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Wednesday, 19 Oct 2005

Arts Council: Presentation.

I welcome the delegation from the Arts Council, Ms Olive Braiden, chairperson, Mr. Patrick Sutton and Mr. Theo Dorgan, members of the council, as well as Ms Mary Cloake, director. It is always a pleasure to have an annual — if not biannual — interaction with them. Some committee members had the opportunity to meet the Canadian arts council last Friday. We are delighted to meet our own council today.

Ms Olive Braiden

Cathaoirleach, members of the committee, a dhaoine uaisle, thank you very much for inviting the Arts Council here today. My colleagues and I look forward to answering any questions members might have. I would like to introduce my colleagues. Ms Mary Cloake is the director; Mr. Patrick Sutton is the director of the Gaiety School of Acting and was formerly director of the Wexford Arts Centre; Mr. Theo Dorgan is a poet and a writer and was also manager of arts centres and different arts groups over 22 years. We thought it important to have people to answer questions from the perspective of the creative artist, represented by Mr. Dorgan, as well as from the performing arts, represented by Mr. Sutton. Since we were last here, our deputy chairperson, Mr. Jerome Hynes, died suddenly and tragically at a very young age. He is a great loss to us and to the arts in general. I would like to thank many members who have sent us sympathies and condolences and extend them to his family.

This is the third year that I have attended the committee with the council prior to the Estimates. I hope committee members agree that in those three years we have made very significant progress. As a council, we are committed to very open, progressive and positive dialogue with the Oireachtas and with this committee as advocates for us and for the artists' community in the many challenges ahead. We have been fortunate in the past three years to enjoy continuing increases in our Estimates. That has allowed us to advance the position of artists across the country and we have been able to support a record number of artists and arts organisations. We have brought with us a county by county breakdown of the supports we give, which we will make available to the committee. I know that committee members will be interested to know of the supports that go into their own constituencies.

We have had a number of new initiatives over the past year. A significant initiative relates to the traditional arts, which is close to many hearts. We were able to put the opportunity scheme in place because the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism found €500,000 to get it rolling this year. That has made a great difference to the traditional arts community. We also made a decision this year to allocate €3 million of next year's annual allocation to the traditional arts. Traditional artists all over the country know that €3 million have been allocated to them and they will apply for that at the end of the year.

We are running a campaign on the retention of the artists' exemption scheme. Mr. Dorgan will speak about that later. We are also working on a new strategy for the arts this year. It is just complete and we hope to publish it at the beginning of December. The strategy has followed the most extensive period of consultation ever engaged in by the council with the arts community and others. It charts an exciting path for the arts in Ireland in the next ten years. While Ireland does have a very enlightened policy on artists' exemption, our direct funding for the arts remains below that of any European country. It is our goal, as part of our new three-year strategy, to take the funding for the arts to the €100 million mark by 2008. Ms Cloake will talk about these figures and what we plan to do with that money. We know that such funding would enormously empower the arts community and we feel confident that we will get it. The level of funding would allow the sector to function effectively and would also allow a good balance in arts organisation. The low funding over the years has created real problems for the arts community and for artists in general.

Within the limited resources, we have been able to give funding to many new organisations this year over a wide range of companies. We have managed to maintain a minimum range of funding to other arts organisations. With the new strategy, we will have the opportunity to unlock the potential for the entire section. In order to do that, we will need very positive results from the Estimates this year. We do not yet know the demand, but we expect it will be around €80 million this year. We are, therefore, seeking €79.3 million. It is a much lower figure than that which many would wish us to ask for and it will distress and disappoint some. However, we believe it is fair and reasonable to ask for that amount this year and for a further increase next year. In the third year of the strategy, we would expect to receive €100 million.

Ms Cloake will discuss the challenges ahead in regard to that funding. It is important that we know we can continue to support the organisations we currently support, that the traditional arts get the boost they deserve and that there would be a greater involvement of young people in the arts. Everybody knows that funding is critical to realising full potential. The artists' exemption provides one plank of support. It is an important and enlightened policy and it is particularly important that artists know it is available to them. It is also good for Ireland abroad. It is positive to know that this is the one country in the world that has an artists' exemption.

Ms Mary Cloake

I will sum up the level of the Arts Council's financial request to Government for 2006 and outline how that funding will be spent. We need just over €17 million in extra funding for next year and what we offer in return is good value. If there is adequate investment in and support for the arts, the arts community will be in a position to increase its viability and productivity. There are few sectors of the economy which could claim that if funding were to increase by 20% or 30%, it could double its output. To take the example of performing arts organisations, many can only produce one show a year. Given fixed costs and an increase in funding of between 20% and 30% to these companies, they could produce two shows — a 100% increase in output — a year. The increase in funding of €17 million next year would be very good value for the economy.

