Thursday, 6 April 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
Miss Flaherty: Before Question Time I was about to outline the position in Dublin which it is important to highlight in the context of the perception in the plan that our capital is a hive of cultural activity and that its resources are available to everybody. I do not wish to undermine the needs of other areas throughout the country and I believe they must be identified and properly resourced.
Dublin Corporation is an interesting case study of what has been happening in terms of community based development in the arts. Previous speakers referred to what had been done in the area of the arts in their own counties. For a long time, Dublin Corporation has implemented an arts grants scheme in an ad hoc way. One of the most significant developments was the publication of the Dublin Arts report as a result of which and after a great deal of campaigning and internal examination, there has been a transformation in Dublin Corporation in the way in which we allocate resources to the arts. There is now a greater understanding of the need to develop the potential of that area and the importance of arts and cultural activity to the citizens of Dublin.
A significant sum was being allocated in the form of smaller grants to a wide range of organisations without much analysis of its impact on them or on arts activity in Dublin. I held the view that groups who were used to getting a small amount of funding would strongly protest when that funding was withdrawn  but I was proved wrong because the groups interested in the area of artistic endeavour greatly valued the new form of support given to them which was artistically based and which involved training workshops. That is immensely more valuable to them than a grant of £100, £300 or £500 which would be used up in the costs of running the particular project in which they were involved. The opportunity to attend drama, musical or writing workshops related to their particular area of activity and was immensely helpful.
For a number of years Dublin Corporation has been to the fore in meeting its objective for the Dublin area in terms of artists in residence, writers in residence and photographers in residence programmes. There are three major cultural elements in the corporation, one of which is the newly structured arts section. The arts officer, Jack Gilligan, sponsors the various bursaries. For a long time our libraries have operated these programmes which have proved extremely successful. I support the objective of the plan that such programmes be extended throughout the country. These programmes are extremely helpful to communities in upgrading the work they do.
In the municipal gallery we have an artists in residence programme working with communities. The plan identifies art centres as engines of development. In recent years under the dynamic direction of the new director of the Art Gallery, Barbara Dawson, a great deal of work has been done in moving out to the community. Later this month there will be an interesting exhibition of prisoners' art from Portlaoise in the gallery. There have been projects involving the local community and children's art workshops and projects for travellers. There are regular exhibitions of the work of these young people in the gallery.
In my childhood — in those days Finglas was a little smaller than at present and did not experience as many problems as it does today — I never visited a municipal art gallery. The municipal art galleries are now reaching out  and nowadays galleries are visited by the general public, including inner city communities and travelling communities. In many cases the facilities are inadequate and children visiting art galleries have to sit on the floor. The potential in this area would be much greater if galleries were adequately resourced.
A very successful project is the city arts centre supported by the local authority and the Arts Council. This centre provides a hands-on, locally based service. Some of the more exciting projects I have attended there include women's plays, with women from Derry sharing their experience with women from Dublin. The quality of life of many people, particularly a small group from my constituency where drama was not thought of up to recently, has been improved as a result of their involvement in the arts. The drama group in my area is lucky if the back room of a pub is made available to it to perform. I am sure the same applies throughout the country. There are very few facilities outside the city centre of Dublin.
The Arts Council rightly identified a north side arts centre as being extremely important. There is some argument about the location of such an art centre. One possibility for its location is Dublin City University which has been trying to raise resources for this purpose. Perhaps some members of the Minister's party believe that location would be too elitist, but I believe it would be desirable because the tremendous resource of the communications section of the university would be available to the community. There are also other possibilities on the north side of Dublin for the location of an arts centre.
Resourcing of the arts by local authorities is dependent on local authorities receiving adequate resources. This year Dublin Corporation faced cutbacks in every sector. We fought hard and successfully for a modest increase for a new arts and cultural department and additional resources for the municipal gallery and arts services in the area. It is clear that we will need support from  the Arts Council and from Europe if we are to realise the huge potential in this area.
