Wednesday, 17 January 2007
Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs DebatePage of 3
Chairman: I welcome the representatives of Blue Drum, which is an arts specialist support agency. I welcome Mr. Mark McCollum, who is the agency’s project co-ordinator; and Mr. Ed Carroll and Ms Claire Casey, who are members of the board of the agency. Other Blue Drum support staff are also present at today’s meeting. Blue Drum, which was established in 2001, works in the community development sector throughout Ireland. Essentially, it provides support for community development projects. I ask Mr. Carroll to introduce the Blue Drum delegation and to make a presentation after which members of the joint committee will ask questions. While the members of the committee enjoy privilege, the same privilege does not extend to the witnesses who attend its meetings. I am sure that will not be an issue, but I have to make it clear.
Mr. Ed Carroll: I do not think there will be any issues in terms of Dáil privilege, unless art becomes protein rather than dessert. I thank the committee for giving Blue Drum an opportunity to make a presentation. This forum is like a theatre — the members of the committee are the audience, we are the actors and what we say is the script. In our script, we are trying to generate consent for vision and expenditure on the type of arts practices in which we engage. Our work takes place in urban and rural areas, in the context of community development projects, youth work and family resource centres. We will focus on four themes in our presentation to give the committee a sense of from where Blue Drum comes. We will do so in the form of a personal narrative. We wish to consider the benefits of the type of work done by family resource centres and community development projects nationally, demonstrate the unique aspects of the cultural space Blue Drum inhabits and focus on the theme of active citizenship, which is important and pertinent to Irish society in today’s European and wider global contexts.
Mr. Mark McCollum: I am delighted to be here. My name is Mark McCollum and I am the co-ordinator of Blue Drum. I was not always its co-ordinator nor was I always especially interested in the arts. I was one of those people who was completely outside the arts. When I was growing up, no value was placed on artistic endeavour. When I was at school, I did adequately, but when I left I began to work in different areas. Having qualified for a FÁS scheme, I became involved in the arts through the back door and my work with the Balor Theatre. The work which was done by that theatre demonstrated to me what it was possible to achieve. I gained considerable confidence through the work from a position of having never seen a play before. The only reason I took the job in the theatre was to get indoor work. I was thrown suddenly into putting on Behan plays and taking part in workshops which gave me the confidence to return to education. I got diplomas and degrees and ended up teaching at university, all the time maintaining my involvement in the community and voluntary sector and the arts.
As a result, my vision of this kind of work is that it is about changing people’s perceptions and attitudes. Our endeavour to bring about change is not about performance as such, but about the ability of the arts to change attitudes and deal with difficult issues. We are working on a number of projects, including suicide prevention, mental health and interculturalism, all of which are especially sensitive. They are being dealt with through the medium of the visual arts, drama and music. In our work, we see the real benefits which can accrue to community groups nationally.
Mr. Carroll: Mr. McCollum’s introduction took the form of a personal narrative of his involvement in the arts. I would like to bring in Claire Casey, a community development worker in the Ringsend action project. She has been involved in a number of arts projects for women. Ms Casey will unpack the benefits and impact of working in arts and culture in a community development context.
Ms Claire Casey: I have worked in community development in Dublin for 15 years. However, it was not until I became involved a year and a half ago in a project with women in Ringsend that I got to experience the real power of community arts to address especially difficult local issues. The project was part of our work to address domestic violence in Ringsend with women. We put on a performance of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monolgues” with 13 women from the area. The production ended up at the Mansion House where we performed for 600 people for one night only. It was a stunning project, not just because it outstripped our expectations but for how rapidly the women involved in the project moved from being victims of domestic violence to survivors. They became empowered. I could spend four hours explaining the many miraculous developments which occurred during the project. My main point, however, is that in my experience the use of community arts as a tool in community work can open up possibilities of working with people on extremely difficult issues. I have not encountered a more effective approach in this regard.
Mr. Carroll: In the year in which the Government will respond to the international convention on social, economic and cultural rights it is interesting to note developments in some of the other social spheres. For example, while clear targets have been set to end homelessness by 2010 and child poverty by 2015 or 2020, arts and cultural rights are treated as a kind of Cinderella. Targets have not been set and the type of processes and methodologies which could be used to ensure the State meets its requirement to ensure citizens actively participate in the cultural life of communities have not been identified.
