Culture Ireland: Discussion

The committee is now in public session. This session has been convened for a Culture Ireland presentation by the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with special responsibility for new communities, culture and equality and drug strategies, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. I welcome the Minister of State and his officials and I invite him to make his presentation.

I thank the Chairman and the committee for inviting us to attend. I will begin by showing members a short promotional video about Culture Ireland.

The joint committee viewed an audio-visual presentation.

Culture Ireland was set up under the then Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2005 to promote Irish arts and artists worldwide. As Culture Ireland marks a decade in operation, it is timely to examine its performance and set clear goals for its future.

Culture Ireland’s strategy is to provide support for the international presence of Irish artists and arts organisations, develop new and diverse international audiences and markets for Irish arts and, in tandem with other relevant State agencies and as reflected in the expert advisory committee, link culture into the overall Government international promotional strategy. The expert advisory committee operates on a non-statutory basis and is comprised of representatives from the arts sector, the Irish Film Board, the Arts Council, IDA Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Generating career opportunities for Irish artists and raising the international profile and awareness of Ireland’s creativity is at the core of what Culture Ireland does. Further, there is a concerted effort to maximise the potential of culture as a leading motivator for tourism to Ireland and to utilise Ireland's cultural profile as a driver of trade and investment.

During the past ten years, Culture Ireland has supported over 4,000 events across 100 countries involving Irish theatre makers, musicians, singers, writers, dancers, visual artists and film-makers, presenting their work to audiences around the world. Culture Ireland gives financial support to approximately 400 events annually through its regular grant rounds for support of global presentation across all art forms. To date in 2015, Culture Ireland has generated the equivalent of 151 full-time jobs for artists abroad. By the end of the year, this is expected to have risen to in excess of 250 full-time jobs from the annual investment of €2.5 million. It is important to stress that 95% of Culture Ireland's funding is given directly to Irish artists for their travel costs. This support generally leverages other support and sponsorship, with artists’ fees usually covered by income generated at the international venues' box office.

Culture Ireland has delivered high-profile events and special initiatives such as Imagine Ireland, a year-long programme in the US in 2011, the Culture Programme for Ireland's Presidency of the EU in 2013 and the Centenary International Culture Programme for 2016 which will be covered in more detail later. Culture Ireland also arranges cultural events around visits by members of the Government and by the President abroad. Most notable in recent times was the Ceiliúradh concert in London in 2014 to mark the President's visit to Great Britain. There was an audience of 5,000 people for this concert and it attracted 4.7 million television viewers in Ireland and Great Britain. In December 2014, to mark the State visit to China by President Higgins, Culture Ireland arranged an evening of poetry, music and dance in the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing.

Culture Ireland’s showcase programme is a strategic arm of the division. It creates and builds new opportunities for Irish artists to present their work at key international festivals and venues by engaging directly with international presenters. The primary purpose of the showcase programme is to present high-quality work by Irish artists which is export-ready and to build contacts and opportunities for touring with leading presenters and promoters. Culture Ireland actively promotes the showcase programme to presenters, targets contacts to see work, makes introductions for Irish artists and establishes partnerships and relationships with key venues in which to present work.

Irish work is showcased at international markets such as: the traditional music market at Celtic Connections in Glasgow every January; rock and indie music at SXSW in Austin, Texas every March; wider music at the World Music Expo, WOMEX; literature at Frankfurt Bookfair; art and architecture at the Venice Biennales; and theatre at the Edinburgh festivals, where year after year Irish artists have attracted awards in what is a competitive marketplace.

Culture Ireland also supports incoming buyers annually to see work at the Dublin Theatre Festival, the Dublin Dance Festival and the Hard Working Class Heroes music festival. To date, this year it has supported more than 100 buyers and presenters to visit Ireland to attend the following festivals and select works for international presentation: the 12 Points Festival jazz festival, the Temple Bar Tradfest, the Choice Music Awards, the Dublin International Film Festival, the Dublin Dance Festival, the Galway Film Fleadh, the Dublin Fringe Festival, the Dublin Theatre Festival and the Hard Working Class Heroes music festival. Each of these showcases has yielded positive results in new contracts for artists.