On the consolidation and development that funding would provide, the level of demand in the sector has grown exponentially in the past three or four years. In 2005, we received 1,500 proposals for projects from artists but were able to fund fewer than 500. Therefore, the innovation and ideas coming forward from within the arts community cannot be supported or realised due to lack of resources.

Our funding for next year is grouped under eight headings. I will outline how the €17.8 million total would be distributed. For revenue organisations that are funded year on year — I refer here, for example, to the network of venues throughout the country — we need an increase of €7 million. Mr. Dorgan will tell the committee what is like to run an arts organisation under serious constraints and how this investment of €7 million would greatly improve productivity.

We need €1.5 million for new entrants, new projects and new companies which have not been funded previously. Mr. Sutton will discuss this area. An important target in our new strategy is to broaden the reach of the arts and to make sure people in all corners of the country can experience the arts in some shape or form. In this regard, our main plank for the next year will be to bring forward a touring programme, which Mr. Sutton will discuss, for which we will need €2 million.

We will need €750,000 for an acoustic scheme to upgrade the quality of sound in venues in order that music can tour more easily to the network of venues throughout the country. Every county has at least one small festival. We hope to increase funding for our support programme for such festivals from the current budget of €330,000 to €1 million, an increase of €670,000. The importance and reach of the small festivals scheme will be discussed by Mr. Dorgan.

The Arts Council has a good programme of residencies, with artists working in schools, hospitals, prisons and communities. This is significantly oversubscribed and we want to spend an additional €1.3 million on community-based residencies next year.

For the ongoing work of artists, including travel and mobility awards and bursaries, we want to spend €1.5 million. With regard to the new areas of our work, we have already stated that we will spend an extra €3 million on the traditional arts and a further €500,000 on the new areas — circus, for the first time, contemporary music and opera — that have opened up as a result of legislation. In total, the profile of our spending request to Government this year is just over €17 million.

Mr. Patrick Sutton

It is important that theatre and dance companies have as much opportunity as possible to bring their work to as great an audience as possible. It is a weakness at present that the support for small, medium or large companies, whether they are based in Cork, Dublin or elsewhere, is inadequate for them to travel the country. This needs to be urgently addressed to encourage and enable companies to obtain work and to be seen by larger audiences. We will consider this in three ways: by ensuring that relatively small companies, such as two or three or four person theatre and dance shows, can get into smaller venues; that medium-scale companies have an opportunity to visit the eight or ten suitable venues throughout the country; and that the big companies will also have an opportunity to get out and about. Too often we hear companies express frustration that they have produced a piece but that it is only shown in the community in which the company is based. That is valuable in its own right but it would be preferable if it were possible for productions to be seen in other communities. Developing the audience goes hand in glove with this.

New entrants, whether young or in mid-career, are constantly coming up with ideas they want to explore. However, too often we are not able to back the new, innovative or risky ideas. It is important that we find ways in which the great ideas can be supported because nobody knows where the great ideas will go to. Part of our job must be to listen to ideas of the partners who are making the work and find a way of supporting it. That is very much a part of what we are talking about.

Ms Braiden

Mr. Dorgan will deal with the artists' exemption and festivals.

Mr. Theo Dorgan

I had worked out what I wanted to say to the committee but have changed the tenor of it slightly since finishing Peter Hart's new book on Michael Collins. It is a very badly written book. If members are under pressure, I suggest they give it a miss because it contains nothing new. It reminded me of a profound truth, one that it is at the basis of why, like many of my generation of writers and arts managers, I chose in the mid-1970s to stay in Ireland and make my life here. The truth is a simple one, namely, we live in a republic. The War of Independence was fought for a republic. At the heart of a republic is the idea of the public — that we are all in this together. We are not an economy; we are a civil republic. We work hard to build an economy to enjoy the fruits of the human mind, heart and soul.

Not every democracy is founded on such an expanded idea of what it is to be human. Like many of my generation of artists and writers, I come from a working class background. We sometimes describe ourselves as O'Malley's children because we would not have received the education we did were it not for the influence of a single enlightened legislator, backed up by an enlightened Oireachtas. The introduction of free education made a world of difference. It was an initiative by the Oireachtas that transformed how hundreds of thousands saw themselves as citizens. Through it, we knew ourselves to be valued by the State.

When the artists' exemption was introduced, at much the same time as the Oireachtas began to steadily increase its subventions to the Arts Council, it sent an unmistakable signal to Irish artists that their work was valued. It was in this context that I decided I would stand or fall in Ireland. Mine was the first generation for which emigration was a choice rather than a necessity. Throughout the years, it has constantly given me heart that I live in a society which, irrespective of its economic vicissitudes, has always recognised the contribution of artists — the people who make theatre, poems, music, paintings and sculpture. I have learned through extensive travel how rare this is. The Slovenian Parliament is studying our provisions and intends to introduce a raft of legislation in support of the arts based on the Irish model. In the accidental way of these matters, I get about the world and, everywhere I go, I meet astonishment and a type of dislocated pride — a pride on our behalf — that we are a people who do so much for the arts. No single gesture towards artists has meant as much as the artists' exemption.