What does this mean in practical terms? When I walk past the Royal Irish Academy on Westland Row and see an SUV pull up and an adult emerge accompanied by a child carrying a cello, oboe or clarinet on his or her way to learn an instrument I am struck — not out of a sense of resentment or on ideological grounds — by the fact that few children or young people in the communities in which family resource centres and community development projects are located have access to the type of infrastructure and provision that would enable them to learn to dance, sing and enjoy a cultural life.
Although we speak of literacy, we have a problem with cultural illiteracy caused by the type of provision available for communities and children and young people. One of the policy issues which Blue Drum needs to address this year, during which a report will issue on the convention on social, economic and cultural rights, is how this Cinderella can be transformed into practical, concrete and achievable policy objectives. This raises a particular issue related to the unique characteristics of the Blue Drum organisation. I ask Ms Casey to outline the background reasons for the establishment of Blue Drum.
Ms Casey: It is important to know the background of the organisation. I have been working on community development programme — CDP — projects for 12 years. As members will be aware, the CDP is funded by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and supports 180 projects around the country. In the mid-1990s, the Combat Poverty Agency introduced a pilot project on community arts with some of the CDP projects with a view to identifying whether it would be useful to skill community workers to use community arts in their work. A training programme was introduced and research carried out under the project.
At that time a national advisory committee advised the Minister about the development of the programme. The projects in the community development programme lobbied at national advisory committee level for the establishment of a specialist support agency to work with them to develop a community arts approach to work on the ground. The community development programme was the only support agency the various projects wanted. It was also the only brand new programme, although established organisations were awarded contracts to provide support work for projects operating under the programme. Specialist agencies such as Women’s Aid and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, for example, came on board for projects in the area of violence against women and racism, respectively. It is ironic that Blue Drum, which was developed specifically for the purpose within the community development programme, is no longer funded by the CDP.
Mr. Carroll: It would be interesting to hear from Mr. McCollum at this point because he deals with day-to-day priorities in delivering a programme, whereas Ms Casey and I are members of the board. We will fast-forward to the current position of Blue Drum.
Mr. McCollum: Ms Casey outlined the historical position. Currently, we are active with community development programmes, CDPs, and family resource centres. That work is still ongoing. As of 1 January the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs changed the way special support agencies are funded. The contract to provide support to the CDPs is being withdrawn and support is now being provided to family resource centres through the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Currently, there is a difference in how groups on the ground are being supported.
The unique aspect of the work as described earlier is being lost. A fascinating opportunity was provided to examine how different Departments supported arts and cultural activity which were not traditionally focused on arts based work. The unique nature of Blue Drum comes from the fact it was supported by non-arts based sources, one of which is being lost. However, we will continue to do work, especially in regard to suicide prevention projects. We have received funding from the dormant accounts strand to do considerable work in that area over the next two years using creative methods. It is difficult to rationalise the decision in terms of the joined-up approach that was supposed to have been taken. However, work is still ongoing on the ground and there is a need for such work to be further developed.
From our experience, pockets of endeavour are evident throughout the country but the process is disjointed. Because much of the work is focused in isolated rural or urban areas people in neighbouring villages often do not know what is going on there. PR and publicity may not be given the priority they deserve. Part of our work is documenting and recording what is happening throughout the country to ensure nothing is lost. We also try to get people to think about how the work can be improved and developed further.
Mr. Carroll: We are just coming to the end of our presentation. We were going to refer to active citizenship but there may be an opportunity to focus on that theme during the question and answer session. Art changes people and communities. As communities change so does society in general and the world around us. I accept art does not do all that work but it is important from a Blue Drum perspective that art and arts and cultural methodology be viewed as an important tool in giving a voice to communities. If we look at it in a different way, art and culture are about communities taking their voice in terms of their own development, growth and well-being. I welcome questions from members, especially on the area of active citizenship.
