments, always take place in the context of decisions that might always be otherwise. This is not to disavow concepts such as ‘quality’, but rather to suggest that these concepts are at all times context-laden. This paper will conclude with a consideration of education, a function of government that is arguably at the heart of understandings, participation, and activity in the arts, and in this way links back to the first objective, public engagement.

    [1] This definition of cultural value reflects economist David Throsby’s account which rests on a balance between economic and cultural or intrinsic value, defining intrinsic value as “aesthetic, spiritual, social, historical, symbolic and authenticity value” as well as “ideas about pricelessness“ (Keaney, 2006, p31) and contrasts with an emphasis on cultural rights (ethics) and sustainability issues (Reeves, 2002, p36-37; Ministry of Education and Culture 2010c).




    Keywords: contexts, alignments, instrumentalism and power plays.

    (Colloquy #4 Radisson Hotel, Galway, 12th February, 2014. Photograph by Robert Ellis)

    Few would argue that education is central to the putative ‘health’ (or active participation) of the arts, given the key role played by education in affirming and forming cultural tastes and experiences (Bennett and Silva 2006). Equally, if the arts are valued in societies, as the font of formative experiences, education must be key to subsequent adult arts participation. Indeed, just as education is a UN human right,[1] initiatives like Agenda 21, promoting the “coordination between cultural and education policies”[2] and ‘Cultural Rights’,[3] implicitly place education and access as central cultural rights and key to issues of sustainability. From an Irish perspective, after significant work over many years, recent inroads (December, 2012) into this agenda has been achieved in the form of a “practical” Charter for education. This charter has been developed between the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Arts Council and educational authorities. [4] While it remains to be seen how the charter achieves greater arts or cultural participation, and crucially, how it impacts on residual claims of elitism in the arts (Bonnar Keenleyside, 2000), the suggestion of an implicit ‘contract’ between the funded (whether artist or arts organisation) and the state, raises questions of whether all artists are inherently educators and / or whether contracts can be fulfilled by the simple production of publically available culture.

    However, there are other issues pertinent to considering education and culture together.  Many countries have used the ‘soft’ power of education with culture as a means to self-determination and identity formation. This reflexive use of education and culture acknowledges the inherently educational ethos of the arts and cultural ethos of education, as collective generators of meaning, knowledge skill, as well as modes of communication. As such, education and arts discourses are often interchangeable in terms of their posited role in societies: invoking concepts of citizenship, democracy, civil society, agency, identity, and latterly, the economy. The similarities between education and culture therefore, results in both a shared set of values and imperatives, but also pressures to deliver creative workers and in particular, economies and a labour pool. Educationally, this is the case at both primary and secondary school levels, as suggested in cultural policy discourses of the importance of creativity in education for generating labour market skills, but also third and fourth level, where students are closer to entering the world of work.

    To illustrate these parallels, recent UK discussions of the role of education in government are notable. As a key feature of human capital theory and the knowledge society (a key industrial agenda in Ireland through the Innovation Task Force and Smart Economy agendas), both concerned with the creation of value through highly skilled and educated workers, the question of the purpose of education and education policy within society, whether that be serving the market, positing the individual learner as an employee/entrepreneur in development, or positing education as a wider space for questioning and considering important issues, can be seen to reflect key problematics of arts and cultural policy.[5] As in cultural or arts policies, the knowledge economy has come to dominate education discourse, with the UK positing universities as at the “center of the knowledge economy”, and Ireland, the “third side of the iron triangle of government and industry”, and “an essential component in the new labour market system” (Kenny et al., 2009, p28, p29). Also like culture, as part of the economisation of education, universities are claimed to “function more like cost-cutting retailers” “competing on price” in order to “equip’ ‘young’ people to get jobs” and to “contribute to ‘growth’”, rather than represent places of learning (Collini, 2012, pp, 2- 4).

