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Wexford Arts Centre (WAC) hosted the first local arts hustings on a blustery evening Thursday 21st January, 2016. Elizabeth Whyte Executive Director in association with Lucy Medlycott, Director of Irish Street Arts Circus & Spectacle Network. (ISACS) took the initiative to host the event with Jo Mangan, Chair of NCFA and Artistic Director/CEO of Performance Corporation and invite local candidates running for election to share their views and party policies on the arts in a public event with art sector representatives and supporters
There was a modest turnout, on a rainy night, of participants but representing a good cross sector of the local arts scene who contributed to lively debate. The event was also live streamed via Boast App.
There are seventeen local candidates running for elections and eight of these candidates were able to attend and participate in the event. The candidates attending were Aoife Byrne, Fianna Fail, Malcolm Byrne, Fianna Fail, Julie Hogan, Fine Gael, Leonard Kelly, Social Democrats, George Lawlor on behalf of Minister Brendan Howlin, Labour, Emmet Moloney, Independent, Deirdre Wadding, People Before Profit Alliance, Ann Walsh, Green Party.
Jo welcomed the candidates and outlined the NCFA's pre-election manifesto points. In democratic fashion, the names of the candidates were pulled out of a box to set the running order for each candidate to give a their statements about their vision and policies for the arts.
Many of the candidates had direct experience in the arts either growing up or involved in local community arts events. For those that weren't engaged with the arts there was an awareness of the importance of the arts sector for tourism and health and wellbeing in the community.
Jo Mangan highlighted the fact that Ireland is at the bottom of the European league for government investment in Culture and the Arts. The Council of Europe data shows that in 2012 Ireland spent just 0.11% of GDP on Culture and the Arts compared to a European average of 0.6% of GDP. There was a need for the next government to commit to an investment of 0.3% of GDP over the lifetime of the next government, taking us halfway to the European average.
Julie Hogan for Fine Gael advised there was funding out there and artists and arts organisations needed to find out how to access that funding. Aoife Byrne highlighted the need to enhance access to arts. Deirdre Wadding, People for Profit advised on the need to change priorities on supporting creative expression and to look at alternatives for funding such as getting larger international corporations availing of tax benefits to contribute funding support. Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fail, advised the local arts officer position was being re-advertised. This was a major concern for participants who noted a significant impact on the local arts sector because of the position being left open for so long.
Ann Walsh of the Green Party and as a psychologist emphasised the need to support arts for benefits of mental health. George Lawlor for Labour, standing in for Brendan Howlin TD, advised of a new capital funding scheme which will provide €3 million a year in captial support over the next three years. He acknowledged the importance of support funds in particular for somewhere like Wexford Arts Centre which is still limited for accessibility. He raised a concern about the divide between community production organisations and professional organisations. He noted local companies like Light Opera Society not getting funding support yet contributing signficantly in local community arts. Jo noted the importance of community organisations but the primary concerns for NCFA was improving working conditions for artists depending on paid work for their liveliehood. Deirdre Wadding as an artist also further addressed the concern of artists doing work for free.
Emmett Moloney as an independent advised he did not have alot of experience with the arts sector but acknowledged the importance of the sector in particular for tourism. Leonard Kelly, for Social Democrats noted it was a disgrace Ireland was bottom of European League for government investment expecially when Ireland is the most recognised country in Europe for its arts and culture; and if he is successful on getting into office, would be committed to raising that percentage of gdp investment. He emphasised how arts contributes to a healthy society, and society is strong when the arts sector is strong. George Lawlor also thought more work could be done to get diaspora to contrinbute through philantropy. Perhaps enhanced corporate tax benefits for support would encourage more investment in the arts sector.
Input from the audience included
Artist living and work residency space was another request to be able to host local, national and international artists in the community which would also contribute to cultural tourism as well as economic and cultural benefit to the community similar to European standards. A recommendation to look at the French model of support to artists and organisations was recommended.
