That Seanad Éireann in view of the partial access through private provision for the Arts that is available to children, calls on the Minister for Education and the Government to commit themselves to speedy implementation during the term of the present Government of the Benson report on the Arts in Education so as to enable the children of this country to have access to the Arts as part of their normal development through the curriculum of the school system with the inevitable result of there being a much more widespread enjoyment and appreciation of the Arts in Ireland and above all so much more opportunity for the increased development of the personality and that it further notes the Brinson report —The Dancer and the Dance— and the Herron report —Deaf Ears— which develop the proposals of the Benson report in the respective areas of theatre, dance and music.
This motion in the name of Labour Party Senators, including myself, draws attention to the state of the arts in Ireland at present. That is its general purpose, but it has within that a more specific intent. It is to pose a series of questions as to what proposals there are to redress the present situation whereby the average child cannot look forward to having access to an introduction to the arts through the educational system. In its first sentence it makes reference to the situation that prevails which is one of private access to the arts — private provision for partial access. First, there is no apparent policy commitment to putting in place exposure to the arts in the full developmental sense as a major policy provision.
Secondly, where partial access is involved, it is purchased privately. I have written elsewhere about this and I have drawn a distinction between the facilities which a child might have for exposure to the arts through education and what might be called child improvement. One has only to contrast the difference between an educational system which would accept that the arts were a normal part of development — that provision should be made for them in the curriculum; that buildings should be flexibly designed so as to make possible the practise of the arts; that teachers should be trained so as to be able to create access to the arts; that conditions should prevail in relation to sums of money for instruments and so forth — and that which prevails at weekends or evenings midweek in Ireland.
What I think takes place is that well-meaning parents enrol their children in ballet, piano lessons, dance lessons, bouzouki lessons, violin lessons and so on, saying, as they often do to their neighbours, that the piano lessons will stand to her when she grows up or they thought the child should have dancing lessons. I call that child improvement — partial access to the arts in a country that has not put a commitment to the arts firmly in place. It is not a substitute for an arts policy.
This resolution makes reference to three reports, the Benson report of 1979 which drew attention to a whole series of reports which had preceded it and drew attention to the centrality of arts in the normal development of the child and in more recent times two further reports, one dealing with dance — the Brinson report — and the Herron report which dealt with provision for music education in Ireland. The third report was entitled Deaf Ears.
The purpose of the motion, therefore, is to ask a series of questions initially. The one upon which the motion is built in the first place is the fundamental question: why the arts in the first place? Why an interest in the arts? I can provoke a question in a stronger way. Should we ask this question: why make provision for the arts? In terms of unemployment, is it a question that should be asked only in terms of economic growth? For example, can the list I have mentioned in the first model of provision for the arts in education be defeated by the simple statement that there is no money for all of this? Secondly, who should have access? Should there be general access to formation in the arts or should there be partial access? Thirdly, how should that access be provided?
What are the implications for a society where one has to purchase the right to have an aural capacity to be able to listen to music, a visual capacity, a capacity to move, to have access to all the usual repertoire of creative development? What are the consequences for personality? What is the relationship between, for example, the total effect on the school and other subjects? It is said that we teach geography very creatively, that we even teach a little creativity in history. I do not doubt any of that, but in moving the motion I am interested in the answers to these fundamental questions. Finally, and the initial question: who should pay? The entire society suffers in a system where only those who can pay privately have the kind of experiences I mentioned.
I might answer these questions in the few words that I have to say but there are other more practical questions on which I would like to hear some answers. I thank the Minister for Education for his presence here this evening because he is probably in a position, more than anybody, to answer my questions. What is the present status of the Benson report published in 1979 on Arts in Education? I am not interested in the present state of development of the Curriculum of Examinations Board. I am interested in the broader proposals of the Benson report. Also, what general proposals exist in relation to an arts policy, because in fairness to the Department of Education, it would be difficult to have a policy for arts in the schools if there were not a clear arts policy relating to arts generally within society. Finally, which is the most mundane matter in so far as the third question has implications for the first two: what is the present thinking of the Cabinet in relation to the proportion of funds which will be provided in the normal provision next year for the arts in education or through the most exotic source of the proceeds from the national lottery?
To return to the questions I posed for myself in the beginning, John Benson in his report prepared for the Arts Council in 1979, quoted Professor Bodkin's report of 1949 on the arts in Ireland as follows:
In Irish schools, the subject of art, in either the historical or the practical aspect, is neglected. Few of the principal schools and colleges, for either boys or girls, employ trained teachers to deal with it, or possess the requisite accommodation and equipment for the purpose.