Chairman: The overall discussion is interesting. I come from an arts background so in speaking to me, the witnesses are preaching to the converted. One of the concerns expressed relates to how one gets the message across that the arts are not just about a person sitting in a corner playing an instrument and getting personal satisfaction from that. How does one demonstrate that intervention changes the person in question, thus leading to a social change? We recently produced a report on music therapy. The Blue Drum delegates are saying their arts projects are not arts projects but society projects. Music therapy is not an arts project either; it is a medical intervention similar to physiotherapy and all the other interventions. This poses a broad question regarding recognition of the arts.
Mary Davis was before the committee before Christmas discussing active citizenship, and representatives of Show Racism the Red Card were also before us. We could meet different groups every week and each would say it is the co-ordinator in its particular field. Does Blue Drum embrace all the community development and family resource programmes? What is left out? Should the child getting out of the Chelsea tractor with a cello not be embraced by the projects as much as other children so as to move away from the two-tier mentality, thus leading to the integration of the groups being served and those that are not? Are we perpetrating the divide between different groups? The delegates will say there are plenty of disadvantaged groups on which to focus first. Are we creating an “us and them” scenario by doing so?
Blue Drum is focusing on suicide prevention measures. Given the current suicide rate, can funds be secured, through the Department of Health and Children or another source to carry out a ten-year intervention project that would determine statistically whether the rate increases or decreases in that period? Must Blue Drum present its case? One must lobby the Department of Finance for money for projects and it asks what it will get out of them. Has any work already been done in this regard? Mr. McCollum said one of his main tasks is to keep track of what is going on. Sometimes we must do a cost-benefit analysis but unfortunately it can often be very hard to define the benefits of the arts.
Does Blue Drum embrace all community development programmes and family resource projects? Will it be in a position to include children from privileged backgrounds and statistically prove what artists already know and what the Department of Finance may be a bit cold and hard-hearted about?
Senator Feighan: I welcome the Blue Drum delegates. I had not heard of the agency until now but I really appreciate what it is trying to do. There has been much discrimination and prejudice against people from certain backgrounds trying to get involved in the arts. The traditional music and culture scene seems to be much more democratic than others in that people from various backgrounds can become involved. However, there are probably weaknesses in this area also.
The delegates are correct that unless one goes to a public school or comes from a certain area or background, one’s chance to appreciate or become involved in contemporary arts, for example, is very slim. Blue Drum is trying to break down barriers, which I certainly welcome. While I suppose we have come a long way in recent years I notice a greater appreciation of the arts in grammar schools in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. There is a role in our educational system for the traditional arts and the contemporary issues that Blue Drum is trying to address.
Does Blue Drum agree that music societies around the country should try to work more closely with the community development associations to involve people who would not normally be involved? This is a great way to make friends and interact with people from different areas. The marching band in my town was very successful in bringing people together from across the community. I am concerned that it is difficult to get funding for those bands because they are caught between two stools. No one, Minister or otherwise, has responded to them. I have asked the Arts Council to consider some form of support for them because football clubs and other groups are able to access funding. We have tried for three years to get some form of funding. The Minister tells us he is giving money to the Arts Council which in turn tells us that it is the Minister’s responsibility. What is Blue Drum’s view of this failure?
Deputy O’Shea: Broadly I am attracted by the concepts put before us today. In the terms of the old cliché art holds a mirror up to nature and gives us an objective view of ourselves and what we do. That is an important agent for changing society at large. Blue Drum says it is falling between stools because it spans a couple of areas. The Labour Party and I support the extension of the arts into the community sector.
I was struck by the reference to drug abuse, particularly cocaine, which is spreading rapidly across the country. Recreational use of cocaine affects all levels of society. A significant part of society is in denial about the fact that the proceeds of this so-called leisure activity go to some of the most awful criminals ever seen in this State. Maybe art can deliver a message that will penetrate that denial and get people to face up to what they are doing and to effect change in their behaviour.
Senator Feighan’s final question is the central one, how can this committee help Blue Drum? Glancing through this report I see that local authorities and the Arts Council can provide funding for individual projects which come from different areas. Projects emanate from different areas and I take it Blue Drum sees itself as an initiator of arts projects and as providing assistance to community groups to develop those projects. Is the funding to which it referred for central activities or for grant aid to groups on the ground which it hopes to assist?
