Tuesday 25 October 2016

Pat Moylan: The arts more than pay their way and the government should recognise that

Published 13/11/2012 | 17:14

IN a year where the umbrella could be adopted as the new national symbol, it is abundantly clear that most tourists do not come here for the weather.

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Instead they come for the Irish experience and the arts is very much at the heart of that.

In fact, during this year including with next weekend’s Cork Jazz Festival, the arts sector will have proved its worth like never before.

Arts festivals across the country and throughout the year from Donegal to Galway to Kerry and Kilkenny, have been wowing the tourists and bringing them in record numbers to events and spectacles.

In an increasingly globalised and homogenised world, holiday-makers are seeking a different experience as all research on our tourism policies identifies.

While the arts aren’t happening just to fulfil a tourism need, they are a vital component in the offering that Ireland has and could help to bring in even more revenues and create even more jobs in Ireland.

The investment in the arts, as well as in tourism, has been significant and has placed culture at the heart of our identity.

The hard work of many organisations and indeed volunteers over the years has developed the arts sector and harnessed it to pay huge economic and social dividends.

This should serve as the impetus for the State to explore how we can create further revenues and more jobs. Currently in Ireland, the arts sector supports 20,755 jobs and contributes €336 m to the economy.

Sometimes the hawks of the economist profession don’t see the arts as an investment opportunity.

But it is, and the State should not take such a narrow view of investment as happened with the recent investment and infrastructure fund announcement.

We should look in Budget 2013 in a wider way at the methods for the delivery of significant sustainable employment. The arts are jobs intensive and employment has to be at the core of any national investment strategy for our future and the future of college graduates.

A narrow view of investment where the focus is on pouring concrete may be symptomatic of our electoral culture here in Ireland, where extra roads, highly-visible projects and marquee developments are preferred.

But as Ireland is at a huge crossroads in its development, now is the time to take to a more imaginative approach to infrastructural investment.

Investment in the arts has a wider benefit for Ireland too, giving sustainable jobs and rebuilding Ireland’s reputation abroad. In a global environment where competition for foreign direct investment is becoming increasingly fierce, Ireland needs to demonstrate a competitive edge.

The arts are one of the main parts of the State’s creative capacity, helping to foster innovation, drive ideas and further restore our battered image. This is fundamental to our ability to win investment.

A national aptitude for creativity is essential if we are to exploit the opportunity that genuinely exists to make Ireland a global leader in terms of research and development in a range of different sectors.

Throughout the world, the values of various products are increasingly being determined by the artistic qualities, designs or uniqueness attributed to that product.

The role that the arts play in developing a flexible, creative and innovative workforce has already been acknowledged by the IDA. Such a workforce helps businesses to innovate, develop new product lines and effectively market their services.

In particular, one rapid-growth industry in Ireland has directly benefited from the synergies that a strong indigenous arts sector provides.

A Forfas report has found that there were more than 2,000 people employed by the games industry in Ireland, a number which has increased five-fold since 2004.

This industry directly benefits from a creative culture that rewards imagination and drives innovation. By 2014, another 2,500 sustainable jobs will have been created in the games industry.

The games industry is not the only example. The creative industries as a whole here employ over 79,000 people and contribute €4.7bn to the economy each year. This should be seen as an engine of opportunity for the nation and one which deserves further investment.

By empowering the Irish workforce to use their imagination and creativity - both sources of innovation – we can increase competitiveness and sustainability. However, these elements often seem to be forgotten in favour of investment in ‘shovel-ready’ physical infrastructure.

As we become settled into the new economic realities in 21st century Ireland, there is a strong case that we move to a new model of sustainable economic investment. This should be a more holistic model that looks at areas of economic opportunity in the widest sense rather than just based on the sometimes flawed approaches of the past.

Pat Moylan is Chairman of the Arts Council.

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