Ms. Heather Humphreys, TD
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
6 October 2014
I write as Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA), some of whose members you met informally in Leinster House on 16 July with Senator Fiach MacConghail. As you can imagine, we are all eagerly awaiting news of the provision for the arts in the forthcoming budget and would very much welcome an opportunity for members of our Steering Committee to meet with you in the coming week to discuss this and other key issues.
Drawn from every county in Ireland, the members of the NCFA represent individuals and organisations from all arts disciplines, ranging from theatre to music and from visual arts to film, and are well placed to understand the many very urgent concerns of the sector as a whole.
- The overwhelming need is for the restoration of a viable level of public funding for arts organisations’ core public functions. It is estimated that the relentless cuts of the past seven years have led to the closure of many arts bodies, robbing audiences, more especially those in rural areas, of one of the essential elements of a humane and fully-functioning society. The successive nature of the cuts has had an especially damaging cumulative effect, and many more companies are sure to close if immediate action is not taken to reverse this situation. At stake is the future cultural heritage of the country. The cuts have eviscerated much hardwork, and consolidation work, in the years up to 2008 and this tide needs to be reversed.
- In 1989, Ireland signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which is due to be examined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights in 2015. This UN Committee will review the Irish Government’s progress on protecting, respecting and fulfilling people’s basic rights on key issues such as education, health, housing, social security, workers’ rights, employment, protection of families and cultural life. It could be accurately argued that the cultural life and cultural rights of those in Ireland is not protected, mediated or nurtured. Plans for a National Cultural Policy have been mooted by your Department and we urge that these be moved forward, in consultation with the sector, to enshrine cultural rights as a key part of your agenda and legacy.
- Even in organisations which have managed to sustain their main top-line activities, there have been widespread cuts in outreach programmes. Many such programmes are aimed at the more disadvantaged members of society, such as the unemployed and older people, and anyone working in the arts can testify to the transformative power of these access activities for those who have suffered particular deprivation in recent years.
- A particularly worrying development has been the need to curtail schools and young peoples’ programmes. This puts at risk much of the excellent works done in fostering an interest in the arts among young people over the past 20 years and, if unaddressed, will undoubtedly have a serious effect on participation in the arts for decades to come.
- Arts organisations have made notable progress in recent years in attracting private sponsorship, which has added greatly to both their range of activities and to public awareness of their work. However, when an organisation’s level of activity falls below a certain level it becomes almost impossible to sustain or attract financial support for the private sector – a situation which will take years to rectify.
- In addition to the amount to resources available generally within the arts sector, there is a further issue around the processes by which they are allocated. NCFA is concerned by a lack of transparency, criteria or expert involvement in decision making generally by your department in the past, not least in relation to grant allocations made directly by it, as distinct from through the established bodies under its remit. We believe that Budget 2015, your first as a new minister, provides an ideal opportunity to offer both leadership and reassurance to the sector in how monies are disbursed, directly under your personal aegis, by the department. Such a reform would be timely, and widely appreciated.
The NCFA has also undertaken an extensive research and consultation process over the past two years and has drawn together a series of specific recommendations which we are sure will be of interest to you and the senior officials in your Department in relation to policy development as the recovery takes hold. The recommendations include the need to gauge levels of public interaction with the arts, links between arts and education and the well-documented correlation between health, well-being and arts participation, together with opportunities to harness and participate in various European initiatives. We look forward to outlining these ideas with you at an early date.
We are aware of the very many demands on your time in the lead up to the Budget, but feel our input would provide a very helpful wider perspective on the arts sector as part of this process.
With kind regards
National Campaign for the Arts