This is the first I have heard of Blue Drum and I am impressed with what I have heard. I would be disposed to help and support it where practical. The issue impacts on the whole area of active citizenship and on other challenges new to our society such as that of integrating people from outside the country who have different cultures and different ways of viewing society. Art can be an important positive agent for integration and I see much scope for that in the work of Blue Drum. Can its members tell us specifically how we can help?
Senator Ó Murchú: I also welcome the delegation and was very impressed by the presentation, not least by its format. Like previous speakers I had not heard of Blue Drum. It has a fascinating name and delegates might enlighten the committee as to its origin, as that would also be interesting. The delegates made many points with which we can identify. We must avoid frustration when we come up against the issues to which they referred.
There are two aspects to activity in the field of art. One concerns those who want to be participants and the other those who want simply to appreciate but both are important. The more one encourages and assists participants the more the community will appreciate their work. Ms Casey’s experience, coming as she does from an environment with which I am unfamiliar, was very interesting. It must provide a huge boost to morale to do something positive and show people that their creativity can be brought to fruition and that their work has an impact on the general community. That is the positive side of the story and one we must recognise.
Senator Feighan touched on a few things with which I agree, not least the situation pertaining to marching bands, which seem to find themselves in no-person’s land, to use the politically correct term. Many of us have received letters asking for assistance for a band because, for some strange reason, they do not fit into a particular category. I do not understand that. Leaving elitism aside, the importance of a marching band to a community, particularly in rural Ireland, is huge. Whether a community holds a field day or a march itself, a band provides high-profile exposure for an art form but, for some reason, it does not fit into a specific category. Marching bands are, however, the essence of a community because people tap their feet to the music and have their spirits raised.
It often strikes me that one can over-organise and over-legislate for art. I refer to central authorities and not to Blue Drum, whose role is very different and focuses on the community. To some extent activists on the ground are sidelined and often given to the feeling that what they do is not art at all. That is of course nonsense, but this comes from too much organisation from a central point. I will give some examples of this.
If a local drama group puts on a play or pantomime, it is guaranteed a full house simply because the community identifies with the activity. A visiting drama group might at times be lucky to get 20, 30 or 40 people because we are told it is not about audiences but creativity. If nobody turns up, it does not matter. I do not accept this and we should take a few steps back on issues such as this.
I have an example of a town in Kerry which Deputy Deenihan knows very well, and he knows the people involved. I was asked to open an art exhibition by a local man and two nights later an art exhibition by a very well-known artist not from the area began. The local artist in St. John’s had a full house and sold approximately 15 paintings that night. I believe approximately seven people attended the other exhibition, and although the work done by the American lady artist was excellent, no paintings were sold. My point is that the local community supported and encouraged the local person. I received a letter from that artist some years later, and he is now heavily involved in art, and he teaches. Community must be central to what is happening, and local people must not feel they will be told how to appreciate an art form.
I would not be quite as disappointed to the extent of stating how little is being done in the community. I wish to take up Senator Feighan’s point. As the committee knows, I am involved in Comhaltas CeoltóiríÉireann. Currently we have over 1,000 classes but that body does not need a building like the Royal Irish Academy of Music. That is a building, which is great, and there are a number of centres throughout the country. We have between 30,000 and 35,000 musicians going through those classes every year, so the activity is provided through local organisations, not directly from the State. For example, the GAA runs its Scór competitions, which is again a community activity. Macra na Feirme holds drama festivals and does so exceptionally well. These organisations do not have venues of their own but they are providing the artistic activity within the community. That has always happened and to some extent in some areas there was more artistic activity before legislation was brought in. Much activity exists, but the question is how assistance can be provided.
I have been looking at the work done by Blue Drum, which I find very impressive. Very often a local community wants to be allowed to do its own work but requires some assistance. I compliment the witnesses on their work and we will know much more about Blue Drum in the future. We will look out for it. Perhaps the witnesses will explain how it expects the committee to help the organisation.
Deputy Deenihan: I welcome the delegation and apologise for not being here for the presentation. I was attending a meeting of my parliamentary party. Like other speakers, I had not heard of Blue Drum before. I am unsure if the Chairman had heard of it.
I empathise with the group with regard to its objectives and aspirations, which are noble, but I wish to get some information on the group. Will the witnesses clarify if Blue Drum is a Dublin-based organisation only? Is it a member of any arts umbrella group or forum and what is its relationship with the Arts Council and local authority arts officers?
