Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Questions (21)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

21. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the details of the additional responsibilities given to the Arts Council following budget 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45671/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Culture)

Will the Minister provide details of the additional responsibilities given to the Arts Council following budget 2020 and provide a statement on the matter?

Under the Arts Act 2003, the arts are defined as any creative or interpretative expression and include the visual arts, theatre, literature, music, dance, opera, film, circus and architecture. The responsibilities of the Arts Council are laid out in section 9 of the Act. They are to stimulate public interest in the arts; promote knowledge, appreciation and practice of the arts; assist in improving standards in the arts; advise the Minister on the performance of any of his or her functions under this Act, when so requested by the Minister; assist the Minister in the performance of his or her functions under this Act and in the implementation of Government policies and objectives in respect of the arts, when so requested; furnish advice or information to a Minister of the Government, including the Minister, on any matter connected with its functions, whenever the council considers it appropriate or is requested to so do by the Minister; furnish advice or information to a public body on any matter connected with its functions, whenever the council considers it appropriate or is requested to so do by the public body concerned; and co-operate with a public body in on any matter connected with its functions, whenever the council considers it appropriate.

These functions have not changed. In budget 2020, I announced an increase in council funding of 6.7%, bringing its annual allocation to €80 million. In consultation with the council, a number of funded initiatives, such as Culture Night, will be transferred to it from the Department. Culture Night was an idea originally developed by my Department and grown from a small scale Dublin event to a national cultural event that has captured both the public imagination and the enthusiasm of artists and arts organisations. Given its national status, it is now appropriate to transfer it to the Arts Council. Other initiatives are under similar consideration and the final list will be agreed with the council in time for the publication of the Revised Estimates Volume before the end of the year.

In the Minister's press release following budget 2020, we were advised the Arts Council's role was to be broadened. We were told it would take over the Department's role regarding both Culture Night and creative schools. However, it is not clear whether this is the total extent of the broadening of its role or whether it is envisaged other initiatives will be transferred to its remit. Will the Minister clarify that and whether funding from other organisations will be relocated from the Department to the Arts Council?

The funding breakdown remains a matter for discussion with the council and we are in ongoing discussion with it. The precise breakdown of the €5 million remains under consideration but we have stated it includes €1.25 million in additional funding to enhance the work of the council to support performing artists, art festivals, street arts and family events. This funding also includes €3.75 million reallocated from within the Department's existing Vote. It will further underpin the council's role, particularly regarding Culture Night and creative schools. Details of this allocation, as I said in my initial reply, will be finalised in the context of the Revised Estimates Volume, which will be published later this year.

In general, the Arts Council, where possible, should be delivering all initiatives relating to the arts. That would allow the council to ensure interventions in the arts sector are complementary to each other and are delivered as a strategic whole. There may be occasions where this is not straightforward to achieve, for example, where we are engaged in cross-cutting or interdisciplinary initiatives to support broader creative objectives such as under the Creative Ireland programme.

The Minister has made the point that the €1.2 million funding to enhance the work of the Arts Council to support performing artists and the €3.7 million funding are reallocations of funds. It is a bit disingenuous to say that the council's funding has been increased by €5 million when all the Minister has done is given it the remit to do what it should have been doing in the first place, which is to deliver Culture Night and creative schools.

The council is the main funding agency for arts and artists and it plays a critical role in directing funding. It was established by statute to do this. Research by Theatre Forum into pay and conditions for performing artists earlier this year showed that one third earn less than the minimum wage and that work in the performing arts sector is characterised by poor working conditions and precarious employment. It was hoped that budget 2020 would have a positive impact on the living conditions for artists. Can the Minister outline how she envisages the budget will improve the income for artists?

It is a bit disingenuous of the Deputy to make that comment when her party cut funding for the arts by €67 million, from €206 million to €139 million, which was a cut of 33%.

The Minister's party has been in government for eight years.

Given the difficult budgetary environment in the context of Brexit, the Arts Council is pleased, as it stated in its press release, with the announcement of €80 million in funding for 2020. The precise breakdown will be finalised before the publication of the Revised Estimates Volume later this year. The funding will also strengthen the reach of council's role, particularly regarding the arts in education, for which it will then take on responsibility, as well as Culture Night. It will beef up its remit. To a certain extent, it will add further gravitas to the organisation. The €80 million funding is the most significant amount it has received in more than a decade.