    Equally, the question of what education is ‘for’ resonates with questions of what culture is ‘for’; it implies a familiar ‘means-end’ rationalism, and the attribution of non-educational outputs to education policy, mirroring the non-cultural outputs posited for cultural policies referred to above. Like cultural institutions, the pressures on universities to fulfil “admirable” civic and social goals (through discrete approaches rather than long term outcomes) have been claimed as undermining the open enquiry they are primarily intended to serve (Collini, 2012, pp, 2- 4.). Similarly, universities are asked to consider students as a means to generate money or investment, using the most efficient or fewest resources, rather than inculcating understanding in those students, arguably its core function. Also, by positing education as a consumer or service-provider, its status as a ‘public good’ is effectively undermined. In this context, the claim that “what lies at the heart of a university is closer to the nature of a museum or gallery than is usually allowed” or that “universities would be comfortable with” (Collini, 2010,  pp 2- 4), is instructive for what it reveals about the similarities of both sectors, but also attitudes to cultural institutions. Thus, though some might view difficulties with education and culture’s relationship with the market as elitist, these demands disavow both the knowable and unknowable, wider and longer-term benefits to societies that are arguably (until we have good enough evidence) incrementally accrued from both education and culture.

    However, while there are obvious mutualities between education and culture, and while these similarities suggest a natural alignment, caution needs to be applied in considering the two together. This refers to the power plays between the two sectors, where arguably, education, being more tightly aligned to the economy, has a greater role within governments, and unequivocally so if considered in relation to financing. Education is typically cast as the back bone of a country’s status and critically, economic success, and tends to be more readily, if not “unquestioningly”, accepted as a “public good” than culture or the arts (Holden, 2007, p 9, p 12). This indicates the senior nature of education in its relationship with culture and is important for how collaboration might or should take place. One of the key questions to be asked therefore in relation to both education and culture is how to make sure that the arts or creativity does not become solely an economic instrument within educational systems.

    This paper has considered questions of the public and public engagement, querying how we understand these terms, the nature, value and agendas behind evidence-creation, the possibility of a shared cultural value system amongst cultural stakeholders and finally, the role of education as core component of arts engagement, but also a political ally. These issues raise tough questions, and like most debates, are prone to ideological contest. While they are not particular to Ireland, in this particular moment when Ireland may have finally reached the mid-point of its current financial devastation, it seems like a good time to critically consider ‘where we are at’, or might be at, in relation to the public, the arts and cultural sector, and the government.

    [1] See: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/right-to-education/ [Accessed 26th March 2013].

    [2]See: http://www.agenda21culture.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=44&I[Accessed 26th March 2013].

    [3] Unesco’s right to culture, or ‘cultural rights’ are “seen as part of civil rights relating to: freedom of expression; right to and responsibility for cultural heritage; right to free practice of art and culture and to creative work; right to protect the intellectual and material benefits accruing from scientific, literary and artistic production; right to participate in cultural life and right to equally accessible and available cultural, library and information and leisure services; right to choose one's own culture; right to the development and protection of culture; respect for culture and its autonomy and for cultural identity. See the Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe. URL: http://www.culturalpolicies.net/web/ethics-human-rights.phpIn, accessed September 15th 2011.

    [4] See: http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Reports/Arts-In-Education-Charter.pdf[Accessed 26th March 2013].

    [5]  Education policy often shares a Ministerial portfolio with culture  (i.e. Finland). See also New Zealand, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, URL: http://www.government.nl/ministries/ocw, accessed 5th July, 2012., Austria, Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture, URL http://www.culturalpolicies.net/web/austria.php, accessed 5th July, 2012. Netherlands, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, URL http://www.culturalpolicies.net/web/netherlands.php, accessed 5th July, 2012..



    (Colloquy #1 at the National Concert Hall, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, 15th May, 2013. Photograph by Tony Kinlan)

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    The Question of Public Engagement

    National Concert Hall, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2, 15th May, 2013.

    NCFA COLLOQUY #1 from NCFA on Vimeo (Photographs by Tony Kinlan)


    The NCFA Colloquia brings together key stakeholders involved in the delivery, reception and the creation of a policy context for the arts. The overall aim of the NCFA Colloquia is to develop a research agenda for the arts/arts policy and improve dialogue about the arts in Ireland.