St. Patrick’s Day is a key time for Culture Ireland to deliver globally across all artistic platforms, taking account of Government priorities and proposed visits. In 2015, for example, Culture Ireland allocated funding in excess of €200,000 to support more than 50 events in 22 countries. The culture programme coincides in many locations with visits by key Government-led delegations, which ensures the maximum impact can be generated through the investment.

Culture Ireland funds a number of key organisations on an annual basis. They are the Ireland Literature Exchange which arranges for the translation of Irish literature into other languages; the Irish Film Institute which provides Irish films for festivals and venues worldwide; as well as the arts programme in Ireland's two international arts centres, namely, Centre Culturel in Paris and the Irish Arts Centre in New York.

Culture Ireland's annual funding in 2014 and 2015 was €2.5 million. In 2016 its allocation will be doubled to €5 million to enable it to deliver a special international programme as part of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme which will have a special focus on key territories, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is for our artists and their talents that Ireland is known globally and for 2016 I am committed to the special programme, I am Ireland, a copy of which members should have in front of them. It is inspired by the opening line of one of Pearse's poems, Mise Éire. I am Ireland speaks of a contemporary Ireland and will involve young and established artists presenting at international festivals and venues. The interest in Irish artistic excellence continues to grow internationally and 2016 will offer the opportunity to build on Ireland's cultural connections and share many special and diverse events with audiences around the world.

Culture Ireland works on a cross-agency basis, most notably with Tourism Ireland and the embassy network, to raise the profile of the Irish arts globally. Irish artists continue to excel and win awards and critical acclaim on the world stage. Culture Ireland plays a key role in Ireland’s international promotional strategy, generating jobs for artists, creating an awareness of the strength of Ireland's creativity and supporting artists, Ireland's greatest ambassadors.

I look forward to hearing the contributions of members. I thank the Chairman for allowing me to make the presentation.

One should not rush into the queue. Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Aire Stáit agus cuirim fáilte roimhe anseo tráthnóna inniu. Is mór an faoisimh é go bhfuil Aire againn a bhfuil nach amháin suim aige sa chultúr ach a théann chuig chúrsaí cultúr. Tá a fhios agam é sin le bliain anuas ó ealaíontóirí agus ó dhaoine a bhfuil páirteach sna healaíona. Nuair a théann an tAire Stáit go hócáidí, cuireann sé áthas ar dhaoine agus tugann sé aitheantas don tionscal agus tá sé sin tábhachtach.

I have a couple of questions, but before I ask them, I must make a statement on a potential conflict of interest. Everyone knows me by now. The reason I was appointed by the Taoiseach was to make a contribution in my field. I am director of the Abbey Theatre and on many occasions have gratefully received funding from Culture Ireland to enable many tours abroad, on merit of course, but it is still important to state this. We also receive funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the parent Department of Culture Ireland.

There is a slight modesty in the Minister of State's commentary. It is important to say Culture Ireland has probably been one of the most successful Government agencies in the past ten years, in particular given its small staff. It has an extraordinarily large and increasingly wide reach when it comes to sending work abroad and making this country proud, in particular during the recession and the era of austerity when all we had to show for ourselves abroad was the presence of our artists and culture. It is also fair to say that when other funding was cut, Culture Ireland's indirect funding for the arts helped to sustain the lives and careers of many artists abroad, in particular on tour. It is important to acknowledge this.

It is refreshing to have a Minister of State with responsibility for culture who knows what he is talking about, who attends events and engages with the industry. That has come back to me through my various constituencies. I have a number of questions for the Minister of State. At one point there was an aspiration for Culture Ireland to be put on a statutory basis. The reason that has not happened could have something to do with cost. In a way the Minister of State acknowledged the stability and future sustainability of Culture Ireland by increasing its funding for next year, on which I congratulate him. What are the thoughts on its future in terms of strengthening it, in particular the expert advisory committee? Although I do not hold any negative view on the advisory committee, there was what I would call a ham-fisted transfer from what was an independent board before it, which transferred in Micheál Ó Suilleabháin's second term as chairman. I would like to hear about the status of the committee.

My second question relates to the key global regions. How were the regions picked for next year? Why were the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand picked? Was it because of a particular commemoration or what were the reasons? Are there other regions and territories in the pipeline for inclusion in future years?

I again congratulate the Minister of State on his presentation and the Mise Éire pamphlet.