Michael D'arcy of the Three Sisters Bid team gave an update on the bid which has been shortlisted for the European Capital of Culture for 2020. This is a joint bid between Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny and will result in €31 million investment in culture development in the region so it is important that the Wexford community gets behind the bid. This also further demonstrates the significant impact arts contributes for programmes that help secure this high level of investment in the region - justifies better support for the sector.
One sad comment was from young soprano singer who recently graduated from college but felt due to lack of professional arts support available to her out there she could no longer call herself a soprano and was dependent on internship administration work to get by.
The final comment in response to some facebook comments that candidates should spend more time getting hospital beds than on the arts stated that more investment in the arts could result in less beds required with arts being a preventative medicine for health and wellbeing.
Overall the opportunity to discuss the arts sector needs in a public forum style was greatly welcomed. Candidates felt they were better informed about needs of the sector to keep in consideration should they be elected and participants welcomed opportunities to air their concerns and recommendations for support in the future. The model is one we would recommend for replication in all counties leading up to the election.
Just before Christmas, two very different but significant arts research events took place: the first, led by the Arts Council and Pathfinder Research in Smock Alley Theatre and the second, led by Arts Audiences in association with the Arts Council in Dublin Castle.
The Smock Alley event shared the findings of qualitative research undertaken by Pathfinder Research on behalf of the Arts Council, with the original remit to explore the Council’s brand and identity. What emerged in the course of their research was so much richer and revealing of attitudes to the arts, and to the Arts Council in Ireland, that the Council felt compelled to share its findings.
The Pathfinder research comprised of desk research and six focus groups, conducted nationwide with a mix of social classes and arts engagement levels among interviewees. In these focus groups, Pathfinder asked a series of questions, such as 'How do you view the Arts Council? How do you view the arts? What kind of value are you looking for?’ And 'What is art?" (to this some people responded 'hurling' or 'maybe Beyonce?') and Pathfinder enquired into what was perceived as barriers to participating in, or attending, the arts (responses included not enough time, financial constraints, psychological exclusion, amongst others).
Three consistent themes emerged in the course of the findings: Firstly, when asked ‘What kind of economic recovery or situation do you see yourself in?’ the imagined future was not about the latest commodity purchase, but a life that was sustainable and they saw the arts as part of this and as a counterbalance to material success.
Secondly, individuals considered creativity as a separate concept to art, and saw it as distinct from what they termed 'art art'. The researchers found that a lot of people were getting in touch with personal well-being through creativity and that the more people got involved in things, the more they are inclined to become involved in creativity and artistic activities. They also found that the younger these individuals are, their sense of what 'art' is was more expansive in its definition and included graffiti, rap music, attending food festival and 'doing things with sushi' – a much broader palette than that which has been traditionally considered.
Thirdly, they found that people were increasingly using 'third spaces' or ‘ in between’ places to engage with art. These spaces exist between the formal and informal spaces that would have traditionally been considered 'legitimate venues' for art such as galleries and museums or festivals.
What became overwhelming apparent in the Pathfinder research is that people's relationship with art and with creativity is an embedded and valued aspect of their existence. Their responses signify how each individual relates to the arts, and to creativity, and how this relationship is articulated in a myriad of different ways. Some individuals felt that in understanding art, we understand ourselves; others viewed creativity and art as a valuable and embedded aspect of the Irish identity; some participants cited the individual, intellectual benefits, others emphasized the social and connected value that arts and creativity bring. And finally, the global impact of Irish arts and creativity was also articulated as well as recognition of the place Irish arts and creativity hold in Ireland's economic growth.
A couple of days later, Arts Audiences in conjunction with the Arts Council, presented a day long 'Focus on Audiences'. This Dublin Castle event not only comprised of presentations on audience development research in various art forms but also included information on how to use social media as well as how to get the most from the mapping your audience tool.