    This first of the NCFA Colloquia focused on the fundamental subject of the public and public engagement in the arts. Where exactly are we at in relation to the status, position, future and value of the funded arts sector in Ireland? What is going on with the perpetual advocacy mode of the arts? What serious ethical and political questions about participation and access, if any, are being asked here? Who’s talking?

    This colloquy tackled the realities of political and public apathy, competing expectations, and the problem of honesty in communciation and the use of language.

    Each colloquy opens with a provocation from a cultural policy researcher who is based outside Ireland, followed by a response from someone active and experienced in the Irish context. The rest of the events use a ‘world café’ style format to allow for concentrated and lively discussion on specific questions, following on from the provocation and response.

    Our first guest was Professor Elizabeth B. Silva.

    With particular attention to the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s critical interventions into the links between culture and cultural policies, she specifically considered the origin and reproduction of the concept of ‘cultural capital’. Specifically, the rewards of individual cultural competences and the contexts in which ‘cultural capital’ is acquired.  Drawing on her contribution to the book 'Culture, Class, Distinction' (2009), Professor Silva used examples from research participants to illustrate the key issues and make what is at stake here more vivid.

    Our first respondent was Pat Cooke.

    Pat Cooke is the director of the MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management, UCD, and previously the Director of Kilmainham Gaol and the Pearse Museum. 

    Tables and Plenary

    On public engagement, described as a two-way process and shared responsibility, some of the more fundamental questions that came up asked whether ‘the public’ know or care whether the argument for the arts concerns itself with the funded arts sector or not – is it an irrelevant distinction? The answers aired as to ‘what’ engagement essentially is or means ranged from understanding engagement as the consumption of culture to something more ‘affective’, more felt, about having a feeling of connection and a relationship with others.

    Engagement was proposed as being distinguished from entertainment by sketching the latter out in terms of it having only fleeting value and a typically passive approach to audience presentation. Red herrings inevitably arise around the subject of engagement including those between production/practitioners and consumption/audiences.
    The complexity of this kind of discussion was revealed in the debate on the importance of counting heads as a way to illustrate successful or unsuccessful levels of engagement. Is the involvement of 300,000 people in Ireland in amateur dramatics public engagement; ditto 25,000 singing in choirs outside the funded arts? Is it just the policy makers that speak of public engagement but mean numbers/statistics? And are programmers different because when they talk about public engagement they mean something more qualitative?

    The metaphor of the archaeological dig was offered as a counterpoint – stressing the revelation of engagement only comes with multiple inquiries conducted simultaneously, horizontally. This led to discussion of class and social mobility and claims that artists know and accept there are different levels, depths, and vectors across people’s experience of social status and expectations, but it was proposed that policy makers don’t.
    It was argued that any success of the publicly funded arts is because of the dialogue with artists. It is up to everyone working in the arts and in any position of influence to remain open and responsive and expect the state and the public to be the same. To respond is the most important thing: to the artists, to audiences, to the wider arts sector.

    This led to discussion about the place or role of the state – ideas about citizenship and entitlement, social interaction and public space. It was important, some agreed, that things that make life a socialised space – like art – should be seen as important in terms of, for example, the historical reason for the development of arts councils, first established in the UK out of the post war experience, to ‘humanize’ life post-conflict. The project of the democratization of culture continued from there: civic, patrician and it was partly about cultural entitlement for everyone.
    Do artists really want to engage in this discourse? It’s a distraction, being singled out – it’s a ‘scary place’ to be.

    There are many questions to weave into the developing conversation across the subsequent colloquies.

    Plenary Session
    In the plenary session, it was recognized that while research into the arts and culture in Ireland exists, there are too many interregnums and intervals. As well as a need for consistency in maintaining research activity over time, it was pointed out that one of the strengths of the arts is that they it is typically exploratory and increasingly includes process-based actions as part of the making of the artwork in whatever medium, discipline or form. It was suggested that the exchange of information and thinking about how to research required more conversations with people who are not the usual ‘go to‘ people; in fact, artists were singled out as especially good in this role.