It is now 1986 and I am encouraged to ask: how many inspectors within the Department of Education now deal specifically with the question of arts in education? How many and to what purpose? How many schools do they deal with and so on? The introduction to the Benson report also quoted a report by a Scandinavian group on design in Ireland which noted:
The Irish schoolchild is visually and artistically among the most under-educated in Europe...
It quoted the Richards report of 1976 entitled "Provision for the Arts" which stated:
More needs to be done to persuade boys' schools to provide music courses; their neglect of music is an affront to education standards.
The report did not simply repeat other reports and draw pessimistic conclusions. It spoke about a number of initiatives that might be taken. A great debate then started about changing the curriculum.
I am very worried, and it is one of the reasons this motion is down here, because there seems to be an absence of an explicit commitment to the proposals contained in the Benson Report. Even far less is there a commitment to a time scale in which it might be implemented. Are the fundamentals of the report accepted? Which sections of the proposals are not accepted? What is the time scale on the implementation of those that are accepted and how do they relate to other initiatives that might be taken in relation to the arts?
The Brinson report, The Dancer and the Dance, in answering why we should be interested in the arts and have arts in the curriculum, listed six reasons that had been given in an earlier report of the Gulbenkian Foundation under the heading of Arts in Education. The six reasons it gave were:
1. They are necessary to develop the full variety of human intelligence in all its different modes. We need all the modes and languages of communications.
2. They enhance capability and adaptability. Thus, times of economic depression are times for more not less expenditure on the Arts.
3. They encourage the education of feeling and sensibility.
That third reason draws attention to the false contract between reason and imagination in the school system — this deadly cancer so present in Irish education for so long, that it is only when one has order, rote learning and total authoritarian control, that one has true education taking place.
The Gulbenkian report and other reports have suggested that it is in an atmosphere of relaxation when one has a flexible environment, more participation by the child, flexible movement by the teacher and facilities for using imagination, that learning can take place. These arguments are not defeated by suggesting that there has been such a change in the larger society, that our children are now not able to be educated except in conditions of greater control and so on. I am simply making the case without being contentious. To suggest that reason and imagination cannot be combined in the curriculum is a very false notion.
The fourth point is that:
The Arts in education facilitate a sense of discovery in relation to values. It is by exploring values that we extend our humanity in conditions of change.
Values that are discovered within and through the application of the arts in education thus extend to other subjects, developing a curiosity. The fifth point indicates that the arts in education facilitate the true understanding of what constitutes culture and identity. One would imagine that at a time when we are living under a far more global version of communications than we had previously, there is a greater case for the arts in education, so that we might explore a modern identity, given the specifics of our environment in history, and equally that we might develop an openness and a tolerance to other cultures and be able to absorb what is best.
Sixth, the arts in education facilitate the development of physical and perceptual skills that are needed to function in the world of work and more importantly in a world of no work, a world in which one might have to define activity that is simply not rewarded for productive purposes. We might be tempted to say "do we not all agree with that?". I must draw on some of my experience as chairman of the Galway-Mayo regional arts board for seven years. When a committee of which I was chairman applied for a grant to run a seminar on dance and physical education, we were told straightforwardly that dance had nothing to do with physical education. We went ahead and we were inundated with applications to attend the seminar and lo and behold an innovative genius decided to run a seminar on physical education that very weekend in the other corner of the country and it became quite difficult for physical education teachers to attend the seminar were were running. That kind of inflexibility is symptomatic of a total failure to understand what arts in education are all about.
The failure to define creativity is what lies behind much of the failure to define an arts policy. The country is reeling along in an old bogus belief that all creativity is a matter of individual genius. Individual genius there is, but most creativity is something that is acquired and something that is established in a social transaction with others. Artists will tell us that, but reflected in the lay phrase "she always had it in her or he had it in him," is the idea that one could say some magic words and what was inside would come out. It is not just a primitive view of creativity, it is a profoundly ignorant view and it is too prevalent. It justified the notion that only the best and the brightest chosen by God or somebody else could develop a sense of dance, theatre, music, writing or whatever, and it was responsible for asserting this private view of creativity rather than a social view of creativity. It helped put down the notion that all children could develop and that all children could develop wonderfully from exposure to the arts. It is that that has led to having an inadequate and totally unsatisfactory provision within the school system and to having what exists as a supplement to that, an obsessional interest in child improvement rather than a general provision in the arts.