Of key significance was the presentation of highlights from the 'The Arts in Irish Life' report (AIL) by Christopher Larmour of Kantar Media (UK) Ltd. Recently released (January 2015), this report is a market research study commissioned by Arts Audiences for the Arts Council. With new questions inserted into the TGI questionnaire (from which Arts Audiences gather their annual report information) the AIL report is an attempt to gather more diverse findings and to go deeper into the place of arts in Irish life.
Sadly, it fails in this context and while the AIL is broader in its research scope as well as its reach, it unfortunately remains not much more than an audience development tool and a market research report, rendering its title more than a little bit of a misnomer. This report does tell us who goes to the arts and how these attendances have shifted since the 2006 Public and the Arts report, and in what ways they have shifted- like a bigger Arts Audiences report. However, it tells us little about the place, meaning and value of the arts to people in Irish society. If it works as a tool for the Arts Council to bolster their lobbying of government to consolidate and progress arts funding - great - but as to research which claims to be a report on the arts in Irish life, it doesn't leave first base.
This is a sorely missed opportunity to make connections, to deepen arguments, to change the terms of the debate and endeavour to connect the arts with other cultural activities and broader social sphere by enquiring into the relationship between arts participation (and attendance) and sports, or libraries, or education or other leisure activities.
Sadly, we have very little of this kind of research and very little of the information that Pathfinder stumbled across in their enquiry into the Arts Council's brand value. What the Pathfinder research tells us that there is a personal definitional shift in what the 'arts' are to people today and that these definitions have become more expansive with the traditional definitions of what constitutes 'art' increasingly blurred. This research also tells us that arts activity and participation does not necessarily, and only, take place in 'legitimate venues' but increasingly exists in third and liminal spaces which aren't necessarily captured in arts marketing data. The kind of richness that the Pathfinder research throws up, helps us in our understanding of the crucial role that arts and creativity hold within the economic, social and cultural life of Irish people.
The NCFA Colloquia Report argues the need for multi dimensional research to capture this information and for connectivity in research with other disciplines such as health, education and sport. This would help us in our excavation of meaning and in the bolstering of arguments to satisfy overly managerialist and instrumentalist government agendas. And could go a long way to providing insights into the kind of issues that the Constitutional Convention might face when they meet to consider how Ireland meets the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
So we need a definitional shift and we need to change the terms of the debate. And we need to begin to make small steps to address this lack of information - steps which don't require massive funding but do require a little bit of imagination, some vision, and a good dose of commitment to changing the terms of the debate in order to gain a proper understanding of the arts in Irish society.
Beyond the Obvious was organised by Culture Action Europe to coincide with their 2014 Annual General Meeting. I attended the events and presentations at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead, UK, on the 10 & 11th October 2014.
Conference partners included the city councils of Newcastle and Gateshead, Newcastle’s universities, local and national funding agencies, and European cultural advocacy organisations. There were 200 delegates, speakers, discussion leaders and topic activators from across the European Union member states. CAE has just opened its membership to individuals as well as organisations. It was noted there were more non-members than members at the event.
The President of CAE, Mercedes Giovinazzo, got things going by explaining why culture must be put (back) at the heart of the European project and decision-making. As it stands, a cultural context is absent from the European Parliament’s core strategic document, Europe 2020. It uses only an economic logic to determine and legislate for social priorities across the EU. For example, social benefits are measured in an economic context without making any connection between culture and social capital.1
Beyond the Obvious used a mix of larger group discussions, presentations and provocations, and thematic ‘labs’, where we worked on ideas and actions on the key topics of: measuring value; the role of the city in transforming culture; and the ‘rules’ that would lead to a shared economy. It was generally agreed that a focus on change rather than crisis was necessary and urgent, in order to be prepared for economic recovery.
It was widely felt to be impossible to talk about culture without discussing issues bigger than our own arts and cultural sector issues, especially if the aim is for us to be involved in changing the terms of the debate and truly affecting the public sphere. Many contributors explained their aims as absolutely not about setting out to solve the question of culture in society, but instead to look at what they can do to change the value systems of contemporary societies where the economic argument is privileged above all else.