There is a proliferation of groups within the arts and it gets confusing at times because while many have different purposes many others fulfil the same purpose and there is a great deal of duplication. Could the witnesses refer to this in their responses? People are missing out and personnel and resources are not being utilised properly due to this duplication.
Deputy Deenihan: The forum examined cultural inclusion with regard to libraries and drama. The report showed that there are parts of the country that rarely get a cultural experience because of geographical distance and the lack of appropriate facilities to host touring performance groups. People in the west of Ireland, be it Donegal, Kerry or elsewhere, cannot simply come to Dublin to view performances in the Abbey Theatre and the National Concert Hall. Cultural inclusion will only occur when quality performances come to such communities because otherwise they may never get the opportunity to view such events.
Has Blue Drum contacted every cultural and arts centre in the country or is it dealing with people involved in community development? As Senator Ó Murchú said, most cultural centres are dependent on the local community for participation. If Blue Drum visits a town does it go to the cultural centre or the local development group? What is its target?
We all agree on the benefits the arts can bring to a community. A big performance can bring a community together through co-operation as it will usually involve men and women of all ages and one may see people from five to 80 years of age on stage. Music brings people together also. Community arts are becoming more important in rural areas because of changes in rural Ireland. There has been much discussion of the closure of pubs in rural areas and people must be provided with alternative social outlets. The arts can be useful in bringing rural groups together and helping people avoid isolation. Perhaps the witnesses could respond to the questions I have raised.
Senator Ó Murchú’s points sit well with me. I am from a small rural parish of 250 people and our small community hall is our main activity centre. The hall currently hosts classes in drama, the Irish language and Irish dancing. I was interested to hear Senator Feighan’s comments on the band. We had a pipe band in the 1930s that played in Croke Park and efforts are currently being made to resurrect it. Our small group derives great satisfaction from doing what we have done.
Our next step is to move up the ladder as regards the arts. There will be semi-professionals and professionals, but they are all created in the first instance at community level. It is therefore important to reactivate community calls and, as Deputy Deenihan said, provide alternative activities for local communities that allow them to gel together. An Irish language class will be held in our hall next Thursday night. A teacher from a local gaelscoil has offered to hold the class with a view to having a bit of craic in teaching Irish to all ages, including me, and to stimulate interactivity. It is bound to benefit everyone.
The delegation spoke about senior citizens. I am involved with Age Action Ireland in Athy. We have run a number of events, including dancing, question time and hosted a world championship of conkers in one of the pubs in Athy — it created unbelievable craic. They are looking for leadership, facilities and a programme to be set out for them. It would be a huge achievement if Blue Drum can do something towards gelling together provisions for senior citizens. It would become a significant movement. The leadership initiative would benefit many people. After we hosted our events, a large number of people asked what we would do next. It is unbelievable to see the need they have for someone to lead them, as well as having access to facilities and activities. The arts, in all its forms, would certainly play a major part in this regard.
Funding obviously creates problems and can be either helpful or destructive. It can be helpful if it is easily accessed and those applying for it do not have major problems in getting it. An excess of red tape or problems in drawing it down can defeat the purposes for which the funding was put in place. We hear much criticism of the Arts Council. However, I often think the Arts Council’s cake has been divided too many times. If we tried to concentrate more on specific groups rather than trying to divide the cake to satisfy more groups, we might end up doing more beneficial work. However, that is an argument for another day.
Something similar seems to be happening here. The group sees that funding has been moved from one area to the other and that only creates problems for community activists. While we do not want any funding in our case, I can see circumstances where it is required. This funding should be made as accessible and as easy to draw down as is humanly possible. People can then do what they do best, namely, presenting the arts and community activities as they wish. Everyone would gain from that move.
I am delighted with the presentation. I will give the booklet to the chairman of our group whose members can read it with a view to getting back to the representatives on some issues. Even if they only give a report on what they did in the community for the year it would be another piece of the jigsaw for the agency and an indication that there are groups which may not need funding. I am not suggesting they do not need direction because from some of the plays I attend, they certainly need direction. That is participation, however, and everyone participates. It is another piece of the jigsaw. Reactivating some of the small halls in rural areas that were closed in recent years would represent much progress in the development of community arts.