    The general view in the room was that some actions could be taken immediately in response to the event: that people attending could share anecdotal evidence of the work that they do with a view to being better at organizing case studies and collecting stories. There was a feeling that the ‘sector’ needs to get better at capturing this. Even when the public express the desire to speak on behalf of the value of the arts, the ‘sector’ don’t really mobilize that.

    Some excellent examples of work that could converge with the help of a third party or framework for cooperation, arose in terms of mapping arts programmes in particular areas.  Increasingly easily done in terms of using technology. The Geography Department in NUI Maynooth and the local authority in Fingal are already mapping in this way and are strong advocates for how possible and positive this shared activity has proven to be. Also, in NUI Galway, cultural indicators have been developed to assist in this kind of work and again the researchers are very willing to share; see www.creativeedge.eu website.

    Finally, many felt that the NCFA needs to be in conversation with other sectors that are not necessarily connected directly to the arts. Time to create lines of communication is now.









    The Question of Evidence

    Newpark Hotel, Kilkenny, 12th August, 2013

    NCFA Colloquy #2 from NCFA on Vimeo (Photographs by Patrick Moore)


    This session followed the first National Campaign for the Arts colloquy on public engagement in May and sought to think about and through, understandings of the concept of evidence as it related to cultural or arts policy formation. In recent decades, evidence has become increasingly important as a way of proving the need for, and value, of all public policies, and more particularly in the arguably weaker government sector of cultural policy. The question of evidence, therefore, has become more acute following the latest global recession and the unprecedented reduction in public spending as well as increasing pressures on arts organisations to quantify and qualify their work. As Ireland seeks to emerge from the most severe recession since the foundation of the state, this session was particularly apposite.  There were two presentations followed by a series of simultaneous round table discussions and concluding plenary.

    Following introductions, Dr. Dave O Brien from the City University, London, spoke about the UK experience of the politics of evidence and cultural value. Specifically, Dr. O’Brien discussed the erstwhile role of New Labour in evidence-based and managerialist (through techniques of problem solving) policy making, through the use of market logic and market principles (customer service models etc.), pioneering an economic emphasis on ‘returns’ from state investments into culture (social cohesion etc.). This was contextualised by a consideration of what the state seeks from cultural policy (by definition, policy seeks an outcome), and problems with the various policy processes used to judge the efficiency (rather than effectiveness) of policies as well as the unproductive (or unpalateable) nature of economic evaluations of culture. Finally, the limits and realities of evidence-based policy were summed up in a quote from policy analyst Alex Stevens: “

    “Policy-makers want to know what the costs and effects of a policy option will be, and on whom they will fall. It is rare for research to provide definitive answers to these questions – evidence was far more likely to be used if it fitted with the story that was already being told; a story that usually emerged from a complex interaction of the evidence with the interests of the politicians, special advisers and civil servants who were its joint authors” Stevens (2011)

    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2011/04/20/in-whitehall-academic-research-is-far-more-likely-to-be-used-if-it-fits-with-the-story-already-being-told/[Accessed 15 August, 2013].

    This presentation was followed by a short riposte from Professor John O’Hagan from TCD, who concentrated on the need to use arguments outside of the economic, particularly given the view that cultural policies will never deliver economically when competing with other sectors, including the commercial or creative industries sector. Prof. O’Hagan urged Ireland’s policy makers to follow cultural policy models that were less centralised than the UK (which Ireland had traditionally looked to) and cited Germany and Northern Europe as possible models. In making the case for the funded sector not to concentrate on economic impact arguments, he emphasised his view that the social impact of the arts was stronger and made a more unique case for funding the arts and that the German concept of bildung, or general educational capacity of an individual might be a useful paradigm. He added that there was a difficulty with the kind of evidence or data being produced in the arts sector which tended to be misleading and therefore undermined trust in the sector. He concluded by stating the importance of lobbing as evidence of the value of culture in and of itself and for the arts to always recognise (and be seen to recognise) the competing demands of policymakers in representative democracies.