There was heated debate about the (often competing) rationales for public funding of the arts. One contributor, Alan Davey (Arts Council England), reported that at the European Chapter Meeting of the International Federation of Arts Councils in Lithuania in September this year, the need now to give value to art itself was a major point of agreement. The feeling was that through the recent financial and economic crises it was necessary to make the case for the arts, initially in relation to education and later tourism, but we must move on to make the case for the importance and legitimacy of arts and culture as an indispensable part of society.
Alistair Spalding (Sadler’s Wells Theatre) a founder member of What Next? in the UK, explained its establishment two years ago. The purpose of the initiative was to raise the big question of how cultural leaders have failed to lead on value of culture and to look at how to lobby upwards. It began and continues as an assembly of about 60 people, meeting monthly at the Young Vic, London, for exactly an hour, on Wednesdays at 8.30am. Regional chapters have started across the UK. Their aim as arts organisations and individuals is not change through co-production (not to work as that kind of arts network). Instead, rather than promote What Next? as a brand, it was decided participants would independently take the What Next? message into their own organisations and circles, and multiply the message that way. Like all the small organisations at the conference trying to act more politically, with between one and three part-time staff, different structural designs emerge as well as use of a range of methods effective at circulating ideas for change.
All panellists discussed how best the arts and culture sector can organize itself better in a changing society, where even its own constituencies are changing fast, perhaps by rethinking its strategies and tactics to act more like a movement rather than a conventional network. Roughly, the shared view was that a movement may be more effective politically, public, outward looking, energized by many kinds of acts of solidarity, working mutually towards bigger social and cultural change and open to diverse allegiances, while on the other hand the network model typically tends to be more structural, inward looking, consensus seeking, centralized and policy focussed.
Several contributors including Emina Visnic (POGON Zagreb Center for Independent Culture and Youth) and Sergio Salgado, (X.Net Spain), described the real game as being about power relations. Again, a view widely supported among delegates. Wanting to influence and to acquire power, on the one hand, and campaigning for change by forming diverse (but clearly identifiable) relationships and functional groups that cut across and connect into other sectors’ networks. POGON work closely with local government in Zagreb to develop the city. X.Net freely provide and show ways of using online media.
On the failure of simple cause and effect models to achieve change, it was proposed that it is better to be both opportunistic and, crucially, strong enough to make opportunities. On levels of participation, in answer to the frustration that not all members of a group or network are active all the time, the reply was largely; but so what! Even if only a handful is more actively involved, this should not undermine the value of the network. Those who support the activity of the few are vitally important too. Where austerity measures have eroded security and freedom at the social and cultural level of people’s everyday lives. People have had it with party and governmental politics and their systems.
On research, there were many voices from different countries calling for one thing: better ways to collect and disseminate existing research and the commissioning of longitudinal research, both needed immediately; that the evidence-base is a means to an end; that doing and accessing better research is vital for informed policy-making. This is in tune with the NCFA’s Strategy on Research and the outcomes and recommendations from the NCFA Colloquia held in Galway, Kilkenny and Dublin. In terms of ‘big data’ produced by big Europe, there was frustration that big surveys like those carried out by Eurobarometer were not being used better to ask specific questions.2
From government funding agencies to grassroots activists, it was clear that everyone wants a serious intervention that will change political discourse so that politicians can become comfortable talking about the arts. This echoes the NCFA’s ambitions to change the terms of the debate about the arts in Ireland and our goals for 2016: Republic of Culture.3
A darkly humorous and satirical reflection by Renata Salecl on the ideology of choice in today’s world and the anxiety it creates in every one of us brought the event to a close. Paraphrasing George Orwell, we were cautioned to be suspicious when politicians speak of democracy and freedom. She sketched a scenario whereby those who don’t subscribe to the repetition of positive messages are increasingly told they have only themselves to blame when their fortunes head south. We heard about the Immortalists, masters of self-deception, who claim that a complete belief that immortality exists has the power to prevent death. Hearing the news that one of the group had died, the person’s death was blamed by their erstwhile colleagues on the person’s failure to believe.
