Galway East and West have an experienced and extremely resilient arts scene. I am one of many who have worked since 2010 to mobilize arts organisations and arts workers in Galway West in the run up to budgets and elections. Over the past three years Galway has been very successful in hosting a number of significant, high profile NCFA events – ‘politicians become artists for a day’ back in 2010 was a huge success. We also have had a number of ‘meet and greets’, which work very well and in 2011 we had more than 250 arts workers attend our hustings just before the general election with all eleven candidates attending. These days we are quietly working in the background, informing and briefing local politicians on the state of the arts in the city and regularly reiterating the importance of and encouraging arts workers to contact, inform and invite local councilors to events etc.
It could be said Galway is in a better place than many other constituencies in that the city boasts a significant number of funded arts organisations. We also have a reputation as a city of festivals and the unofficial ‘cultural capital’ of Ireland etc. However, this is not reflected in the city budget or indeed the attitude or vision of our senior executive officers and councilors toward the arts in the city. We are nonetheless very useful when it comes to tourism and branding of the city.
The lack of trust, understanding and knowledge about how the arts are produced at the moment is worrying and very frustrating. Concerns from arts workers are constantly expressed over the nature of funding allocation and the dispersal of grants. The lack of transparency at play is alarming and not at all adequate. Communication between the arts community and local authority is flawed. The most corrosive of attitudes – that they (artists) will do it anyway, regardless of how diminished their status or financial security – is disrespectful, dis-empowering and only props up a wholly unsatisfactory status quo.
Over the last few years, things have become strained with many local arts organisations receiving large cuts. The value of local authority arts grants awarded, from 2009 to 2011, was 435,000 annually, beginning to fall to 412,000 in 2012 and 367,000 in 2013. In summary, the arts grants have been cut by between 60,000 and 70,000 euro in the last two years. To further put this in context, the total of 367,000 euro in grant funding was spread across 76 arts organisations in 2013.
This continuing trend is having a knock on effect on groups and organisations operating in the area, and should it continue, will be detrimental for the arts in particular the smaller emerging organisations and artists.
Galway is also competing to win the title of European Capital of Culture 2020. However the lack of investment in arts infrastructure over the last 10 years is pitiful, the allocation of new cultural spaces in the city is imperative for future sustainability. Time will tell!
We intend on continuing to work with local government on lobbying and building relationships. Since 2012, I have been a member of the Recreation, Amenity and Culture Strategic Policy Committee as a representative of the Galway City Community Forum. Just before Christmas I was nominated to sit on two new committees to do with the allocation of funding and the development and implementation of policy. It was not easy for us to secure representation on both of these committees, experiencing resistance from the director of services. Nevertheless, this gives us direct contact with councilors SEO’s and director of services and a voice in policy decisions. We hope now to establish an arts subgroup to which I will report to as well as consult with to inform my position on both of these committees. It is a lengthy and arduous battle.
In the run up to the 2014 Local Elections it will be essential for all of us to lobby both national and local representatives as well as funders to stop the cuts and to really show their support for the arts.
We are delighted that the fourth and final NCFA Colloquy will take place in the West on February 12th, 1.30-5.45pm in the Radisson Hotel, Galway. This colloquy will address the fundamental question of education, arts policy and research in the development of arts participants, audiences and practitioners in the future.
We welcome this series of key research issues for the arts and arts policy in Ireland.
Kate Howard, NCFA Constituency Co-ordinator, Galway West