    Tables and plenary
    Feedback from the tables was detailed, complex and very rich, and included the following summarised views: more information on participation in the arts is needed; though we are predisposed to prefer qualitiative data, quantitative data is important too, though we may not like the information it delivers; how do we effectively collect data; how to measure impact?; the arts sector needs to decide what they want research to consist of; there needs to be a clarity of purpose in any research question/project; we need to know who our future audiences are (this might be a research project); we need to avoid skewed data; we need to use the language (of evidence) better; we need to make more use of the National Household Survey and other data sources; we need greater coherence in the sector and in identifying needs; we need leadership;  we need to balance government with local demands; we need research that meets the needs of all of the sector; evidence is tailored to meet the needs of those requesting it, this is not necessarily and bad thing; we need comparative evidence; there needs to be self-assessment; we need to track the impact of awards on artists; evidence does not necessarily mean change; we should acknowledge that we are following the UK model; who is the audience for this evidence?; we need more information on the use of libraries; there is not enough protest or lobbying from the arts; in these discussions about the sector and the use of the word ‘we’, who is the ‘we’? are we sure we know and or agree?; we should use the GAA model in relation to culture; the government needs to know more about the footfall in relation to arts events; cultural tourism is also very important to the government; there needs to be regulation in the arts; who arts funding is for.. tourists or citizens?; we need reliable statistics that work for the Dept. and that they can use; many events are poorly attended though many are well attended, we need to understand difference and reason; what is the role of the third level sector in data gathering and research?; there is a question as to how seriously decision makers and policy makers take any evidence... do they pay attention?; to whom is evidence directed ? or is evidence being ‘sold’?; we need to acknowledge the long-term process of the sedimentation or bedding in of arts data, many reports from decades ago are still relevant and only properly used in later years; evidence is subjective and personal.

    To conclude, the question arose again of whether there is any point in providing evidence if decisions are made for budgetary or pragmatic reasons and of who the sector is thought to comprise of (arts practitioners, artists, policymakers, politicians, the public/s), i.e. who is the ‘we’ in this conversation and can there truly be a ‘we’?

    AUDIO from this event can be downloaded HERE


    The Question of Cultural value

    Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, 7th October, 2013.

    NCFA COLLOQUY #3 PODCAST from NCFA on Vimeo (Photographs by Tony Kinlan)


    This session was the third in the series of the National Campaign for the Arts’ colloquies on arts policy and research. The title of this session, Cultural Value, followed the previous two colloquies on the concepts of the Public and of Evidence. Since evidence is often driven by proving cultural value, these last two sessions were linked and considered what value means in the context of case-making and evidence. The aim behind the concept of cultural value can be viewed as similar to that of public value, and responds to the need for a term that can adequately convey the different attributes of cultural or arts activities, meeting different stakeholder needs. These needs typically refer to the triangle of cultural policy requirements comprising politicians (who need cultural investment to be accountable and favour instrumental approaches which use culture as an instrument to address other concerns), cultural practitioners (who have a need to satisfy their artistic ambitions) and the public (who wish to satisfy their personal artistic needs) . However, conversations at the colloquy quickly showed that cultural value is a tricky concept, highly personal and subjective and that it was hard to reconcile it with different opinions and value systems.  There were two presentations on the theme of cultural value by Professor Jim McGuigan and Arts Officer and Chair of the Local Authority Arts Officer Association, Sinead O’Reilly, followed by short discussions and a plenary session.

    Professor Jim McGuigan spoke on the theme of ‘Cultural Value Versus Neoliberal Cultural Policy’. This presentation concerned the need for a renewal of understandings of cultural value in terms of free and open debate and discussion through the ‘cultural public sphere’ as a response to increasing economic cultural instrumentalism and specifically, the “global hegemony of neoliberalism.” By the cultural public sphere Dr McGuigan specifically referred to   the “articulation of politics, public and personal, as a contested terrain through affective – aesthetic and emotional – modes of communication” on the basis that “dispute itself is a cultural value” and that “it should be an unabashed duty of public cultural policy to resist commercialism and not to under-write it”.

