Wednesday 22 February 2017

Cultural policy will aim for greater access and participation in the arts

Heather Humphreys

Published 19/10/2015 | 02:30

At the opening of ‘Yeats & Son’, an exhibtion of works by John and Jack Butler Yeats touring the country for the first time, at Wexford Arts Centre yesterday. Picture: Patrick Browne
At the opening of ‘Yeats & Son’, an exhibtion of works by John and Jack Butler Yeats touring the country for the first time, at Wexford Arts Centre yesterday. Picture: Patrick Browne

What does culture mean to you? Is it a play or a painting, a piece of music or a beautiful building? Perhaps when you hear the word 'culture' you think of language and traditions, or of something more intangible. Is culture important to you? Are we doing enough to protect it, and if not, what more do we need to do?

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Over recent months, we have been posing a series of questions about culture, and how it should be valued, promoted and protected, in advance of the drafting of Ireland's first ever cultural policy, Culture 2025.

Today, a regional consultation is drawing to a close with a major cultural workshop in Dublin. The workshop will hear from Ruth Mackenzie, former cultural adviser to the Tony Blair government, as well as numerous stakeholders from the arts and cultural sector.

The Culture 2025 Discussion Document, which I published in August, has been guiding the consultation process by broaching a range of issues such as funding and resources, and how artists can best be supported.

It considers how culture can respond to the digital age, how we can encourage new cultural forms to flourish, and whether culture can be a force for social inclusion. The development of this policy provides an opportunity to set out the role of culture in modern, multicultural Ireland and a vision for the next decade.

Our first cultural policy must shatter any illusion that the arts and culture are elitist or out of reach and it should aim for greater access and participation in the arts.

Cultural participation is good for the mind, soul and wellbeing. Culture 2025 will consider how culture can offer opportunities to the marginalised and combat disadvantage.

Discussions around culture in recent years have largely focussed on funding. The arts and cultural sectors suffered harshly during the downturn.

The process of restoring funding is already underway, including last week's Budget. This will have a positive impact on cultural practitioners, arts venues and audiences.

However, if the development of our first ever cultural policy was based on the level of funding available, it would be a wasted opportunity. We have to be smarter than that. The economy is growing again, and funding for the arts, culture and heritage must rise accordingly. But we also need to think about how we spend that money, and who benefits. The conversation about what we want to achieve culturally over the next decade is timely. With improving public finances, we have a fresh chance to consider how arts and economics mix.

Investing in our culture is good for the economy. And I am not just talking about creating jobs for artists, or how our culture is an intrinsic element of our ever-growing tourism industry.

We should also have the confidence and the foresight to realise that by investing in our arts and culture we are contributing to a more innovative environment, and we are making Ireland a more attractive place in which to invest, live and work.

In an ever more global business environment, major corporations think about much more than tax rates when choosing where to locate their business. They want their employees to be somewhere where creativity is valued and ideas flow.

As we prepare for the commemorations of the 1916 Rising next year, we will remember how the cultural revival informed the motivations of those who sought to build a new Ireland 100 years ago. Now is the perfect time to consider the place of culture in Ireland.

I believe the publication of our first cultural strategy will help make the case for the arts and cultural sectors. It will help ingrain in Government policy an appreciation of culture and the value it offers, which ultimately contribute to a better society for all.

If you want to be part of Culture 2025, submissions can be made up to the end of October at www.ahg.gov.ie/arts/culture/culture-2025-2/

Heather Humphreys is the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Irish Independent

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