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Why Europe matters…

April 16 2014, at 7.21am

‘Brussels, the capital of Europe’ is a phrase I’ve heard many times since moving to Brussels in March – in political speeches, conference texts, conversations –  Brussels, as the centre of Europe. In this brief column, I will take the temperature of the state of culture, as portrayed in Brussels in the lead up to the European elections (voting in Ireland is on 23 May).

Brussels is a very diverse city where the country’s two largest communities live together, French Walloons and Flemish, alongside newer, immigrant populations. In fact, the energy in parts of the city centre seems surprisingly agitated. Arriving just six weeks ago, one surprise has been the conspicuous presence on the streets of the debris of protest, police cordons and blockades, diversions, all in the shadow of the great EU buildings, left from President Obama’s visit, EU/Russian talks on the Ukraine with Putin, the EU and African summit, and workers’ marches. Meanwhile, those inside the buildings, the public servants, are rather brutally termed ‘functionaires’, in an Orwellian manner.

It was immediately obvious how close art and politics are and how tensions lie just under the surface, when at the opening of ‘No Country for Young Men’, an exhibition at the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels featuring 33 young contemporary Greek artists, the exhibition curator Katerina Gregos politely but pointedly noted that ‘the exhibition was not funded by the Greek Government, as part of its cultural programme for the EU Presidency’. In its depiction of a Greece in crisis, the narrative of ‘No Country for Young Men’ is competing with the Greek government’s portrayal of its situation for wider consumption in Europe.

In May every year, a festival called Kunstenfestivaldesarts takes place in Brussels. It is conceived as a bi-lingual city festival of artistic work by Belgian and international artists in twenty or more theatres and art centres. In his introduction to this year’s festival programme, Christophe Slagmuylder, artistic director of Kunstenfestivaldesarts, writes, ‘There is an increasing impression that politics – entrenched in certain popular themes that are likely to be easy vote winners – is being reduced to something of a spectacle.  It struggles to champion fundamental ideas. It seems to act from the outside and no longer manages to be a core part of people’s lives.’  Reading this, I am reminded of the importance of the grassroots; that demands for what we need should come from the ground-up, through debate, expression, relationships, and alliances, to influence the political agenda and not merely react to it.

At another Brussels event, Paul Dujardin, Director of BOZAR, opened a conference on culture’s role in external relations or foreign affairs by stating that ‘culture is one of the main pillars of soft power’.  Dujardin continued on to advocate for a more active and dynamic role for culture and for the EU to recognise the ‘added value’ and ‘soft power’ of culture, and called for adequate funding for culture.  It seems that many public moments and platforms in Brussels are used to make a political point. The harsh truth pervades that the place of culture is still a hard fought battle within the EU’s structures and mind-set; the power lies with the departments for finance, development and perhaps, surprisingly, environment. There are hundreds of networks, lobbyists and groups in action in Brussels.  Competing with so much expert lobbying from the various sectors, how does culture become a priority for funding in Europe?

You might ask, why does ‘Europe’ even matter? The European Parliament currently consists of 754 MEPs and EU legislation has an impact on 80% of national legislation. Decisions made in Europe in the field of culture are taken in consultation with all Member States. Through Ireland’s MEPs in the European Parliament, as voted in by you, people have a democratic voice in this decision-making. If you are interested to read more about what organisations and individuals can do at local and national level to exert influence among candidates and politicians ahead of the elections, Culture Action Europe have a useful online toolkit for voters.

In the next NCFA newsletter, I interview Luca Bergamo, the Secretary General of Culture Action Europe, on the arts, culture, advocacy and the European project ahead of the May elections.

Claire Power

Independent is an arts professional based between Brussels and Dublin.


March 20 2014, at 10.01am





Contact Numbers


Senator Diarmuid Wilson


Spokesperson Seanad on Local Government

01 6183561


Senator Labhras O Murchu


Spokesperson Seanad on the Arts

01 6184018


Sean O Fearghail, TD


Spokesperson Dail on Local Government

01 6183948


Barry Cowen, TD


Spokesperson Dail on Local Government

01 6183662


Senator Trevor O Cloghartaigh


Spokesperson Seanad on the Arts

01 6184069

091 567921


Senator David Cullinane


Spokesperson Seanad on Local Government

01 6183176


Sandra Mc Lellan, TD


Spokesperson Dail on the Arts

01 6183122


Brian Stanley, TD


Spokesperson Dail on Local Government

01 6183987


Senator Deirdre Clune


Spokesperson Seanad on the Arts

01 6183365


Senator Cait Keane


Spokesperson Seanad on Local Government

01 6183179


Minister Jimmy Deenihan



Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht



Minister of State, Dinny McGinley


Minister of State for the Gaeltacht

01 6183452



Minister Phil Hogan, T.D


Minister for the Environment, Community & Local Government

01 6183093

01 8882402


Senator John Kelly


Spokesperson Seanad on the Arts

01 6183049

094 9861027


Senator Denis Landy


Spokesperson Seanad on the Environment (inc Local Government)

01 6183351

051 641641


Richard Boyd Barrett TD



01 6183449




Arts Funding & Local Authorities

March 20 2014, at 9.49am

Revenue funding for staffing and programming arts infra-structure around the country developed in an organic way, which now appears rather haphazard. The early Arts Centres, those coming into existence pre-1990 receive their revenue funding directly from the Arts Council, while those coming on-stream later are funded both by their Local Authorities and the Arts Council, in partnership arrangements. The Arts Council would like us all to be funded in this way. In 2010 it introduced a strategy to disproportionately cut funding to the venues that have minimal local authority support in the hope of precipitating change.

This strategy has been implemented rigorously for my organisation, the Linenhall Arts Centre, resulting in a 44% cut in Arts Council funding. However, despite intensive local lobbying by the Linenhall Board and staff, Mayo County Council has also cut our funding over the same time period. So the strategy has failed, spectacularly some might say!

Effectively what was being asked was that each organisation independently negotiates at local level a fundamental change in how the arts have been funded historically. The last four years have been difficult, not only have we lost a huge amount of funding but we’ve been left with the feeling that it was somehow our fault, in that, despite our best efforts, we could not convince our Local Authority to come on board.

I believe the change the Arts Council requires must be negotiated at national level. The Arts Council needs to address this funding anomaly with the relevant departments ie Environment, Arts Heritage & the Gaeltacht and Public Expenditure and Reform. I anticipate it may require an amendment to the Arts Act 2003, specifically 6 (2): A local authority may provide such financial or other assistance as it considers appropriate might be amended to read must.  But such amendments are for the legal experts, my point is that the fundamental change required in how the arts are funded, can not be brought about by small organisations working at local level and it is an unfair burden to have placed on them.


Director of the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

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