    Sinead O’Reilly followed this presentation by contextualising cultural value historically and contemporarily within Ireland. She particularly spoke of the value systems attached to artists and activism in early 20th century revolutionary Ireland, and how these were perceived at the time and discussed the pressures on arts and cultural policies in Ireland today.
    Tables and plenary

    Following these presentations, the following points were made (this list is not intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive).
    • Cultural value is a very difficult term
    • Cultural policy should be an open space for debate
    • There should be a series of pre-policy making meetings with arts practitioners to discuss issues of importance before policies are finalised
    • There is a difficulty with making arguments for the arts that appeal to everyone
    • Arguments have become and may have to become increasingly simplistic as the case for the arts continues to be made
    • Is neoliberalism sometimes used as a term of abuse for those who don’t agree with us?
    • The pragmatism of instrumentalism – it’s about ‘getting on with it’
    • Instrumentalism can offer opportunities – i.e. to work in countries that are part of Ireland’s diplomatic mission
    • There needs to be a long-term longitudinal study of the value of the arts in Ireland (as suggested at the last meeting)
    • Policymakers are not as disconnected as we might imagine
    • There is a need for strong arts advocates working in the public arena
    • Measurement of the arts needs to be more qualitative
    • The arts sector might look to the sports sector who have succeeded in winning the argument for sport
    • The concept of ‘pleasure’ as a cultural value should be explored
    • Research can lead to dead-end conversations
    • Who are the stakeholders of cultural policy?
    • Who is ‘us’, who is ‘we’?
    • You cannot challenge dominant language or imperatives by using the dominant language
    • There is a need for new leadership in the arts
    • Not all funding needs to be instrumental
    • Should there be a national campaign for culture?
    • Story telling is a good way of approaching cultural value
    • Cultural value needs are very varied and are weighted differently depending on whose value system you are referring to
    • There needs to be a new understanding of intrinsic value
    • Australia is doing some important research on intrinsic value
    • There are different demands and pressures on policymakers
    • There is a need for more research on the impact on children and young people of culture in relation to cultural value
    • Is cultural value posed as an alternative to economic value?
    • The cultural public sphere is an expression of cultural value
    • Can the citizenship aspect of cultural value be something that governments can really (or want to) offer?
    • We need more information on cultural consumption
    • Research on cultural value needs to consider who it is directed at and what is its purpose
    • There is greater cultural literacy needed by policymakers
    • There needs to be research on education and subsequent cultural activity
    • Balance and reconciliation (of needs) are economic terms!
    • We need to be honest about the competition for funding
    • The good life and culture
    • Livelihoods are at stake in arguments or cases made for the arts, it’s about survival too
    • We need to be more imaginative in relation to what it is to be a cultural subject
    • We need a stronger philosophical position to underpin cultural policy
    • If there is no agreement on cultural value how can we research it?
    • There is an ecology of networks relating to cultural value


    Cultural Policy in Practice

    Response by Sinead O'Reilly to Prof. Jim McGuigan

    Colloquy 3


    View or download document below



  • COLLOQUY # 4

    Education and the Arts: Policy, Research and Responsibilities, Radisson Hotel, Galway, 12th February, 2014

    NCFA Colloquy #4 PODCAST from NCFA on Vimeo (Photographs by Robert Ellis)



    This event marked the fourth and final colloquy in the series of National Campaign for the Arts conversations on arts policy and research in Ireland. The series of colloquies was devised by arts manager and consultant Dr. Tara Byrne as a response to the NCFA’s 2013 strategy on research and its identification of the need for the arts sector to be more informed about arts practices and engagement, and to better communicate the value of what it does. Following from the previous three events, considering the concepts of the public, evidence (and evidence-building) and cultural value, this session dealt with the topic of education in the arts, in both formal (curriculum) and informal (family/community) contexts. The decision to dedicate the final colloquy to education was intended to signal the central role of education in both the child’s (and future adult’s) introduction to arts experiences and practices, and the wider educational responsibilities of social, cultural and educational policies. This session was also intended to book-end the first colloquy which tackled the difficult theme of the public (who it represents and what its role is in arts policy). In addition to considering definitions and expectations around the public in policy, this first session took time to consider the creation of cultural capital within the public domain, or the deliberately constructed value-system or resource (capital) generated by the association with, knowledge and practice of the arts, that takes place in families and other social structures. Since education reinforces value systems more generally, there is a reflexive link between education and cultural capital.