I will give an example. Once in my capacity as chairman of that committee when a ballet teacher had ceased to provide ballet classes in Galway city, my wife and I set about finding a teacher and a venue in which ballet classes might continue and hundreds of children came. Then a dance company was coming from Wexford, and we handed out hand bills to invite parents to come, and about 11 came. They were delivering hundreds of these children for the child improvement dancing classes but, God bless them, they had had no opportunity of ever understanding the importance of dance in its own right.
Thankfully, attitudes are changing and it is now common belief that those who had no opportunity of being exposed to the arts suffer for it. Exposure to the arts encourages people inevitably, to greater degrees of tolerance. I am not drawing a deliberately negative picture, I have to draw it, because if one waits seven years for a commitment on one report that I mention here, one is entitled to be as strong as I am in making the points that I am making. I do not accept that partial improvements on some of the proposals constitute a reply.
In relation to music provision, if one looks at countries that have the same gross national product as Ireland, in which the average earnings are roughly the same, and in which the budget on education is the same and one compares like with like, one must immediately notice the underprovision there is for music in the Irish educational system. For example, if a child in the west of Ireland wants to develop his interest in music, the only provision in that regard is a university that has neither a department of drama, that has a one year course in music appreciation, and that has no department of art but which calls itself a university college. It would like to have adequate facilities in this area. It has passed resolutions asking for them, but they are not there. What one can do is that one can have a collection among the neighbours and one can hope for a patron, some Medici from some village in the west of Ireland, or you can have your own private loot to transport your child to Dublin for music lessons. If you want evidence of all this you can take out the report, Deaf ears, and look at the percentage of pupils participating at primary and secondary level. The lack of provision in some community and comprehensive schools is most tragic.
The story is told in the Herron report. The number of inhabitants in Norway is 3.8 million. The number of official schools of music is 193. The number of inhabitants per music school is 19,900. In Denmark there are 4.9 million people; there are 207 schools of music; and the number of inhabitants per music school is 23,700. In Finland there are 4.7 million people; there are 82 music schools, and the number of inhabitants per music school is 57,300. In Ireland the number of inhabitants is 3.4 million; there are four schools of music; and there are 850,000 inhabitants per music school. That tells a story. Either you believe that the right to have access to developed aural sense, to be able to listen to music, is something that belongs democratically to every family and every child in every area, or you do not. We have decided — whether it was official policy or not — that we would exclude the majority of children in a great part of the country from the opportunity to develop an aural sense.
In relation to The Dancer and the Dance, the third report to which I referred, that simply repeats the general case for the arts in education but it goes on to look at the specific case in relation to dancers and to the whole treatment of dance. I have no doubt in my mind that dance, like everything else, is now rising in popularity, overcoming enormous prejudices based on sexism and based on definitions of what is appropriate male and female participation. It is probably the one area which has the least provision made for it within the building section of the Department of Education.
Here I want to make a statement which I would like to have refuted for the sake of my own edification. I am interested in the buildings that have been erected in the modern period. I notice how few flexible walls there are in them, so that, for example, you would have rooms that might be turned into theatres. I am interested in the kind of floors that have been put in so that you could, for example, practise dancing without breaking any bones, elbows, ankles or whatever, or doing yourself severe muscular damage. There are very few. In fact, the absence of a commitment or policy on the arts feeds into an absence of an explicit policy for curriculum inclusion. The failure to extend the curriculum inclusion and create access is reflected even in the physical setting of education. It is reflected equally, of course, in the professional training of teachers, the requirements that are there in relation to the release of people for in-service training and so forth.
I put down this resolution to ask for unanimous support from Members of the Seanad and to indicate to the Minister for Education and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for arts that they would have our support. Money must be provided in the Estimates for the arts in general and particularly for arts in education. I will conclude by mentioning what I feel are some of the missing elements of the arts policy in general. One of the problems is that it must begin by taking on some of the issues which the Benson review of previous reports dealt with. That is the definition of creativity itself in a social sense. It must accept that there is a developmental purpose in the arts which spills over into other areas and that the inter-school system will benefit from the placing of the arts at their centre. This will require co-operation from trade unions and from people who manage schools in releasing people to be retained, and so on, to develop competences in this area.