I thank the Seanadóir for his questions. On the future of Culture Ireland and strengthening it, I came in contact with it for the first time as Minister of State. I have seen the reach and power it has, which is quite remarkable. Figures were given to me earlier today for the level of investment and showing the global reach. A figure was given to me for the cost of sending certain artists to the United States and showing the promotional feedback. The advertising and promotion revenue from it far outstripped the initial investment, which is quite remarkable. The investment was €7 million but €22 million was recouped in media advertising. The media coverage was extensive. For the remainder of the term of the Government and if we continue to be part of the next Government, I am determined to ensure the independence of Culture Ireland will be strictly guarded and strengthened and that it will retain its separate identity as its work is unique. It must maintain its independence in that regard.

Even though there were a number of references in the presentation to the economic worth of Culture Ireland and the fact that it could be connected with trade visits and attracting tourists to the country, the importance of the arts must be protected for what they are, not just for their economic value. As we come out of the economic constraints of the past, to which Senator Fiach Mac Conghail referred, and as we talk about what will happen in the future, we can consider funding for the arts, the type of lifestyle and career one can realistically have in the artistic space - there are many such matters that we must discuss - but Culture Ireland is much more than an add-on to a trade mission. It promotes the artistic and creative space on its own merits and value. Criticism of the arts in this country - perhaps it happens internationally also - is at the top and bottom of every political priority list. When a foreign dignitary comes to the country, we try to promote the economy or the tourism sector and the arts and cultural aspects of the country are given top priority. They are the first things we talk about, yet sometimes when it comes to funding, they can be on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Perhaps it has been given, unfairly and unjustifiably, the sense of being a bit of a luxury where other things are more important. I made the point the other day at another event that the groups I dealt with in my equality role which were on the edges of Irish society and included Travellers, people with an addiction and those suffering from economic disadvantage, all needed the arts and a cultural space in which to express what they were going through and give expression to the human condition. We should not in any way diminish the importance of culture or what Culture Ireland does.

We are looking at the wider 2016 programme linking with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the role of the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, with the diaspora. The locations mentioned will be key areas of connectivity for Ireland next year. That is why they are being mentioned. Many of them are areas in which people speak English and they are the main markets for many of our artists. Recently I have had a lot of contact with the Irish Literature Exchange. It is expanding with the revolution of young writers in Ireland who are beginning to translate their works into many international languages. It is remarkable to see their global reach. The answer to the question on whether we are constrained to these markets is "No", but they will be the main markets and the main areas into which we will try to push during 2016.

The Ceiliúradh held in the Royal Albert Hall last year was an outstandingly successful event, not least for its television audience of almost 5 million people. How extensive was Culture Ireland's involvement in it? I presume other arms of the State were also involved. How much did it cost? Did the money come out of the annual funding of €2.5 million annual or was it special funding supplied outside the annual budget?

How extensive is the interaction between Culture Ireland and our foreign missions? Is the support or assistance for the events mentioned, be they in Paris, New York or Edinburgh, initiated by the organisers of the festivals or the embassies or is the initiative driven by the Department?

The embassy and Tourism Ireland provided special funding of €300,000 for the Ceiliúradh which was curated by Philip King. It was a once off event for a particular reason. The visit by President Higgins to the United Kingdom was of particular historical significance; therefore, a special designation was given to the visit because of this. Anybody who witnessed the event and celebration would have very much been taken by it and would certainly have said it was money well spent and an event worth attending, particularly because of its historical significance.

Will the Chairman, please, repeat his second question?

It was about the level of interaction with foreign missions and embassies. The Minister of State mentioned the arts festival in New York and similar projects in Edinburgh and Paris. I asked about the extent to which our embassies proactively pursue such events. Is the initiative driven by the Department, the organisers of the events or the embassies? What is the extent of the interaction?

Culture Ireland is the driver, but it must have a sense of the embassies and the dynamics of the country. While it is certainly the driver, advice is taken to understand cultural sensitivities or the particular needs of the embassy at the time. Culture Ireland will definitely be the driver and initiator and the organisation promoting funding and allocating resources, but it must take account of what the embassies are thinking and feeling and what they want to do. Culture Ireland is the main body, but everything will happen in consultation and conjunction with other stakeholders.

That concludes our discussion on the matter. I thank the Minister of State and his officials for making themselves available for the presentation to the committee.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.55 p.m. and adjourned at 5.05 p.m. until 2.15 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 November 2015.