There are, however, many misconceptions about the exemption. An artist receives the exemption only in respect of those earnings which he or she has earned through artistic work. A paediatrician who publishes a novel every seven years, for example, will pay tax on his or her earnings, just as everybody else does, other than those arising from the sales of the novel. The State has granted artists the privilege of foregoing whatever it might have been able to take from those earnings that arrive through artistic endeavour.

Artists recognise that the exemption is a privilege, one that may be withdrawn. It is a privilege that has become central to who we are. To remove the artists' exemption would not simply be a case of tidying up some abstract numbers game in the tax system but also a statement that we are no longer a people who value their artists. Moreover, we have figures which show that the removal of the exemption would have a negative impact on revenues to the State. It would be a contradictory statement by the State, which, over the decades, has steadily increased its direct and indirect support to artists. To remove the artists' exemption would be to strike at the engine that drives the entire process, namely, artists themselves.

At a conference last week in the Dublin Institute of Technology, figures were produced which show that 30,000 people earn their living directly from the arts. This is twice the established strength of the Permanent Defence Force. Most of those are theatre technicians, lighting designers, roadies, equipment suppliers, box office workers and so on. Their jobs are dependent on the activity of artists. What would be gained by removing the exemption? It would serve only to kick the foundation stone from under the edifice of the arts.

I am conscious that, like most Cork people, I have probably gone on too long.

Mr. Dorgan is not guilty of that.

Mr. Dorgan

I thank the Senator.

I say that as a Kerryman.

Mr. Dorgan

I am well aware of that. This is a moment to be savoured and played back.

I do not believe we have arrived at a point where we want to turn our back on the community of artists. The question of capping the exemption has been raised in certain journalistic circles as having a type of notional viability in terms of ensuring equity in the tax system. It is sometimes asked why very rich people should not pay tax. Some 2% of those artists who avail of the exemption earn something like 48% of the income foregone in taxation. My belief, backed by figures from PricewaterhouseCoopers, is that in the event of a removal of the exemption, this money would simply go overseas to a low tax or no tax regime. In such circumstances, some 66% of these artists' other, non-exempt, income would also go; therefore over a period of three years, it is possible to estimate that there would be a net loss to the Exchequer.

There is a further difficulty with capping. The Revenue Commissioners are capable of all types of Byzantine calculations but it would defeat them to come up with a formula based on any type of equity in terms of how and when to cap. Our colleague, Mr. John McGahern, has permitted us to reveal that he earned a total of €170,000 for his great book, Amongst Women. Given that he spent seven years writing the novel, these earnings translate to a yearly figure below the average industrial wage. A novel generally earns something in the region of 70% to 80% of its income, unless there are foreign or film sales, in the first 18 months. If the artists’ exemption were capped at €150,000, for example, Mr. McGahern would have paid tax at the top rate at the end of the second year, which means he would have been working for seven years on 48% of €170,000. It is clear how inequity could arise in such a scenario.

If a significant number were benefitting to a major extent from the exemption, there might be a case for a two-tier system. However, this is unworkable in practice. The system as it stands should be retained in its entirety.

Ms Braiden

Will Mr. Dorgan say a few words about festivals?

Mr. Dorgan

Festivals are close to my heart. In 1984, to an audience of 232 people in the Capitol Cinema in Cork, the organisers of the Cork film festival, then the fifth oldest film festival in the world, announced its demise. I was on the board of Triskel arts centre in Cork at that time, the third such facility to be established, following Wexford arts centre and the Project arts centre. We decided we could not allow the film festival to end and an ad hoc team was put together with Mr. Michael Hannigan — who is still the director — and me as directors. As a result, 12 months after the announcement of its closure to 232 spectators, we filled the opera house with 1,000 people and turned away 200 on the opening night. We were successful because we spent those 12 months informing the people of Cork that they were welcome to the festival, which last weekend celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Festivals are absolutely crucial. Nobody knows better than Senator Ó Murchú the role festivals play in giving pride and expression to local communities. There is no parish or constituency that does not have a festival capable of being grown to national or international level. Listowel writers' week has done more to keep the hearts and minds of Irish writers alive than any other initiative, excepting the presence of Deputy Deenihan, inside the borders of County Kerry. The Arts Council did not invent arts activity in Ireland. We respond to those visionary and dedicated people, often volunteers, who gather the talents of local musicians, writers or painters and in the process bring some life and income into their communities.

Festivals are where democracy finds its fullest expression in the arts. We know we do not have enough money to spend on festivals. We want to increase the allocation next year for small festivals from €300,000 to €1 million. This will be distinct from funding to larger festivals. While we know this is only a drop in the ocean, it sends the correct signal, namely, that the Arts Council acknowledges the festivals. Our statutory duty is to make representations to the Government and it is part of that duty to state that such festivals must be encouraged because they are the occasions on which the citizens choose to display themselves and show joy in their work. That is the real purpose of festivals.

