Why is it that the Arts and Culture ‘sector’, which politicians repeatedly claim is so essential to our economy, failed to attract attention during the general election? The voluntary organization National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA), where the steering committee is currently comprised of Jo Mangan, Philomena Byrne, Madeline Boughton, Vincent Dempsey, Kate Howard, Fiach MacConghail, and Emer McGarry, published a manifesto during the election with very specific objectives including the fundamental one ‘to lift Ireland off the bottom of the European league for government investment in culture and the arts’. At present we spend only 0.1% of GDP on culture and the arts compared to the European average of 0.6%. And that really says it all but the NCFA has a list of other objectives relating to education, local authorities, the National Lottery and most importantly to the need for an expert panel of independent artists/cultural managers to function as policy and strategy advisors to the Minister for the Arts. The NCFA has a current membership of almost 1,300 members and they were organized on a constituency basis during the election to lobby for the organization’s objectives. But the sector as a whole, because of its diverse nature and fragmented constituents has never managed to assert itself in political terms. The depressing reality is that few politicians consider the culture and arts sector as having any political clout.
In fact, the cultural sector has a really strong case to make just in terms of the economic advantages. Apart from the obvious relevance to the promotion of tourism, there are massive possibilities to be had from the development of an English-speaking cultural zone in an EU capital city which has no legacy of ill feeling hanging over from colonial/imperialist days. The recently formed Confucius Institute for Ireland in UCD provides one example of the potential in this area.
It’s tough for a voluntary organization like NCFA to operate consistently without a guaranteed income support. Jo Mangan who is the chair of NCFA (and has the day job of Director of Carlow Arts Festival) would appreciate all contributions.
John Mulcahy is the Editor of the Irish Arts Review.