Senator Daly: I welcome the delegation and thank them for their presentation. Along with most of my colleagues, I did not know of the existence of the agency until now. I apologise for missing the start of the presentation but I have glanced through it and it is impressive. It appears that in the short time since the agency was established it has had some outstanding successes in a number of areas, including Tipperary and Sligo.
I was a member of the forum in Dublin Castle some years ago when a strong presentation from the North of Ireland was made in which there were indications that community involvement in the arts, culture and music was breaking down the political divisions that existed for so long. Does the agency have any involvement in the Six Counties? I raised previously with the Chairman the possibility of this committee examining ways to promote music, culture and the arts across a community that is so divided. It appears there will be some movement towards achieving an overall political settlement in the North and issues such as community arts and the type of activities the agency is involved in could play a major part in bringing together communities that have been polarised in the past and in that way break down some of the divisions and the mistrust that still exists. That is probably the biggest challenge the new arrangement in Northern Ireland will have to face when it is established. Does the agency see a role for itself in that area? Will the representatives indicate if it is possible to integrate what the agency is doing into some of the work going on in Northern Ireland? I am aware some work is going on in that regard.
Chairman: To take up the last point, that was one of the issues I hoped someone would raise in the committee. Different sections in the community can laugh at comedians like Des Bishop or Our Jimmy in the North and can force them to try to understand and accept each other. Everybody will be familiar with the Northern scene and the programme, “Give My Head Peace”. People in the North cannot understand that we laugh at “Father Ted”. They think we are all so holier than thou that we could not laugh at somebody taking a swipe at religion. There are opportunities in that area.
I have been in The Balor and watched groups explore an issue through music, drama and so on. There is an issue of how we get senior citizens involved, never mind the younger ones. There is a major opportunity for projects on what life was like 50, 40, 30 or 20 years ago for any individual versus what life is like for someone now. I am aware there are other initiatives the agency is moving towards. I ask the representatives to respond to the points made.
Mr. Carroll: I thank members for their comments. A long menu of issues has been raised. It might be best for me to make some introductory remarks and then ask Mr. McCollum and Ms Casey to focus on particular issues. It may not be possible to answer all the questions but if it is acceptable we can send another document to the committee that might outline one or two other issues.
Mr. Carroll: While it is nice that people have heard about Blue Drum, the purpose of this presentation is not to promote Blue Drum or to make a case for a significant investment in the organisation. Blue Drum is an organisation to support communities to develop their own creative responses. In some ways, the work of Blue Drum is to put itself out of existence. It is not about Blue Drum coming into a community and painting lamp posts but about Blue Drum making a case for or presenting a pulse that we believe is present in communities, both urban and rural.
The second point is that there is an interesting association between art and culture. I work on a full-time basis with an arts organisation called CityArts in Dublin. Tomorrow we go to London to attend a conference called “Total Regeneration”, which will examine the role of arts and culture in regeneration processes. A total of 13 people from urban-based regeneration projects are going over to the conference to speak about their experience of regeneration and as community activists trying to find a voice when a state or local authority decides to regenerate an area. They will talk about how they found a voice within the context of architects, engineers and urban planners deciding what might be best for local communities. It is an urban experience.
They will go to the conference tomorrow, where they will present their case study, and on Saturday they will go to a football match. In a way they are integrating the idea of art on the Friday and culture on the Saturday. There is an interesting aspect to sports development. As one of the committee members mentioned, there has been huge infrastructural development across the country of art centres. The State’s armature for cultural provision is undoubtedly much greater now than it was ten years ago. My question is, if the GAA decided its main policy strategy was simply to get families to come to matches every Saturday and Sunday and to pay and watch those matches, would that develop a sports or GAA infrastructure in terms of new talent and new development for the future?
Simply buying a ticket to go to a theatre or to hear music or watch dance must be complemented with more. It is not an either-or argument. We need more provision but my argument is that something has been understated. I particularly refer to the report, The Public and the Arts, which was published in 2006. It gives one a cosy, comfortable feeling about what we have done over the past number of years. I wish to put an alternative viewpoint. If we just develop infrastructure and opportunities for the transaction whereby people use or consume arts and cultural life, we will create a poverty of spirit and of cultural literacy unless people are not just recipients of culture but are makers of culture.