Finally, if one paid a visit to any street in any parish this evening, one would find people playing instruments, listening to music, reading and writing books or having a quick shower before going to rehearsals for a play. Our function is to serve such people. The Oireachtas serves and supports such activities and people through the Arts Council.

We could spend days asking questions of the witnesses. On behalf of the joint committee, I wish to express our sincere sympathies in respect of the death of Mr. Jerome Hynes. I believe he appeared before the joint committee at the last Art Council presentation and he was fully involved with the breakfast meetings and everything else. Hardly anyone did not know him and his death was a great loss to the arts in Ireland.

As far as the visit of Sir Ken Robinson is concerned, do the witnesses agree that he would have shaken the foundations of the arts in Ireland, had representatives from the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and Arts, Sports and Tourism attended his lecture? For those members who were not present, in essence his view is that we teach the arts in a tradition which precedes the industrial revolution and which does not deal with current realities. At present, for example, children can access six different windows simultaneously, such as being on the telephone, talking to someone in a chat room, downloading music on their iPods as well as buying and selling their music on the Internet. Can we rise to the challenge posed at Sir Ken Robinson's lecture? While that is a profound question, I would appreciate some kind of response.

We have discussed professional artists and those capable of mounting festivals. However, I often wonder about the stage before professionalism. As far as the "nought to six" concept is concerned, parents in Canada appear to accept that the arts mean development beyond art for the sake of artists or the audience. Have we a strategy to deal with the issue of acceptance over the next three years?

The Arts Council has done exceptionally well this year in its attempts to integrate its activities with those of the Department of Education and Science. It has fought to break down the barriers between itself and that Department. As for the question of the guidelines for performers, significant work is under way in this respect. Does the Arts Council have a strategy for breaking down more of the walls dividing it from the Department of Education and Science?

As far as festivals are concerned, how does the Arts Council plan to remove the barriers between itself and the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism? While both the Department and the Arts Council provide money for festivals, many festivals do not receive funds. I ask the same question about the council's contacts with the Department of Health and Children in respect of the value of the arts, in forms such as music therapy, to disciplines such as pediatrics and geriatrics.

While Mr. Dorgan spoke about festivals, many of our community bands are disbanding. We have an enormous problem with anti-social behaviour and many children are not interested in sports. As children can be artistic, should we develop bands to play community music? In the Estimates, should we seek a small budget of €1 million or €2 million to start the process? I envisage the operation of a community band reinforcement scheme to be similar to the existing sports capital funds. It might pay for a couple of new instruments, new pieces of music or even some bus journeys around the country. Similarly, the joint committee carried out a study which found that feiseanna are disappearing. For example, the feis in my home town has gone. In general, I am concerned about the activities that take place just below the professional level.

We invited writers and artists to come before the joint committee to discuss the tax exemption question. If I might play devil's advocate, why did the Arts Council not fight for the inclusion of choreographers?

I want to——

Ms Braiden mentioned that she had some figures to distribute in respect of the appropriation of funds. Is that the case?

Ms Braiden

Yes, we have them to hand. Will we provide them to members now?

Yes, please.

Can I ask Deputy Glennon if it would be all right for me to spend ten minutes studying the figures before I continue to make my contribution?

Deputy O'Shea, if he wishes, may make his contribution now.

Something tells me I may be obliged to wait for much longer than ten minutes.

I welcome the director of the Arts Council, Ms Mary Cloake, the chairperson, Ms Olive Braiden, Mr. Patrick Sutton and Mr. Theo Dorgan. I recall that when representatives from the Arts Council appeared before the joint committee two years ago, they were obliged to defend a €5 million reduction in its budget. Thankfully, however, the past two years have seen a fairly significant increase, which all members of this committee must welcome. Attitudes to the Arts Council appear to have become far more positive and I compliment it on creating that new atmosphere. Accessibility and inclusiveness have increased and people currently speak more positively about the Arts Council. While people recognise that it cannot fund everything, the feedback I have received is that attitudes towards the Arts Council have become more positive. I hope the same is true for other members. This aspect should be recognised.

There is much activity at present and, as Mr. Dorgan remarked, small festivals have been organised all over the country, which is great. There are now numerous creative and performing artists throughout the country and the arts community has become far more vibrant. However, while financial resources are required to sustain this development, baseline funding simply does not match demand. I am sure that all members would support the Arts Council's demand for additional funding this year. At a minimum, it should receive sufficient funding to sustain the current interest and possibilities, which are considerable.

The spin-offs from the festivals and artists' other contributions should be considered. In many instances, artists drive the tourism industry. Although we normally consider artists from a narrow perspective, their overall contribution is particularly significant to the tourism industry. Some weeks ago, Fáilte Ireland came before the joint committee and its representatives again emphasised that its new focus would be to use cultural aspects such as traditional music — as distinct from the images of scenery and landscape traditionally employed — to sell Ireland as a location.

