Thursday 8 December 2016

Canvassing for the arts

Published 05/03/2011 | 05:00

So the election is over and votes have been cast and counted in exchange for promises made. Whether these promises will be kept is another story. The deciding factor in most people's minds this year was not whether their local library would retain funding but whether they would lose their jobs or their homes.

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Faced with these very real issues, it seemed almost churlish to raise a paw and ask canvassing candidates about their arts policies.

You could even forgive them for pushing their proposals for the arts a bit down the list behind, oh say, the global economic crisis and bank bailout.

It was encouraging to see the main parties come together a few weeks ago to talk about their arts policies even if they all ran along the same vague lines of 'we support the arts in a non-specific way'.

The problem with arts policies is always the detail. They're heavy on statements like 'we are committed to the arts' but light on 'we plan to do a, b and c by this date at this cost'.

Being pro-arts is good for the image, you see (it's called the 'halo effect'). It brings on warm, fuzzy feelings in voters. It's the equivalent of pushing a daisy down the barrel of a gun and it costs nothing to vociferously 'support' the arts.

Fine Gael has a well-researched policy document and one idea to emerge is that of reclaiming NAMA buildings, like Anglo Irish Bank on Stephen's Green, and turning them into cultural centres. It's certainly one of my favourite proposals of the policy but, again, whether we will see this in action is another story.

Labour says it supports the arts too, and this year its policy focuses on the Irish language (which is a nice foil to Fine Gael's proposal to make the language non-compulsory for the Leaving Cert).

The recent spat over the teaching of Irish was met with a cry of 'tír gan teanga, tír gan anam'. In my opinion, a country without arts (and the necessary arts funding) would be just as soulless a place.

I don't want to drag up those hoary old exhibits of our literary pedigree, Joyce and Yeats, Beckett and Shaw, Wilde and Heaney but as a country we've got form. We somehow manage to produce GDP of talent on a scale more suitable to a much bigger population.

What's more, these writers, poets and artists all have a solid commercial effect -- they attract tourists.

They also reinforce our mythical international reputation as a land of scholars, which has been knocked into second place in the last year by a new crown, land of spendthrifts.

Access to the arts makes life a little more liveable, never more so than now. Whether it's the 20 minutes you spend reading a library book on the bus to work or the lunch hour you spend getting lost in a daydream in the National Gallery, in bleak times such as these, art, and arts policies, are more important than ever.

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