I hope I have presented a picture of activity, interest and new focus in this area. With seed capital and extra investment it would yield great returns and would enrich the lives of many citizens. I thank those who sought this important debate. I look forward to contributing to other legislation on the arts. I hope the necessary resources are made available and that the regional imbalance is rectified. Hard work is needed to ensure easy access to the arts by all our citizens. I argue strongly for the need for additional development in Dublin and this will not happen of itself; it requires the type of active interfacing that has been taking place in our municipal gallery and art centres in the city. The only facilities for the arts outside the city centre of Dublin are local community offices and libraries. Art centres are needed in urban — I will not say waste-lands because like my colleagues I take pride in the achievements of the community — areas without adequate facilities. In supporting the need for development of art centres I hope Dublin will not be forgotten.
Mr. Foley: I congratulate the Minister who since assuming responsibility in this area has been instrumental in bringing arts to the fore. As this is the first opportunity that has arisen, I thank him for his recent allocation of £1 million for a very important project in Tralee which is much appreciated. I do not intend to name the project, if I do other Deputies will make representations for their areas.
In November 1993 the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht requested that the Arts Council prepare a three year plan for the arts to cover  the period 1995-97. The plan is structured to take a broad vision of the arts, consider the present provision and focus on each of the art forms. Preparation of the plan encompassed two reviews; an internal review of the Arts Council and its staffing structures and an external review of the current provision through wide consultation by advertisement in national papers inviting the arts community and the general public to prepare submissions on the plan. About 300 organisations and individuals prepared submissions on the matter.
The Minister has confirmed that the plan was not formulated in an élitist or insular manner. It is based on the views of a broad cross-section of society and as such it can be viewed as a comprehensive evaluation of the arts and their requirements now and for the future.
It is planned to encourage participation in the arts in terms of availability and access, particularly for young people, children and people with disabilities, taking account of social as well as geographical barriers. The importance of targeting young people is emphasised, with the decision to allocate 15 per cent of Arts Council funding to young people and children from 1995 onwards compared with a 1994 level of 6.5 per cent for this group. If fully implemented, The Arts Plan 1995-1997 would ensure a wide range of benefits including notable increases in the level of arts activity in the nine centres identified as a priority zone, Laois, Wicklow, Donegal, Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary, Leitrim, Roscommon and Longford. It would greatly enhance opportunities for communities all over the country, especially those for whom provision has been limited up to now, to encourage real participation in terms of availability and access. It would ensure the consolidation of key art facilities, expecially art centres, municipal and other galleries which will become the focal points for art activity offering a quality service to their area and generating creative and innovative work.
 The plan is supported by three major research studies: (1) The Public and the Arts; A National Survey of Attendance and Attitudes to the Arts, prepared by the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD; (2) The Employment and Economic Significance of the Cultural Industries, a detailed study of the economic significance of the arts, 21,500 full-time equivalent jobs in the cultural industries, prepared by Coopers & Lybrand and commissioned by Temple Bar Properties and (3) The Economic Case for the Arts, by Professor Joe Durkan of UCD. The plan centres on discipline areas from visual arts, dance to drama. It sees the development of centres of excellence around the country, Limerick for music; Cork for dance; Waterford for theatre and film in Galway. It also envisages priority zones for regional development with Donegal, Wicklow and Laois chosen in 1995; Offaly, Longford and Westmeath in 1996 and Leitrim, Tipperary and Roscommon in 1997. The projected increase in budget needed for the Arts Council from 1995 to 1997 is from £19.5 million in 1995 to £26.1 million in 1997. In this year's budget an undertaking was given to provide funding accordingly.
I am disappointed that Kerry is not included as a priority zone, and that Siamsa Tíre is not recognised as a centre of excellence in folk theatre. It is not named correctly as the plan refers to it as the “National Folk Dance Theatre of Ireland”. There is no evidence of how the decision to categorise areas a priority zone was arrived at and no reference to criteria which would explain why certain areas were excluded.