I welcome the proposed funding for the traditional arts initiative, Deis, which will amount to €3 million next year. This will generate new demands that did not previously exist and the council's funding must be increased by €3 million in order to meet those demands.

As far as the council's commitment to the Abbey Theatre is concerned, the Minister has challenged it to change its corporate structure and modus operandi. The Arts Council then set down the conditions under which the Abbey Theatre would receive additional funding. Under the new arrangements, the theatre would receive the money only if it changed its practices and governance. The Abbey Theatre requires more money next year if it is to function properly as a theatre for this century because it cannot be seen to continue losing money. Will the Arts Council make more of a commitment regarding financing for the Abbey Theatre for 2006?

A number of venue operators around the country are barely managing to survive despite the increase in activity and the fact that they are very successful and people are attending their venues. These venue operators need assistance. Their businesses are integral to tourism and local economies and, therefore, should be sustainable. Certain venue operators are speculating about how long they can stay in business because they are under considerable pressure. I agree with the Arts Council regarding the additional €7 million but how does it propose to distribute this money to venues? Have certain venues been designated for support or do operators need to apply for funding?

This committee received representations from Anna Livia, which previously held a very successful opera festival that was funded by the Department of Education and Science. A commitment was made that the festival would be funded through the Arts Council but the funding then ceased and the Anna Livia festival did not take place. Will the delegation clarify whether initiatives like the Anna Livia festival can now avail of the additional funding for opera?

The Arts Council produced a very good consultative paper entitled partnership for the arts, which contained a commitment to examine the feasibility of a nationwide education initiative that would begin with music in schools. Will a member of the delegation confirm whether this has happened and if the initiative will commence? We all agree the arts play a very important part in education and that if we are to include more people, we must do so at primary level. I support the artists' exemption scheme for all the reasons pointed out by Mr. Dorgan.

I welcome the delegation from the Arts Council and am glad to hear of its plans for the future. There was no mention of research in the council's presentation. What is the delegation's view on the possible role of the Arts Council regarding research into the development of the arts in Ireland? The Arts Council could be a vehicle for the promotion of the arts by making a solid case for them, backed up by good qualitative research rather than simply being a conduit for funding. This kind of research can make the case for the arts so that we do not rely on the intrinsic worth of the arts. It is fine if one believes in the worth of the arts but not everyone does. The case for the arts is often made when there is very good research behind it. Is the level of research a feature of the Arts Council's strategy for the arts? How it is prioritised and to what extent is it prioritised? How central is research to the council's functioning?

My slight problem with the Arts Bill 2002, which was spelt out previously, is the question of what constitutes the traditional arts. One of the speakers mentioned that the traditional arts are very fortunately tagged to receive €3 million. How are the traditional arts defined? Do they relate to someone being a native Irish person or do Irish contemporary visual artists qualify? The Arts Council is opening up a landmine, which worries me because there are plenty of agencies that support the arts. We have had these arguments before but I am interested in the money the Arts Council has now decided to allocate to the traditional arts. We need a clear definition of what they are. I would like to feel confident that an Irish contemporary visual artist would quality for this funding. On the other hand, does traditional arts relate to an individual who works in the field in Ireland or to the traditional manner in which they work?

I also welcome the delegation from the Arts Council. The meeting today has been very informative. I come from Boyle in County Roscommon, which is very proud of the Boyle arts festival. The festival has been very fortunate in having volunteers with an interest in the arts who brought it to a certain level. We recognise the importance of the arts for tourism.

Regarding children's workshops, all arts festivals help most of the children who attend them and give them considerable confidence. We can see evidence of this in the fact that children make their own floats for various parades. Professionalism has crept in over the years and some groups funded by the Arts Council have given great support to, and demonstrated great professionalism in, local festivals. I have seen evidence of this in Castlerea and in other towns in Roscommon.

Marching bands are found around the country but do not appear to be able to get funding from any source. They cannot get funding from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism or from the national lottery, although they sometimes receive funding from county councils. Is there any Arts Council funding for which they can apply? I am aware this is opening up a can of worms because every town or area has its own marching band. However, a figure of between €2,000 and €5,000 per year would go a long way towards promoting and helping marching bands.

I cannot understand why music is not virtually compulsory in schools. What is the Arts Council doing to liaise with the Department of Education and Science in this regard? I am sure it has done something. We have all learned subjects which have been of no use to us but the ability to learn a musical instrument lasts a lifetime. We are not putting sufficient thought or resources into music in schools.