Ms Casey: There were a number of practical questions about how things work through Blue Drum. The Chairman asked if we address the needs in all CDPs and FRCs. We have two full-time workers, Mark and Gillian, and there are 185 CDPs and over 100 FRCs, so the answer is “No”. However, we respond to any CDP or FRC. We work with people collectively. We work more with collective groups of CDPs and FRCs than with projects individually. We will respond to individual requests for support. Take the example of the group in Athy. If the CDP in Athy were linked to that group and asked Blue Drum to speak to the older people’s group, it would be completely within its remit and purpose.
It is not our job to make art and the arts accessible to disadvantaged rather than advantaged persons, which terms I hate at any rate. Our function is not about producing art, but about promoting an arts-based, creative approach to community development work.
Chairman: My question had to do with whether everybody would be embraced, rather than just disadvantaged children. I know what Blue Drum does, but contend that everybody advantaged and disadvantaged should be part of the process.
Ms Casey: We do not embrace everybody because the communities we work with are disadvantaged ones. The community development and FRC programmes are targeted at disadvantaged communities, which we are quite clear about. That is what the resources are being used for and that is Blue Drum focus.
We do not have a grant aid function but rather provide support. Funding is a small part of what we are trying to achieve overall. Approximately €95,000 a year is available from the Family Resource Centre and €150,000 was formerly available from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs through the CDP. The CDP funding has been withdrawn at this point, which brings me to the question by members of how they can help us. We ask the committee to help by requesting that the Minister revisit his decision. By the end of the year, we will have to redesign the focus of our work as we will be unable to fulfil the functions we have developed over the past six years. While the decision makes sense in one way from the Minister’s perspective, it does not fit with the aims of the community development programme and what the projects under it are seeking to achieve. It would be a great help if the members could get the Department to reconsider the decision.
Blue Drum is not Dublin-based only. Of our staff, half are based in Donegal, which is one of the reasons the Chairman knows so much about our work. The office is in Donegal, but we work all over the west.
Mr. Carroll: We lost one of our workers to Cork’s cultural capital year, which was a real disappointment. She is doing very good work in arts and health in Cork, currently. Perhaps, we will try to get down to that part of the world also.
Mr. McCollum: To reiterate the point that we are not based solely in Dublin, I am the Donegal correspondent, as it were. It is notoriously difficult to assess the impact of the work we do and to speak of hard facts. It is to be charged to measure the immeasurable. We are very much aware of that, however. I come from a research background and part of my work involves establishing indicators or indices which might demonstrate the impact of our programmes statistically or qualitatively. It is very hard to prove a negative, however, and demonstrate that if a project was not there, the positive effects would not have happened. It is not possible to create artificial control groups in a real-world community setting as opposed to a laboratory. We are aware of the problem and are working with the groups on the ground to address it. We have carried out simple projects previously which involved pre and post-project interventions. We assessed people according to a range of measures, including satisfaction with life and self-esteem, before and after their engagement with a programme. While such an approach constitutes something of a blunt instrument, it was independently assessed by the University of Ulster and demonstrated that there was an effect. However, it is correlational research and, as such, cannot establish causation.
In terms of work in schools and the development of youth programmes, particularly in education, members may be aware that the British Government yesterday announced investment of £10 million in music education for primary schools, which will be rolled out across the United Kingdom. This funding is in recognition of the importance of music education both musically and in delivering additional value by contributing towards individuals’ self-esteem, appreciation and concentration. While I am not asking that this funding be replicated here, it would be great to see this type of forward thinking applied. Everyone concerned is on side on the importance of the arts and appreciates their role but it is difficult to persuade them to invest in order that arts are treated not as the icing on the cake but as appropriate in their own right.
As has been noted, the plethora of arts organisations can be confusing. Blue Drum is distinct from other organisations in that it focuses on the arts as a methodology for development and for dealing with practical issues rather than on the artist’s development or artistic or aesthetic outcomes. Although our focus on the former does not militate against the latter — we can still have good plays or exhibitions — these outcomes are not our primary objective.