The plan is a boost generally to the arts and it is particularly applicable to Kerry where arts and culture have an already strong base. For this reason I appeal to the Minister to reconsider including Kerry as a priority zone and that Siamsa Tíre be recognised as a centre of excellence in folk theatre.
Mr. Callely: If my colleague, Deputy Lawlor comes into the Chamber I would like to think it would be agreed that I  could share my time with him. I note that Deputy Eric Byrne is anxious to participate and I would be happy to share time with him.
Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins): It is not my wish that the debate be cut off. If it is the wish of this House that we continue the debate and resume it rather than finish it, I would be open to such a suggestion.
Mr. M. Higgins: I do not mind replying to the debate as planned at 4.30 p.m., if that is what Members wish. However, if it has the effect of cutting the participation of Deputies I am perfectly willing to defer my reply until the debate is concluded on another day.
Mr. M. Higgins: I am entirely in the hands of the House. I am perfectly happy to reply today or at such time when the debate ends. My inclination is that I would not like any Deputy to be deprived of the opportunity to contribute if he so wishes. I am open to whatever decision the House comes to by way of consensus.
Miss de Valera: Are we saying that we can extend the debate to facilitate every Member who wishes to offer and, following on from that, we will have an opportunity to hear the Minister reply to the debate today?
Mr. M. Higgins: I am as bound by the procedures of the House as is every Member. I can reply only once to the debate. If I reply this evening, the debate concludes. If, however, I listen to what Members have to say I can reply when the debate resumes. As I said I am entirely open to whatever the House decides.
Miss de Valera: Will the Minister give a guarantee that we will hear his reply to the debate in this House as soon as can be accommodated, and by that I mean very quickly after the resumption of the Dáil on 25 April.
Mr. M. Higgins: Lest there be the slightest misunderstanding, let me repeat that I am perfectly free to reply to this debate today, but I require 15 minutes to do so. Equally, I will reply when other Deputies have contributed and there is no reluctance on my part. I am anxious to reply to some of the points made.
Mr. M. Higgins: I do not understand this request. There was never the slightest reluctance on my part to reply to the debate either this afternoon or at any time. If the Whips arrange it, I will reply in the days immediately after the resumption of the Dáil following the Easter recess. I will reply at any time. I want to put an end to the suggestion that there is reluctance on my part to reply to the debate today or any day. I am offering to facilitate Deputies.
Miss de Valera: I do not wish the Minister to take it that I believe he is not prepared to answer the debate. I understand that he would but it is to give us an opportunity to hear what he has to say. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Mr. Callely: I am glad we clarified that particularly as the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, Deputy de Valera, was anxious, as was Deputy Quill, that the Minister would have an opportunity to respond to the debate and rightly so. I have no doubt but that when we resume on 25 April the Whips will agree an early date for the conclusion of this debate.
I welcome the plan and congratulate those involved in producing such an excellent report, in particular the Arts Council. This is the first detailed plan we have had for the development of the arts in Ireland. It was not an elite group of people cobbled together who drafted the plan, rather the council invited submissions not only from the arts community but the general public.
The funding level in 1995 is £19.5 million and I think the Minister may be short of £2 million this year. In 1996 it is £21.8 million and in 1997 it is £26.1 million. The Minister said that separate arrangements exist within his Department concerning capital funding.
Mr. Callely: I am not sure how it tallies with the plan for 1995 or the figures I gave for 1996 and 1997. The plan received broad support from all parties and I hope it will be adopted in full. Either it is accepted and a commitment given that it will be fully endorsed or it is not endorsed. If funding is not available to endorse any aspect of the plan we must be advised of that before we adopt the report proper. It is only fair that we go down that road so that we know exactly where we stand. I am sure those involved in preparing the plan would welcome the Minister indicating the funding which will be made available to complete the projects.