I am not being parochial when I examine funding allocated to the different counties. Offaly received €3,700 while Roscommon received €190,000 and Sligo received €1,249,000. While I accept there are probably reasons for the disparity in funding, how does the Arts Council decide what counties should receive? I am aware it relates to the counties that have arts centres or production companies. However, I am slightly concerned because it appears to be a chicken-and-egg situation, whereby funding goes to the counties with the festivals or theatre groups. It also relates to how people are able to access funding. When a certain Taoiseach was asked how he managed to obtain so many grants for his factory, he replied that it was because he knew where to access the funding. If I lived in Offaly, I would begin by examining what was going on in the county and then I would take a cheap shot at the Arts Council, which I am not doing. If I lived in County Roscommon, I would take a cheap shot at County Sligo. How can we arrange it in such a way that these so-called "not so sexy" counties will become more aware of how they can increase appreciation of the arts?

I join my colleagues in welcoming the delegation from the Arts Council, particularly Mr. Dorgan. It was a pleasure to sit and listen to a case so eloquently put. It is not often we are in the presence of real poets. If poetry was ever brought into politics, it was done extremely well today and is probably worth a grant in itself.

I will not apologise for being parochial. Fingal County Council accounts for 0.4% of overall expenditure. After a glance at the figures, it appears to be the only local authority not in receipt of direct funding. This may be a mistake on my part. I am not sure and do not expect an answer now but it is a matter I will take up with the delegation in the next few days.

The Deputy will need to speak with the arts officer.


Will someone give us a brief overview of what is happening in respect of the Abbey Theatre?

As quite a number of questions have been asked, the members of the delegation can answer some of them together.

Ms Braiden

The Chairman referred to the great speech made by Sir Ken Robinson at the education and arts day event, which was truly inspiring. Ms Cloake was not present but I told her about it and asked whether we could bring him over to speak to us. However, he would charge us £10,000. The points he made about how vital education and the arts are when working together were put in such a way that one would think they should be required listening for everyone in the country.

The questions asked concerned education, the arts, festivals, tourism and bands. Deputy O'Malley asked what were the traditional arts, a question which Mr. Dorgan will answer. I will answer the question about why we did not include choreographers in our exemption campaign. A case was made for them and we wanted to include them but, after a long discussion and receiving advice, we thought it better to campaign for the retention of the artists' exemption first and then campaign further to have choreographers, among many others such as performing artists, added. It was not a good idea to try to seek the addition while we were seeking retention. We will know later whether we made the right decision.

Ms Cloake will deal with the question concerning education.

Ms Cloake

Our strategy is twofold. If members examine our proposal which will be published next week and will deal with the provision of €100 million in funding for three years, they will see there are two elements. First, we must invest in arts organisations and local artists in order that they will be equipped to work with schools in a productive way. People are managing on a shoestring and the pressure on them to go into schools and deliver services that are badly needed is too much. They need to be resourced. Second, we have made a proposal in our long-term plan that €3 million be spent in 2007. This would give each county a fund of €100,000 exclusively designed to examine the schools-arts community relationship. The first area we wish to examine is music, building on the idea of a local partnership or network.

Other bodies were mentioned. Fáilte Ireland funds a wide spread of 631 festivals. We liaise closely on who funds what, the best festivals to fund together and what should be funded separately. We work through the Health Service Executive in trying to ensure arts funding within the health care system at regional level is policy driven. We worked with the former Eastern Regional Health Authority for many years and now the HSE has a very good policy. There is a pocket of good practice in Waterford, on which we are trying to build at the grassroots. We are focusing on those who have already made a commitment. There is a lot of detail in respect of tourism, health and education policies but, broadly, that is our strategy.

Ms Braiden

Ms Cloake will also say a few words about the Anna Livia International Opera Festival, our new opera policy and project.

Ms Cloake

Deputy Deenihan asked a number of questions that I can answer in my statement. In our figures for next year we have included a provision of €1.5 million for new projects and are committed to offering project funding to the opera community. We are in the process of finalising a completely new policy that will be rolled out in 2007 and will require a larger commitment. It is based around how we have funded three opera companies for many years. Perhaps now is the time to determine whether we can fund more companies. The planning cycle is very long and the policy will only take effect from 2007.

Deputy Keaveney asked about a feasibility study in rolling out the music education initiative. This is the scheme we hope to put in place in 2007 with local partnerships and for which we have identified a figure of €3 million. We see it as important and a high priority in our strategy.

Ms Braiden

Senators Feighan and Bannon raised a point about counties Roscommon and Sligo.

And County Offaly.

Ms Cloake


Ms Braiden

Is the Senator going to add another county?

They are three counties of similar size.

Ms Cloake

I met representatives of Offaly County Council six years ago. I was very embarrassed as at the time the Arts Council was spending £750 in the county. The amount we are spending now is much improved because our policy regarding local authorities is to go where the people are interested and motivated. Where a county council spends money, we try to row in behind it.