The issues on which we work include suicide. Tomorrow, for example, we will do a play in Sligo on interculturalism and mental health in co-operation with a group from Derry. The project was developed in conjunction with the Health Service Executive. These types of activities form a large part of what we do.
As I noted, Blue Drum is a small organisation that punches above its weight and makes good friends. We work in strategic partnership with other players but are not so arrogant as to believe we can do everything alone. Where appropriate, we work with the HSE, the national suicide prevention task force and other agencies. We learn from their experiences and try to shape their work so that they become more open to using artistic methods in their work. For example, as regards the intercultural work being done tomorrow, the play will be rolled out as part of a training programme for frontline HSE staff who deal with interculturalism. This is another practical example of how work such as a play or exhibition can be used and rolled out further.
The national suicide prevention task force is rolling out the ASSIST programme nationally and Blue Drum is examining how to redevelop the programme, a Canadian model, for an Irish context. We set the ball rolling in terms of identifying how the programme could be improved. Our work has a practical application and as a practical person, I deal with issues as they arise.
The arts is not a magic bullet and does not provide an answer to all community problems. Some people believe that by using the words “innovative” or “creative”, one creates a magic wand that can make everything better. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Nevertheless, the methodology works well where it is appropriate. Blue Drum wants the work it is doing to be further developed. Our focus has largely been on community development projects, family resource centres and issue based work.
In terms of cross-Border work, the PEACE II programme has invested significant sums in community arts and arts activity in the 12 Border counties. That has been shown to be highly effective in conflict resolution and dealing with difference. I hope consultation in this regard will be incorporated within the PEACE III programme. We can learn from the thinking behind some of the programmes that have been developed there to allow them to be rolled out nationally.
Mr. McCollum: We were initially called the Arts Specialist Support Agency, ASSA. The board decided ASSA was probably not the best name for an organisation and examined the names of other arts groups. One theatre company is called Black Box while another is called Red Kettle. We realised we needed to have a colour and an object. Blue is seen as being a universal colour of positivity and the drum is the traditional instrument for communications and community music so it seemed natural to put the two together which led to Blue Drum.
Mr. Carroll: One bangs a drum and an organisation like ours often has to bang on doors and hope people will respond. We hope committee members will forgive us if we have been over-zealous or overly serious. It is not in our nature to be like that but we are amateurs in terms of presenting in front of such a prestigious audience as the committee members and this has put a certain pressure on us. We thank the members for this opportunity. It was a most interesting exchange and many important questions were raised.
We would like to leave the committee with this point. Everybody believes art and culture is important. Yesterday Seamus Heaney won one of the most important literary prizes. Art and culture has been a major part of the DNA pool of Irish culture. It is our responsibility to ensure that DNA pool continues to receive investment and development. When the international film director, Peter Sellars, was in Dublin during the summer he addressed some of us. He stated art and culture is not dessert, it is not just a case of one deciding to have dessert as well as a main course for dinner when one becomes a rich country: art and culture is protein.
If we want civic society and communities that are actively engaged in the nation and beyond that in Europe and the world, art and culture must be part of the picture. Art and culture are not everything but they are an important part of the mix. If one believes this should be an aspiration, one has a responsibility to make it real within a specific period of time and to decide when that period of time is over whether one has achieved what one set out to do. In some ways very little work has been done in terms of whether we are meeting arts and culture targets. If we take it for granted they are an intrinsic part of society we will wake up one day and realise they have become eroded and are gone.
The Government has invested in youth work for many years but this is the first year it has commissioned the National Youth Work Advisory Committee, NYWAC, to prepare a report to identify the benefit of youth work. Two interesting researchers were involved in this project. While youth work is ahead of us, we need to get to the stage where we commission a national report on the benefit of arts and cultural work in local urban or rural contexts. I thank committee members for their time and attention.
Chairman: I suggest the committee writes to the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, and includes a transcript from the committee proceedings in support of Blue Drum. If it is not too late I suggest we write also to Mary Davis, the chair of the task force on active citizenship, and include a copy of the committee proceedings. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank our guests for attending. Our exchanges, while not always totally relevant to the issue in question, were important, as it is important to look at the broader picture. We are battling in the same corner. The delegates should keep beating the drum.
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