What is needed is a comprehensive philosophy of the arts. I am particularly worried that when private provision is made for the arts a number of things happen. For a start a certain aspect of the arts does not get developed. You may ask what are the public supporting at present. The answer is that they are supporting very much an extraordinary explosion in community arts, redefining the phrase "access to the arts". They are not talking about access to a building. They are talking about being able to participate in the arts as a formative part of their own lives. That is what people are asking for. One needs a strategy and a policy in relation to provision for the arts.
On 1 July 1986 the Minister of State, Deputy Nealon, wrote to me about the provision of an arts centre and theatre in Galway city. He told me that the Director of the Arts Council had indicated that "the Council is most actively considering this matter at present and that it is hopeful of concluding its deliberations before the end of the summer". He went on to point out that £897,000 had been expended by the Arts Council in the Galway area. I was grateful for that information but I would even be more enthusiastic if I knew there was an arts policy in place. As somebody involved in the arts for a good number of years, I think the very worst thing that could happen in relation to the arts would be the disbursement of sums outside the framework of a coherent policy. A coherent policy should take on board a number of responsibilities of a moral kind in relation to the place of the artist in Irish society. There is a great deal of guff about the position of the artist in Irish society. Among the common assumptions associated with that guff is that idea that artists can live on air.
In 1980 a survey entitled "Living and Working Conditions of Artists" was initiated to their credit. It was a three volume report commissioned by the Arts Council and reported in 1980. It gave the living conditions of artists which were an indictment of Irish society. The number of them who were living on an income of several hundred pounds was a scandal. In that regard the Association of Artists in Ireland in their report entitled "Crisis in the Arts" published in 1984 made many recommendations. I have time to deal with only one. It is their recommendation in relation to the living conditions of artists. In that report there was a very specific suggestion. It was that Ireland should take the example of the Federal Republic of Germany under the influence of suggestions from the European Commission that the living conditions of artists be improved. I believe we should follow that example.
I am very worried about the fact that many artists provide a great stimulus to the arts all of their lives, but they have not the necessary social welfare contributions to give them the normal entitlements in times of sickness and old age. This is slightly extraneous to the motion, but it is something about which I feel very strongly and it is a human point. From attending different arts openings and so forth — and in my time I must have opened over 100 exhibitions — I am continually faced with young artists who are about to reach the peak of their career and who, if assisted, will turn out to be established artists of immense reputation. But more and more I am meeting people I met at the beginning of my own career who are past the high point of their career and who now look forward to penury. I have examined the provision made in the different artistic trusts and I find that even the trusts themselves, the wills and the bequests that have been made, are heavily geared towards the emerging artist. There is very little for the artist who is over the age of 50 or 60 years and who has not got adequate contributions. I would have liked if, for example, all the private trusts involved in the arts had set aside a portion of their funds to make provision for the retirement of people who had given their lives to the promotion of the arts.
The social welfare code should be amended in the light of what I have suggested so that recognised artists would be regarded as State employees, their contributions could be accredited and they could look forward to retirement with dignity.
I will come back to the thrust of the motion. The motion is about the vacuum that is created in the absence of an arts policy and there being, apparently, no full response to the implications of the Benson report. All the later reports acknowledge that the Benson report is the base document from which you must depart. The other docuiments — Senators can add others in — dealt with music and dance. I am trying to develop in this resolution, and in initiating the debate, the case for implementing the Benson report. It is simply suggesting that the arts are general rather than specific, that the arts can be appreciated in a social context, drawing from a social theory of creativity rather than an individual one. A spiritual dimension to one's life is released through the arts. It is fascinating to note the consequences of regarding the spiritual as being circumscribed entirely by the religious and there being no other opportunities for the exercise of imagination and so forth.
Finally, there is the question about curriculum reform. There should be provision, within the school system, within the new curriculum at all levels, for the arts. I know and welcome every single innovation that has been made. However, let me draw a distinction about innovations that have been introduced by individual teachers and the private collections that have taken place for instruments and so forth. I acknowledge those but I do not regard those as policy that has been supported by financial provision. If we make this commitment, it will pay us even better in times of depression and lack of employment because the people who will leave the school system will be far more balanced, far more flexible and far more sensitive, and will be gifted in intra-personal skills. Most important, we will have created a public who will go on to provide a far more appreciative audience for all of the arts in the decades to come. For those purposes I move the motion on behalf of the signatories.