The Arts Council’s mandate is pretty straight forward. To quote the relevant Act of 2003 the Arts Council is empowered ‘to assist in the development or advancement of the arts and for that purpose to advance such amount of monies as it determines to such persons, or in respect of such activities, as it considers appropriate out of monies at its disposal upon terms and conditions as it determines’. This year, the Arts Council has about €65 million to distribute and, as usual, the bulk of that will go to the established favourites in the regularly funded category which includes the big theatres and festivals which take the lion’s share every year. After that there is a myriad of other categories under which the council groups the smaller grants towards local ‘events’ and ‘initiatives’ and ‘awards’. Sad to say, the Visual Arts ‘sector’, taken as a whole, ranks far down in the AC’s distribution of patronage. But to its credit, the AC has always allocated well over 10% of its annual resources direct to individual artists so that it also distributes multiple small awards and bursaries to individuals and, of course, the €2.5 million paid via Aosdána (An affiliation of creative artists in Ireland) goes direct to those 150 Aosdána members who also qualify for the Cnuas.
The terms and conditions under which the Arts Council allocates the many millions to large organisations throughout the country naturally call for appropriate controls and monitoring of progress which is rightly applied in the distribution of substantial public funds. But the allocation of small amounts to individuals, and particularly to creative artists who have been recognized for their substantial contribution to the arts in this country, surely calls for a more sensitive and personal approach. Sadly, such sensitivity appears to have been lacking in the sudden cancelation, recently revealed, of the Cnuas payment to such a distinguished artist as Patrick Pye (88). True, the council had just adopted a new classification for entitlement to the renewal of his €17,000 pa stipend. And Yes, Pye had innocently and honestly informed the council about the failing condition of his eyesight. But did no one within the AC’s extensive bureaucracy stop to consider its duty of care to this exceptional artist whose creativity has been expressed also through his writings on the arts such as Has Art any Meaning back in 1962, his Apples and Angels in 1980 and his extraordinary book on El Greco The Time Gatherer in 1991? In an article in this publication in Spring 2013, the late Stephen McKenna PPRHA wrote of Pye’s ‘rightful place in the front rank of contemporary painters’. He was elected a member of Aosdána in 1981 and a full member of the RHA in 1991. *
In launching her Creative Ireland Programme earlier this year, the Minister for the Arts quite rightly declared that ‘Culture and creativity are the greatest assets of any society’ and added that ‘it is our duty to do everything we can to unleash the full creative potential of our people’. Surely it is the duty of the Arts Council to treasure and protect the relatively few truly creative artists we have in this country? As we all know, if Beethoven’s patrons had neglected him after he lost his hearing, he might never have created his Ninth Symphony.
- For further reading see Patrick Pye: a counter culture story by Brian McAvera. Four Courts Press 2013.