I acknowledge the Minister's commitment to arts and culture. My former constituency colleague and former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, must be recognised as a person who loved and was committed to arts, culture and the Gaeltacht. His innovations in the area of taxation reform to encourage the development of the arts must be acknowledged. He must be identified as one of those who improved the arts. The other person is Deputy Reynolds, who, for the first time, set up the new portfolio of arts, culture and the Gaeltacht and a new Cabinet seat.
Deputy Flaherty raised many issues concerning Dublin and I endorse her comments. We must encourage further development in the area of the Dublin community arts and amateur arts. One area which was successful and which the House encouraged was Temple Bar.  This is a thriving cultural and arty part of the city. Perhaps we should assess the manner in which it was identified, how it came to fall upon us rather than us having a long term strategy for the area and, when it fell into our laps, the initiative taken by a handful of people to run with it and the success of their proposals to date.
Mr. Callely: There is a problem regarding the Municipal Gallery in the Dublin area. The former Minister for Finance, the Leader of my party, Deputy Ahern, gave a commitment regarding this project. Funds were withdrawn. The city manager has taken the initiative and purchased the ballroom.
Acting Chairman: Unless Deputy Byrne is prepared to give way I cannot do other than stick strictly to the order of the House. The Deputy's time is exhausted unless the Deputy opposite is  prepared to give him a few minutes to conclude.
We are all aware the relationship between politicians and artists has always been a fairly difficult one. One only has to look at the portraits of politicians on the walls of this House and consider the artists who painted them to realise how difficult the relationship must be. The arts needs financial support and politicians have control over the pursue strings, a classic dilemma. There is a fine dividing line between political support, financial support and political interference which the financial power bestows upon politicians. The arts are lucky to have a Minister who recognises the importance of not just art, but artistic autonomy. I am aware the Minister often quotes Marcel Proust who said, thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied. I am delighted that we have been given an opportunity to debate not just the arts plan, but art and society. Only during the past few years have we come to view art as central to society rather than something practised and appreciated by only a privileged few.
I congratulate the Minister on producing the document before us. I thank him for publicising the plan in advance of its consideration by Government. I hope this will set a trend for the future. I am aware that a great deal of work was involved in the preparation of the arts plan. I particularly welcome the lengthy process of consultations engaged in, nevertheless, I have certain reservations about it. It envisages a three-tiered structure for the arts and at  its apex is the Minister who has control over spending for institutions of national importance, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Abbey Theatre and the Arts Council. The Arts Council forms the second tier with responsibility for funding individual professional artists. The third tier is made up of those groups administering what might be loosely termed arts in the community and includes such groups as the Irish Writers Centre, Poetry Ireland and hundreds of other such groups.
During the past decade there has been a growing recognition of the importance of so-called community arts. The Arts Council must again be congratulated for fostering that recognition. I also congratulate Dublin Corporation for the role it played in fostering, administering and supporting community arts. I welcome the fact that community arts are given specific recognition in the arts plan, but I am not sure that in respect of all aspects of the arts it is the type of recognition needed. From the community arts pespective, the arts plan is an anomaly. Despite the extensive consultation process, I cannot help but get the impression that it is a plan written by and for the artistic élite, which while recognising community arts has not fully teased out the problems and definitions of access to them.
The plan places excellence — who defines it — at the centre and access at the periphery. The plan states that the council understands it has a primary responsibility to encourage and maintain high standards in all art forms and to foster structures which assist and develop dialogue between artists, the arts and the communities from which they emerge. There is a close connection between the arts élite, the community arts organisation and finance.
I welcome attention in the plan to the arts employment generation potential. Job opportunities, however, must be targeted at those who most need them. In that regard, I have some concerns based on past experience on which I will elaborate. Community arts projects  have provided a nice niche for professional artists, arts officers, arts administrations, arts theorists and those who make up the arts élite. Members of the artistic professional classes often draw a good deal of insight and experience from organising various events in working class communities and then they leave when their contracts expire. Often these artists do not live near the communities to which they are supposed to bring the arts. Community arts in Ireland have become little more than a gesture towards those whom we, as a society, have economically, socially and culturally marginalised. I hope the Minister will note these comments and when the arts plan is further debated the need to address those areas of concern might be recognised.