The gap in expenditure between counties Offaly, Roscommon and Sligo may seem big but if one examines the rate of growth in County Offaly in the past five years — I can provide figures tomorrow — one will see it has been quick. In terms of developing the arts, rather than receiving money from the Arts Council, County Offaly is doing very well, given its size and the level of investment by its local authority. The arts must grow at a pace that works in the area concerned. Throwing money at them just for the sake of the figures is not a good policy.

There is a lot happening in County Offaly. Banagher is the town of the century and €1 million was spent there in filming the series "Pure Mule". Good work has been done in Offaly and spending will increase in the next few years due to activity on the ground. There is no magic formula. I hope that answers the member's question but I can provide figures on the level of growth tomorrow.

It is difficult for the Dublin based Arts Council to know what is happening with bands throughout the country. Bands are important and if peoples' families are not musical the main way people in towns learn to sight read is through brass bands. This is a tradition that has made a major contribution to people being able to sight read. Rather than funding many bands throughout the country we would like to work with local authorities and set up a joint fund. This could be an instrument bank for which the local authority would take responsibility. The local authority could keep in contact with the band activities and we could support it in that way.

Ms Braiden

Mr. Sutton will talk briefly about the Abbey Theatre.

Mr. Sutton

It has been an extraordinary journey for the Abbey Theatre, culminating in the resignation of the managing director and the artistic director. We have reached the end of the journey, that road is closed, and we are now rebuilding. Fiach MacConghail, the new Abbey director, met the Arts Council two days ago. The clarity and vision with which he presented the role and responsibility of a national theatre was extraordinary. The conviction and passion with which he spoke on the role and responsibility of the Abbey left people speechless for the first time in many years.

It was also made clear there will be a bottom line increase. Debt responsibilities, running cost responsibilities and capital requirements need to be examined and will be presented in the context of applications delivered on Friday. With the appointments of Judge McMahon and Tom Hickey there is a real possibility of progress in that building or another building it might move to. This will make a difference to how a nation sees itself through its national theatre and how it takes responsibility for issues. Mr. MacConghail's excellent articulation of this matter made it an uplifting day and his tenure at the Abbey theatre will be seen as the beginning of something significant. Supporting this is a major challenge to all of us.

Will there be a relocation of the theatre and does the delegation know the timescale for this?

Ms Braiden

That is a matter for the Government. The Abbey theatre hopes it will be finalised in the next few years.

Will that financial commitment use up some of the extra funding of €17.8 million requested for next year? What has been presented so far requires an extra €4.5 million and the grant aid to the Abbey must be increased significantly if it is to match the vision of Mr. MacConghail. He is making additional demands to implement his vision and this will have an impact on the budget of the Arts Council.

Ms Braiden

We accept that and will discuss the matter separately with the Department. If our funding is sufficient, grant aid to the Abbey theatre will not pose a problem. We will require a significant increase in funding if we are to undertake our responsibilities to the Abbey theatre. Mr. Dorgan will respond to Deputy Fiona O'Malley's question on traditional arts and research, and Ms Cloake will also address questions on research. We do a considerable amount of research.

Mr. Dorgan

I compliment Deputy Glennon's finely honed instincts in identifying a Fingal voter.

The Deputy knows the electoral register by heart.

Mr. Dorgan

Deputy Fiona O'Malley's question on traditional arts raises another question. How do we make categories work? In ordinary speech the traditional arts refers to traditional music, dancing, agallamh beirte and all of that. One must also consider how long one must practice an art before it becomes traditional. We have been writing English novels in Ireland for 400 years. Is that a traditional art? In supporting artists in specific disciplines, we work with the definition with which the artists work. In supporting Johnny Connolly in Connemara, Máirtín O'Connor, Seamus Creagh or Jackie Daly or any of the great traditional musicians we have regard that they define themselves as traditional musicians. Many of them do not make as good a living as the prominence of their names would suggest.

The present Arts Council is faced with a provision deficit in its history as an institution. Not many of the institutions in the State are prepared to admit mistakes and seek to improve in the future. The Arts Council is committed to providing support to this self-defining traditional arts sector. It looks forward to doing so on a local, regional and national level with whomever else wishes to work with us. Many traditional musicians are unaware they could have been availing of the Arts Council's bursary system. We have an information deficit to overcome. In the spirit of partnership with everybody involved in supporting that which is commonly understood to be the traditional arts, we expect success. As an earnest of goodwill we have designated a considerable sum of money for next year in advance of knowing the demand. This decision is based on widespread consultation with traditional musicians and providers of traditional music.

Deputy Fiona O'Malley's question also raises the matter of how we provide for non-traditional arts. All arts are traditional as human beings have created art since the dawn of time. The Deputy's constituency leads the way in multi-cultural arts provision in Ireland, through the Dún Laoghaire festival of world cultures. In the forthcoming strategy of the council, equal respect will be paid to the opportunities available to us as the cultures of Ireland become more complex and intertwined. We will have a keen eye on those possibilities and I look forward to the day a child of Nigerian extraction wins a prize for the under-16 Fleadh Ceoil contest in Sligo. That will be a good day for Ireland.

