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.
COLUMN BY MARIE FARRELL
Director of the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.