There are a number of community arts projects mostly funded by FÁS which ostensibly provide people with training. I would be interested to know how many places on those schemes are filled by people from the communities in which they are located and how many are filled by artists possibly from middle class suburbs who travel to the community daily. In that regard, the arts plan does relatively little to address the question of access to the arts in its broadest sense. Access is not simply a matter of providing a one year artist in residence scheme, although they are welcome. For hundreds of thousands of people access is a matter of money. If people do not have the necessary money, how can they gain access to the arts? There seems to be a perception among certain artists, art advisers and the artistic fraternity that, for example, access to the theatre is improved by providing community theatre, street festivals or that people's artistic knowledge is enhanced by providing face painting courses in inner city flats, but that is only one side of the coin. We must also improve access to the so-called mainstream arts, for example, access to our theatres, cinemas, some of which have private club membership, and to major cultural events, a classic example of which is the cultural activities in the  National Concert Hall. We must ensure that cultural ghettoisation does not replace cultural marginalisation.
I strongly argue that we must put choice back into culture for all sections of society. That necessitates grasping the thorny subject of direct and indirect subsidies because, as you know, Sir, culture is an expensive business. For example, a seat at the Abbey Theatre at present costs between £10 and £12.50 and, taking the cost of a bus or taxi into town, and other incidentals into account a night at our national theatre would cost almost £50 for two people. The cost of a concessionary seat to old age pensioners, students or the unemployed is £5, subject to availability, between Mondays and Thursdays. However, those people have been sidelined and need to be brought back into the mainstream of arts. It may not be realised that old age pensioners, students or the unemployed cannot reserve a concessionary seat but must turn up, hoping for the best. What sort of a planned evening's cultural entertainment can that constitute? It effectively dissuades many of the most disadvantaged in society from attending the theatre, which could hardly be described as access in its fullest sense. Until the issue of subsidies is tackled, access to the arts will continue to be determined by ability to pay, despite the best intentions and efforts of the Arts Council and the Minister and that is not acceptable.
Of course, there are other ways in which access to the arts is effectively limited. For example, there have been massive cutbacks in the provision for public libraries and purpose-built children's sections in them since the 1980s, whereas such access should begin through the public library network. Indeed children's sections in libraries are few and far between. I welcome the attention devoted in the plan to the artistic educational needs of children and young people generally. There is need for much greater concentration on the arts in our schools generally, in particular, primary schools where artistic and cultural activities, such as speech  and drama, are all too often squeezed into the timetable as an afterthought. Parents pay dearly for their children to participate in extramural courses in dancing, music, theatre, speech and drama.
While I recognise that that role does not fall within the remit of the Arts Council there is scope for incorporating its input. I heartily welcome the section in the plan dealing with education and its commitment to regionalisation with the capital programme to finance that commitment. For far too long arts funding has been concentrated on Dublin and, to a lesser extent, Cork and Galway while smaller towns have had to make do with the crumbs falling from the funding table.
I also welcome the inclusion of architecture in the plan under the heading of Visual Arts, one of its most significant features. I look forward to publication of the report on architecture expected next autumn, as architecture is one of the most enduring forms of art and impinges most on society. Members who represent urban constituencies would argue that for far too long our capital city has borne the brunt of what can only be described as architectural vandalism. Already we have actively destroyed, or passively neglected, much of our Georgian and Victorian heritage which is so important to urban development. In many parts of Dublin that heritage has been replaced by what one critic termed “neon-Gothic architecture”— the architecture of plate glass and flashing signs, which is threatening our main thoroughfares. One need only look at O'Connell Street to observe such cheap imitations of Reno. Recently that trend has been reversed in certain streets and I hope that this arts plan will also encourage excellence in architecture.
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