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.