People are increasingly experiencing large amounts of guilt over our failure to affect certain situations affecting our lives, when in fact these situations have actually been taken out of our control. Salecl, a legal theorist, suggests the serious consequence of this is that guilt and anxiety replaces our capacity to produce social critique. What caught my attention over the two days was that so many thought it was time to shift the push for change from policy to politics; not to abandon the space of representation to politicians and other and to use the power of representation and all our skills in this (“isn’t that what we do!”) to both resist and persuade. The audience response to the closing imagery was a heady mixture of self-deprecating and knowing laughter, followed by a hearty round of applause.
Beyond the Obvious was moderated by Luca Bergamo, Secretary General of Culture Action Europe. You can read Claire Power’s interview with him for the NCFA Newsletter prior to May’s European Parliament elections, here.
Independent Curator, Visual Arts.
1. You can see what that looks like for Ireland here
2. An example of a Eurobarometer cultural access and participation survey, no. 399: here
3. Page 6 on ‘What Really Unites Europeans’ of this Eurobarometer survey shows culture is the main thing that creates a sense community: here
I attended an ENCATC Advanced Seminar titled Rethinking Cultural Evaluation: Going Beyond GDP on 22 October at the Paris offices of the media company Vivendi, just around the corner from the Arc de Triomphe.
ENCACT describes itself as the leading European network on Cultural Management and Cultural Policy education, gathering together higher educational institutions and training organizations dealing with cultural management education and training. Established in Warsaw in 1992, the network counts over 100 members in 40 countries across Europe and beyond. Its sole Irish member is the Huston School of Film & Digital Media at NUIG.
ENCACT has the status of an international non-profit organisation, an official UNESCO partner NGO, and of “observer” to the Steering Committee for Culture of the Council of Europe.
The day’s proceedings repeated the mantra that ‘culture is difficult to measure’ and demonstrated there is greatest interest in measuring it where it is linked to economic impact.
The structure of the seminar was as follows
Panel 1: Open Frameworks
Melika Medici Caucino, Programme Specialist, Division of Creativity, UNESCO
María Iglesias Portela, Head of Research and Analysis – KEA European Affairs
Lorena Sanchez, Project Coordinator of Better Life Initiative, OECD
Panel 2: New Methodologies
Kim Dunphy, Research Programme Manager at the Cultural Development Network, Australia
Claudine de With, Researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
Pascale Thumerelle, Vice President CSR at Vivendi, France
Round Table Discussion
Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, Coordinator of the Cultural and Creative Industries activity, European Commission - Joint Research Center
Olivier Le Guay, Editorial Manager at the Forum d’Avignon, France
I arrived towards the end of the first panel, in time for Lorena Sanchez’ presentation. She described how culture is not included among the 11 indices of what matters in people’s lives that the OECD currently measures. There was no indicator for culture because it was not easy to measure. This was the view of others, including Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska. She presented the European Commission's role as, in line with the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs, ensure that the culture sector is able to increasingly contribute to employment and growth across Europe. Her office measures what it is asked to measure and qualitative values are hard to evaluate.
A recurring term that was new to me was ‘spill-over.’ Maria Iglesias Portela of KEA defined this as a ‘process takes place when creativity originating from culture and creative professionals and industries (“culture-based creativity”) influences innovation in sectors where culture and creative professionals do not usually evolve.’ Despite the novelty of the term its connection between investments in culture and economic outcomes was familiar.
When proceedings were opened up to the audience I proposed that the challenge in measuring culture had its basis in ideology rather than in a fundamental intellectual difficulty. If the thrust of policy is to create workers rather than to form citizens then the appropriate instruments for this exercise will be used. A society than can conceive quantum physics can also measure culture, if it wants to.