As regards the traditional arts, I have come across places where traditional fleadh houses may be under threat or in need of renovation. Is any of the money available designated capital spending or is it all channelled to the artists?

Mr. Dorgan

The director of the Arts Council could answer that more accurately than I could.

Ms Cloake

All revenue is for activities.

In the crossover between tourism and arts some people are falling between the two stools. Those dispensing tourism funding decide that some cases should be dealt with by arts bodies and arts bodies believe the same cases should be dealt with by tourism bodies.

Mr. Dorgan

Many in the traditional arts found themselves outside the scope of the Arts Council's attention. There was considerable justification for this feeling. In the period of the new strategy they will be brought in with all other artists in Ireland, resulting in synergy. This was recommended by the Department of the Taoiseach during the consultation process initiated by the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera. It is necessary all arts interact and this includes capital provisions in all art forms, including theatre and traditional music.

We have published an important research document on living and working conditions of performing artists. An extraordinary amount of data was gathered during the consultation process that occupied us for the past 18 months. An immense of amount of raw data must be processed and examined to shape productive research that will make the best use of it. The consultation process is based on trusting in the autonomy of the people closest to the operating field, and their capacity to deliver.

We could envisage a situation where bodies supported by the Arts Council would conduct research to cover an entire sector. I was director of Poetry Ireland, which runs a successful education scheme called writers in schools. It produced an extremely good report on how writers in schools work, a protocol for writers in schools and how the scheme can be expanded and developed on a regional basis with the provision of regional resources. That could provide us with a paradigm to rethink how visual artists work in schools. The Federation of Music Collectives undertakes a considerable amount of research and has an extraordinary database of information available to practitioners in the popular music sector. This year its website will be hit 1.75 million times by young bands seeking access to opportunities to record, play, hire musicians, engage managers or get legal advice in Ireland and abroad.

Much of that work is done by bodies funded by the Arts Council. A self-generating process has emerged from the consultation process. We will continue to work with people in these areas. Theatre Forum is an autonomous body which does invaluable work in researching the needs and opportunities in theatre.

Is the Arts Council funding them because they do this research or does it merely see the research as useful? I am trying to get a sense of the way in which the Arts Council is driving research.

Ms Cloake

We are committed to having a policy based approach to our activities, including funding and other supports, and research is essential for this. We have a series of questions to be answered in each policy area and that will drive the research agenda during the next three to five years. It might be more effective for an organisation in the arts community rather than the Arts Council to carry out that research. We know a good collection of facts and data is required and we will seek to provide it, either directly or through organisations.

Next year we will carry out an overarching major research project into the public and the arts. In 1994 and 1983 the Arts Council undertook a major study of behaviour and attitudes vis-à-vis the arts, that included such information as how many people buy books. We will ask questions on how many people own iPods, buy paintings and go to the theatre. It is useful to take such a benchmark every ten years. That will be the start of our research and flowing from the findings other projects will either be commissioned or, as Mr. Dorgan stated, will be done in partnership with organisations.

I appreciate that the Arts Council has made much progress and that national organisations can experience difficulties and have weak spots. Without telling the Arts Council what to do, could a task force be established to target counties such as Offaly, and examine working more closely with local authorities? Examining the bottom line, if I were a politician from County Offaly I would——

The Senator was guaranteed an indication as to how it has moved from its previous base to its current situation would be given as soon as tomorrow. Perhaps he will have a better feeling as to whether it is progressing as a result of that.

Considering the figures, I propose that it would be worth the Arts Council examining some of the weaker counties to see whether it can better liaise with the county councils.

Ms Braiden

If Senator Feighan would like to come and speak with us he will receive all of the information he requires.

At this point I want to bring this matter to a close because another vote has been called. This is a perfect time to end. I found in the brief amount of time we have interacted with the Arts Council that the door is open when issues arise. This is not a once-off opportunity to elicit information. I thank the Arts Council for being so forthcoming with information. Unfortunately we must rudely make for the door.

Given that this discussion covered the Estimates, I propose we send the transcript of this meeting to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, to make them aware that we formally endorse the massive increase in funding required and the concept of at least €100 million for the three-year plan.

On Friday we were told the arts council in Canada is given $100,000 for the country. In some respects the amount spent in Ireland is good but we unanimously endorse the increase in funding sought.

I am sure Deputy Cowen will agree having heard about his constituents.

He will be impressed when he reads the transcript.

Mr. Dorgan

Will the committee also support the Arts Council case for the retention of the tax exemption for artists in its current state?

Mr. Sutton

The door at the Department of Education and Science must constantly be knocked on to ensure from the beginning that the arts are a feature and a factor of young people's education.

I agree. The door will be locked on us if we do not leave. I thank the delegation.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.35 p.m. sine die.