Sunday 4 December 2016

Slashing arts would make us even poorer

The State faces financial ruin, and cuts will affect artists, but an audit should consider more than euro and cent. By Siobhan Creaton

Published 04/11/2010 | 05:00

Successful theatre producer, Pat Moylan, could find her reign as chairwoman of the Arts Council cut brutally short if the Minister for Finance takes the axe to this body next month.

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But the woman who produced hit shows such as 'Stones in his Pockets' and 'I, Keano' says slashing the arts would make us even poorer.

Moylan finds herself at the forefront of the campaign to preserve and nurture Ireland's artists at a time when the Irish State is facing financial ruin.

Their funding will be cut, perhaps drastically, and this will be felt for years to come, she says.

"We are poor, financially, now but I think we would be much poorer without the arts. Audits of this country can't just take into consideration euro and cent. They also have to take the arts into that package," according to Moylan.

The Arts Council is in the firing line as part of the Budget cuts recommended in the Bord Snip Nua report. Ever since economist Colm McCarthy pointed the finger at the more than €100m in savings the Government could find by transferring the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism's functions to other departments Moylan and her colleagues have been braced for the worst.

Government funding for the Arts Council has already been significantly cut this year to €68m, a 22pc reduction on 2009, and future monies will be in even shorter supply.

"At €68m we are back to 2005 funding levels," she explains.

"If that is reduced further then we will fall back to the levels seen in the 1990s and that will affect jobs and the output of the arts. You can't have such a big reduction and not see the change".

Difficult times

Artists are people with mortgages and families who face difficult times too, she says.

"They are people who never experienced the Celtic Tiger in the way some others did. They didn't have lavish expense accounts, investments in bank shares or pensions. Cuts affect their bread and butter," she said.

It is important to support this part of the economy, in her view. Arts Council funding is dispersed throughout Ireland directly supporting 3,000 jobs. It provides money for festivals, concerts, plays, readings, traditional music sessions and exhibitions amongst other activities.

"Without Arts Council funding, a great number of these festivals would die and severely damage the local economy of many communities," she says.

Moylan knows all about the vagaries of earning a living in the arts world.

In the 1980s she started running the Andrews Lane Theatre in Dublin city centre and bought it a few years later. "I didn't have an Arts Council grant," she says.

"I had to find ways to raise money. It was a big marketing job to get Andrews Lane known as a venue and we didn't have the posh facilities of the other theatres but we wanted to be the friendliest theatre in Dublin."

Getting a business off the ground is always a difficult task, Moylan says, but if you are passionate about something you will make it happen.

"I feel really lucky that I never thought of it as a job. I was doing something that I really loved or was trying to get to a position where I was trying to make something happen."

Together with Breda Cashe, she also founded Lane Productions, a theatre company that would bring hits such as 'Stones in his Pockets', 'I, Keano' and the 'Shawshank Redemption', to London's West End and to Broadway.

"It was really difficult to get investment for 'Stones in his Pockets'. I raised €2,500 here and €5,000 there. It went on to play in the West End for four years," she says, bringing a nice return for the play's backers.

The soccer musical 'I, Keano', about Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy at the 2002 World Cup, was a risky venture that quickly became a rousing success.

Exciting time

"I remember reading Arthur Mathews' script on holidays on the beach and while I knew nothing about football I just kept laughing and laughing. I knew there was a gem of an idea in there. That was a very exciting time," says Moylan.

"I never did anything for money. I did it for love," she adds.

"Andrews Lane was my baby. I don't have children. I bought it because I loved it, not because I thought it was a good commercial decision."

But it turned out to be a highly lucrative investment that would pay off handsomely when property developers had millions of euro at their disposal to buy sites.

By then, Andrews Lane Theatre was a physical wreck. Moylan says she lost count of the number of times the roof was patched as the foundations couldn't shoulder a new one.

And when torrential rain leaked in to destroy a grand piano hired for the stage in early 2007 that was the final straw.

"I thought that was it" she says. "I can't do this any longer. This has to go."

It was an emotional decision to sell but the timing couldn't have been better.

Within a few months, a group of developers paid €7.5m for the building and Moylan brought the curtain down on her labour of love.

Flush with cash, she was ready to take a "gap year" she says to figure out her next move.

A phone call from former Arts Minister Martin Cullen to invite her to chair the Arts Council, she says, was a total surprise that seemed to unveil itself as her next challenge.

"It's like going back to college" she says "I am learning so much..

Cutbacks

Moylan is braced for cutbacks but is also looking forward to the wealth of new creative expression that captures Ireland's current economic woes.

"This is one of the first times the ordinary man on the street has an opportunity to talk about finances. Now everybody is reading the financial pages.

"We didn't know about bank shares and the ISEQ index before. These words have all come into our vocabulary in the past few years and we will see a different kind of expression that would never arise otherwise."

The arts are what makes us distinctive and different as a society, she says. They are vital to bind Irish people together in tough times.

"They are part and parcel of who we are. They are part of our tradition and our history. It is the way we tell our stories and we need the arts more than ever in a recession," according to Moylan.

"What would this country be like if we didn't have theatre, music or books? If we didn't have any of that new stuff coming through we would be a much poorer nation".

Irish Independent

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