This motion arises from a recent briefing for Oireachtas Members held by the Arts Council, the meet and greet organised by the National Campaign for the Arts and from the recent annual Theatre Forum conference held in NUIG, at which the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht was guest speaker.
The Minister is personally committed to the arts and is involved in the cultural life of Listowel, an area that produced those world famous writers, John B. Keane and Bryan McMahon. Even so, it is important to place on record the Government's commitment to maintain existing funding levels for our cultural institutions, including the National Library and National Museum, the Arts Council, the Irish Film Board and Culture Ireland.
The Minister will agree it is in our best interest as a nation to encourage, develop and stimulate public interest in all aspects of the arts, social and cultural affairs despite our current economic challenges. To sustain a vibrant cultural life, it is essential to promote the knowledge, appreciation and practice of the arts; it is not an isolated activity but reaches into most aspects of the lives of our people. In this capacity, the work of the Arts Council gets results in annually supporting 2,000 jobs directly and 3,000 jobs indirectly. The wider sector supports 27,000 jobs and contributes €382 million in taxes. The wider creative industry contributes €5.5 billion to the economy and supports 96,000 jobs. It is clear that funding the arts is an investment not an indulgence. It is good for our society, our international reputation and our economy.
Because we in Ireland have an innate talent in the arts, be it literary, performance or visual, we somehow take that talent for granted. When our economy was performing well, the then Government never achieved the figure of €100 million in funding, which was the aspiration of the Arts Council. By 2007, a figure of €80 million was provided but by 2010 the figure was down to €68.6 million. The real effect of this cut has been the loss of jobs in the arts world. I am glad to note that Culture Ireland and the Irish Film Board, while also sustaining cuts over the past three years, continue to deliver quality experiences to our national and overseas audiences, providing significant employment in the process.
In terms of our quality of life, we can all relate to wonderful arts experiences, such as poetry, music, film, that stimulate us and enhance our lives.
Our schools have a key role to play in this area as they can provide equal access for their students. We have not fully realised the potential that regular participation in arts activities by young people has in increasing their self esteem and confidence and in reducing anti-social behaviour. In Laois-Offaly increasing numbers of young people are dying by suicide and I strongly believe that their participation in arts projects would help them cope with the challenges of modern life.
If we look closer again we can find wonderful projects across the country in which elderly people in community nursing and day care units are having quality arts experiences. I urge the Minister to take a look at the Anam Beo project based in Offaly. It is run on a tiny budget and involves professional artists working with older and disabled people to teach them to paint and make short films among other things. For many, it is the first time they participated in such activity. To quote one participant who is now 88 years of age, "I would be dead if I didn't have this to look forward to every week".
Many other community groups and development agencies use the arts as a tool for engaging with disadvantaged groups. The arts are non-judgmental and accepting of all abilities and backgrounds — an important factor in breaking down barriers. In the Laois-Offaly constituency established venues such as Birr Theatre and Arts Centre and the Dunamaise Theatre depend on public funding both from the Arts Council and local authorities to continue to provide for their communities. I look forward also to the planned Tullamore Arts Centre being developed to further strengthen the arts infrastructure. Sculpture in the Parklands is another shining example of how local partnerships can produce a magnificent resource in cutaway bogs for locals and tourists alike.
On an international level artists of all disciplines have won Booker prizes, Grammy awards, Emmy awards, Nobel prizes, Oscars and Tony awards. To quote the Arts Council, "if the arts were the Olympics Ireland would top the medal table". Despite those awards, the average income for an artist in 2008 was a modest €14,676.
The arts experience which artists create play a vital role in making this country a magnet for 5.5 million visitors a year. According to Fáilte Ireland, 80% of foreign tourists cite culture and heritage as a motivating factor in choosing this country as a holiday destination. The 178 arts festivals currently funded by the Arts Council are also a significant part of our tourism product. In considering the arts one finds that they are intertwined across many Departments — Education and Skills, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Health and Environment, Community and Local Government to mention a few. I hope that some structure could be put in place to bring all of that together so that we can get an accurate picture of the impact of the work each Department plays in cultural life.
Unfortunately, funding for arts and culture has declined from €206 million in 2007 to €153.2 million in 2010. That is a significant drop. Despite that, we must acknowledge that arts and culture are key to quality of life, international reputation, tourism product and, significantly in the current climate, the economy. I will conclude by quoting the National Campaign For The Arts core message:
We believe in a society that values creativity, imagination and expression. We believe the arts generate growth and tourism. We believe the arts enhance our reputation. We believe the arts enrich our lives. We believe in the value of the arts.
We must endeavour to sustain what we already have.