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Wednesday 26 July 2017

Banville hits out at 'stupid' Arts Council payment plan

Renowned: John Banville
Renowned: John Banville
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

World-renowned author John Banville has hit out at the Arts Council's "stupid" plans to ask artists who receive a €17,000 stipend to prove their productivity.

Best-selling novelist Colm Toibin said the suggestion was more typical of the polices of Joseph Stalin, or the regime in North Korea.

The Arts Council is seeking to introduce significant changes to the way members of Aosdana - the body which supports the cream of the arts world - are financially supported.

Nominated writers and artists receive an annual grant, worth just over €17,000 a year.

But the council has suggested changing the definition of those deemed eligible for funding. Currently, those entitled to the 'cnuas', a five-year annual stipend, must be a "full-time practising artist". But it is proposed the payment should only be made to "working artists engaged in productive practice".

Artists in receipt of grants will also be subject to annual "sample audits". This is to confirm their 'productive practice' is as reported in their cnuas application.

Grants are given to recipients to "assist them in concentrating their time and energies in the full-time pursuit of their art".

The annual value of the grant was increased from just over €14,000 in 2008 to the current figure of €17,180. The grants cost about €2.7m a year, and is taken out of funding provided by the Arts Council.

Writer Toibin has compared the council's approach to 'Stalin or North Korea', arguing many artists are active into their 80s and producing valuable work.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Banville says the payments are a vital resource for many artists.

"I would absolutely support Colm's contention that it's absurd to look into artists' productivity.

"Artists could be silent and not paint a picture or not compose a piece of music for 40 years - and still in their 70s or 80s come out with a masterpiece. Yeats's greatest work was done in what was in those days considered to be old age.

"It is, to say the least, a stupid policy, to ask artists to prove their productivity.

"Saving a few bob by taking it away from an artist who really needs it is not good policy, and counterproductive to say the least. I know about four first-rate artists whose lives have been made easier - in one case might have been saved - by the cnuas.

"There are about 150 members, and they can't all be first-rate artists. But it does support a lot of very good artists, potentially great artists. Only time will tell."

Established in 1981, Aosdana members include writers Edna O'Brien and Patrick McCabe, as well as playwrights Tom Murphy and Tom MacIntyre.

The Arts Council insists a draft document, which outlines the proposed changes, is "the first step in what was envisaged would be a long and open discussion process".

Sunday Independent

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