Is there any hope at all that the new Minister for the Arts, Josepha Madigan will provide a new and substantial boost of income directly to Irish artists? The biggest boost to the creation of visual art in Ireland in modern times followed the introduction of the Per Cent for Art Scheme (PCAS) in 1986 (see the Irish Arts Review Summer 2002). But that was a long time ago and this source declined with the cut-backs in public building in recent years. So a possible initiative for the Minister would be to extend the PCAS scheme (or some variety thereof) to new commercial buildings. At the same time, a restructuring of the overall responsibility for the Visual Arts sector, perhaps to include both the OPW and the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCoI), might cut administrative costs and ensure that designers are at the centre of support in this whole sector.
It is certainly incongruous for the Arts Council (whose experience and competency in the ‘sectors’ of Music and Drama is long established) to hold overall responsibility for the allocation of funds to the Visual Arts when its mandate appears to exclude the subject, or ‘sector,’ of Design altogether. It would appear that some part of government bureaucracy classifies design as a skill whereas another recognises it as an art form. When she was chairperson of what is now called the DCCoI, Laura Magahy recognised this dichotomy and changed the name of the then Crafts Council to the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland. She also managed to secure €5 million added support for the design sector – which came however, not from the Department of Arts, but from the Department of Education and Skills, and then only temporarily. The importance of design in Arts Education is now fully recognised and significantly it is now prioritised as a favoured subject for students enrolling in NCAD. But the Government allocation to the whole of DCCOI is now reduced to a pitiable €3 million per annum.
Right now, there are very low expectations in the arts community that, despite the recovery in the economy, any further support for the Visual Arts is coming their way. Funds for arts buildings perhaps but no indication at all of extra support for the artists and designers themselves.
On page six we have featured an impressive piece of new sculpture Eyes For You created by Sligo-born artist Eileen Mac Donagh which was made possible through a PCAS- type arrangement with Dublin City Council and the building company Cairn Homes. And this month a spectacular new sculpture by Eilish O’Connell Unfurled is due to be installed in the courtyard at 10 Molesworth Street, Dublin by the builders IPUT plc. So without recourse to the Exchequer, such extended possibilities of patronage to artists are obviously possible if facilitated by the powers that be. Meantime, of course, as suggested by Vivienne Roche in the Irish Arts Review Spring edition, the cap of €64,000 in the ongoing PCAS scheme should be urgently ‘reviewed’ – as indeed was promised by the former Minister for Arts last year.