    The event kicked off with a presentation from Dr. Julian Sefton-Green, an education specialist with a keen interest in the creative industries and popular culture, who gave a critical overview of educational projects he has been involved with. Specifically, the key thrust of Julian’s presentation concerned the problems policymakers have had with the arts in contemporary educational discourses and the difficulties the arts has in staking a claim to be at the heart of contemporary visions of learning and knowledge. Work-around strategies and changing definitions (of for example around creativity) may help secure temporary legitimacy (for the arts) but unless and until schools and teachers can own a common vision for a common culture, it may be difficult to avoid shouting from the sidelines. Julian went on to talk about how the political discourse of creativity (calling to mind the economic and knowledge agendas in policy), which is at the centre of rationales to invest in the arts in education (giving them legitimacy to the state and the public), can inadvertently lead to the arts’ being hoisted by its own petard in the longer term. This is because research does not always sufficiently match the carefully constructed social and economic arguments made to support investment in the arts in education or in wider society in the first place and can produce ‘unconvincing’ data. Further, research does not always matter in terms of changing policy. Julian concluded his talk by commenting on how education can reinforce elitism in the arts by focussing on narrow definitions of the arts, how education needs to temper its increasing stratification and its contribution to cultural capital, how policies can be constructive in giving politicians a way into talking about the arts, and how rhetoric and discourse, or the language in which we speak and write about the arts and policy is not empty or meaningless, but matters in terms of how we understand those activities.

    Following Julian’s presentation, Dr. Hannele Lehto, Director of the Division for Art Policy, Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, spoke about the place of research in the Finnish Culture Ministry, with a focus on the key premise of cultural rights, enshrined in the document, Fair Culture (2007). This concerns the “realisation of cultural rights and the inclusion of everyone in cultural signification, irrespective of their age, gender, disability, or ethnic, religious and cultural background” (access to humankind’s and one’s own cultural tradition; physical, regional and cultural accessibility and availability; diversity of cultural supply and its matching with demand; participation in cultural supply and cultural self-expression and signification). Hannele also spoke about the different ‘ethics’ or ways of valuing or judging culture in terms of cultural policy that have been identified in Finland, comprising: the ‘virtue’ ethic (to describe what is often called the intrinsic value of culture, the independence of culture from political pressures, the autonomy of culture, the role of individual expression etc.);  the ‘responsibility’ ethic (to describe the basis for cultural rights, or for culture to be accessible and inclusive to the public) and the ‘benefits’ ethic (to describe the various social and economic outcomes from culture). These different ethics form a way of discussing the values of culture and work as a basis for policy in Finland. Hannele also discussed how Finnish cultural policy aims to “promote creativity, plurality and inclusion” and how cultural policy is informed by “basic [human] rights” as well as by cultural rights (as above) and how the (Finnish) culture Ministry is working hard to make culture an identifiable national development indicator of success, alongside the economy, ecology and the environment and social and well-being issues. She also underlined the various research sources available in Finland making the generation of statistics and data on culture a key process and resource within the ministry.

    After an interval and some group discussions, these presentations were followed by a short presentation by Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon, who talked about the broader context of arts policy in Ireland, whimsically but accurately invoking the TV series Breaking Bad as a metaphor for the various compromises and deals done within pragmatic arts policies and amongst the sector. Marian emphasised the short-term nature of politics and the need for the quick hit versus the longer term needs and thinking of arts policy, the kinds of information to which politicians are most likely to respond, and questioned whether the Arts Department in Ireland is ’fit for purpose’, as well as asking what that purpose might be.

