So, budget 2010 is upon us, and from the feedback we’re getting, the general consensus is one of relief that key resources and agencies have been maintained, the cuts imposed are less severe than we dared hope, and there is a small measure of satisfaction that the campaign has acquitted itself well. Where to next for NCFA?
When this campaign first convened as a small group in early August in response to the unprecedented threat to the sector manifest in the recommendations of the McCarthy Report, none of us could have anticipated the groundswell of activism that would gather momentum over the ensuing four months.
Today, we convey our gratitude to a new grassroots network whose reach is national and across every sphere of cultural activity. It goes out to arts workers groups in 39 constituencies, to 5,000 followers on Facebook, to 11,000 signatories to a ministerial petition, and to 20,000 stakeholders as represented by organisations among a campaign membership that now includes major festivals, venues, producers, representative organizations and independent artists in visual arts, theatre, film, dance, music, literature, architecture and collaborative arts. It goes out to the many individuals who spoke up in every conceivable forum, from town hall meetings and flashmobs, to the Houses of the Oireachtas, Morning Ireland and Drivetime about what art means for them, and its role as a force for good in our society. We have come a distance together.
We have been mostly successful in our objectives and we have learnt plenty along the way. It should inform whatever route this campaign chooses to take on the challenging road that lies ahead. We have learnt that a palpable desire exists in some unanticipated quarters to harness culture as an engine of economic recovery, most especially among the high achievers of the diaspora, the political class, business leaders and even the odd economist. We have learnt that the arts is moving beyond tokenism and can participate on its own terms in the crucible of current affairs, where our assertions will rightfully be subjected to the robust criticism that is part and parcel of the news cycle in Ireland. We have learnt that throughout our community there are credible voices in whom the Irish public still place their trust. And we have learnt that Brendan Behan’s adage, that the first item on the agenda is the split, will have to wait for another day.
In adversity, there is unity, and we have all played our part in laying to rest the old cavil that the arts in Ireland could not find common cause and mobilise accordingly. 20,000 people now say otherwise.
There will be plenty of work for us to do. If we’re to convert the many positive sentiments that currently exist towards the arts into tangible outcomes, we must continue in this spirit of sectoral unity, making a watertight case among our politicians and public representatives that is underwritten by an irresistible public mandate, given to us by the audiences we serve. We must seek out every opportunity to make the cultural case, shed light on the levers that allow culture to flow, and make for better public and political understanding of the many ways, the obvious ones and the more nuanced, in which culture engages with every aspect of life in Ireland to the benefit of all its citizens.
None of us are under any illusions as to the dire economic context in which our dialogue with wider society will take place. To remain effective, this campaign must stay focused on the issues that best reflect our broad and inclusive platform, i.e., the application of political pressure, leveraged by public support, for a greater commitment from the state to the sector in its entirety.
This supersedes the art form, policy, or funder specific issues that will undoubtedly confront many of us in the months and years ahead. As individuals we can and should find appropriate ways to support those of our colleagues, especially those working in independent capacities, who will find themselves in adverse circumstances as resources become tighter in 2010 and beyond.
We may yet look back on these difficult years as the dark hours before the dawn, when the arts again moved centre stage in the Irish discourse. The smoke will eventually clear from the wreckage of this compromised economy and the ideology that drove it, and when the belligerence subsides and blame is in its endgame, a more productive national conversation will begin as to where we go next as a society. This campaign has every intention of making sure that the arts are at the heart of it.
In the interim, a Happy Christmas from Tania, Fiach, Siobhan, Sarah, Irma and myself – have a good break, we regroup early in the New Year!
on behalf of the NCFA Steering Committee