Other contributors such as Kim Dunphy of the Cultural Development Network, Australia proposed a holistic model for evaluating outcomes of artistic engagement, applicable in project settings as presented but potentially scalable for larger programmes.
There wasn’t a great deal of rethinking cultural evaluation on the day, more of a restatement of the challenges faced when proposing to do so. The overall impression I formed from the seminar was of a forum for very interesting discussion that could only be enhanced by more contributions from artists and cultural managers, who can offer first hand practical experience and challenge instrumental-only thinking.
Director, Dublin Theatre Festival
I have been investigating how an ‘arts centre’ can transition its role in the community especially in relation to the current Local Government Reform Act 2014. This is a key aspect of my current research for an MBA in professional arts management. The Act matters because it will require the abolition of many town councils and the formation of municipal districts as well as regional assemblies across the country. As a consequence, for many arts centres this reform could be considered a threat, especially for those that may primarily be supported by town council funding in comparison to county funding for their ongoing operational costs. The outcomes of the current Arts Council Strategy Review could also have a negative impact on future arts centre funding support that has already been slashed significantly. The task then is for the arts centre model to turn the threat into an opportunity; to position itself strategically during the period of transition that lies ahead. But how and what supports need to be in place to support the transition?
Through in depth interviews with major stakeholders, including the Arts Council and local authority representatives, field research with other venue/arts centre directors, as well as research into alternative models in the UK and US, among my findings so far the following have been revealed as essential for success:
Looking across the waters at different arts models within counties in the UK, centralised management centres have been established in partnership with local councils such as Theatrau Sir Gâr in Carmarthenshire Wales which acts as a centralised management organisation for three theatres/centres of varied capacity within the Carmarthenshire County (Ffwnes, Lyric and The Miners) and in the US each county within the state has its own arts council which is a hybrid of arts office/arts centre overseeing distribution of local arts grants as well as managing certain community arts programmes. These are just two examples of how arts centres can transition their roles for ongoing sustainability and all dependent on the unique artistic remit of each centre within each county and the supports available for the transition.
Of course there are many forces for change and against change but finding the happy medium is key. Right now though, forces against change are hindering the growth of arts centres and in some cases even crippling them. Recent funding cuts have impacted on the need for arts centres to include additional services for income generation outside their artistic remit or apply for EU grants with large scale administration demands on an already strained human resource capacity dependent on temporary community employment schemes and JobBridge schemes due to lack of funding which hinders organisation growth. The vicious cycle needs to be broken and a new one developed for arts centres.
The research also looked at additional supports required to support arts centres in transition phase. Though Theatre Forum does excellent work representing venues in relation to performance arts needs, perhaps there is an additional need for a venues association similar to the local arts officers association and county managers association so that there is a representative voice speaking on behalf of the venue/arts centre sector including many multi disciplinary arts centres who need a voice for their multi disciplinary needs. In the UK there is Arts Development UK which initiated as an arts officer association and has evolved into an association that offers practical advice, networking and support to the arts profession, and advocates for the important contribution that the arts and creative industries make to today’s crosscutting agendas, such as social inclusion. In Europe there is the Trans Europe Halles, European network advising and bringing together independent multi disciplinary cultural centres across Europe.
As noted from field research with venues at a recent Theatre Forum event, a venues association network could also attract large scale philanthropy for art projects so often unavailable to smaller regional centres. These are just some ideas that can contribute to strengthening the position of the arts centre in the community and would require further exploratory research.
In the meantime, we only have to look back at history to guide us into the future. In 1970, Paul Funge a founding director with Project Arts Centre in 1966, set up the Gorey Arts Centre in his back garden. In 1974 Wexford Arts Centre was established in the Town Hall in Wexford town and celebrates 40 years this year as the oldest regional arts centre still in existence in Ireland today despite over 40% in Arts Council funding cuts since 2008. In 2015, we hope to have evolved again into a centralised professional arts management resource model serving the county and we hope to have the forces for change behind our back to make that happen.
Executive Director, Wexford Arts Centre.