    The following is an indicative list of responses to the questions:

    What do we mean by education in the arts and whose responsibility is it?:
    • education in the arts can mean technical ability
    • education and the arts can mean arts in education, arts education and voluntary/informal education
    • governments, parents, everyone is responsible for arts education and the arts in education- we need to consider the “wider constituency of the child”
    • all government departments within government are responsible
    • although it is everyone’s responsibility (education in the arts) – there are different responsibilities within that
    • (however) where does responsibility specifically sit when there are numerous organisations and authorities involved?
    • education is also provided through arts venues, arts officers, libraries etc.
    • mainstream schooling is well catered for, but creativity in the community is not
    • we need to foster community schooling
    • there is a need to emphasise the arts in an educational context not education in an arts context
    • volunteerism needs to be better accommodated within arts education
    • we need to support meaningful engagement with the arts in schools
    • there needs to be recognition of the teacher/artist partnership and mutual respect between artists and educators- a separation of roles
    • the arts education context is not (sufficiently?) measured
    • there is a lack of critical thinking on arts education at second level
    • there is a move away from empowerment to impact in evaluating education and the arts– this is part of a neoliberal approach to education
    • there is a language of complication in the arts and a need for institutional access to this language
    • economic and quantitative rationales are dead-end
    • there is a good opportunity to change things with the new curriculum now in place
    • artists are already working in education
    • we need to consider how the arts are taught – practice versus  appreciation/understanding
    • we need to use the TILDA report or learn from it
    • we need a mandate for better education in the arts
    • the arts ministry here is not policy-focussed
    • the quality of and access to education in the arts is too dependent on the individual interest of teachers 
    • there is an opportunity with the new Junior Cert to change things
    • the problem of elitism in the arts still exists
    • If you don’t have people demanding arts education  (from their arts centres, etc.) then it won’t happen
    • how do you cultivate this mandate? could artists work in a crèche ?
    • create arts environments that are welcoming, inviting, that don’t exclude.

    B) What research will help us to find out more about the impact (or contribution) of arts education on arts practices (including audiences) – this question understands arts education to refer to both school/college education (formal) and education in the wider societal or community sense (informal):
    • what is the quality of arts education here? research needed in schools as to what’s actually happening in schools
    • there is a need for longitudinal research outside exam results
    • there is a need for focus on qualitative impacts on individuals over time
    • it would be useful to document parent’s first experiences of the arts
    • audiences: why are people not going to arts events?
    • what kind of creative marketing do we need?
    • how do we best use the gap in the curriculum driven by the move away from religion – could we introduce something like philosophy or abstract thought in schools?
    • there is a need to map the complexity of arts practices in  festivals and communities
    • there is a need to map the link better between the arts and health
    • there is a need to bring together existing literature in this area- there is research already – let’s find it and use it commission a literature review- avoid the duplication of efforts
    • the Charter Group register repository of relevant research – we need to know what has been done- need a portal of information
    • the current ‘soft’ research that’s available – is this effective?
    • there is a difference between research and evaluation- we don’t have enough of the former
    • there is a need for non-advocacy based research
    • there is a focus on the entrepreneurship model of creativity (too much?)
    • education and the arts is not goal driven (not sure if this comment was the need for arts in education to be goal driven or that it is too goal driven)
    • there is a need to complicate the research
    • how do we get research done? via PhDs, via the Irish Research Council
    • are we asking the right question at the right time here?
    • the word impact is borrowed from UK – do we want to use it?
    • should arts education be mandatory?
    • what are young people doing creatively outside of education.. we need to know more about this to understand interests and key drivers
    • can we ascertain the career routes within the arts and education?
    • we need intersectoral conversations
    • we need to capture the changes that take place in artists’ work as a result of their work in schools
    • how much are children learning from artists work ?
    • what if the impact is not sufficient?- Perhaps impact research is not the best research for this moment in Ireland.
    • we need to simplify the message - coordinate the focus and messages.
    • the NCFA is trying to get an evidential base … but is this the best way for the NCFA to identify itself right now?
    • 1994 Arts Education Report –this was the last major piece of arts research that had any great effect on the  arts and education research



  • Report and Executive Summary of the NCFA Colloquia on Research 2013 - 2014.


    You can read the Full Report of the NCFA Colloquia on Research 2013 - 2014 here

    You can read the Executive Summary Report of the NCFA Colloquia on Research 2013 - 2014 here

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