Sunday 19 November 2017

Fourteen years of support for the arts

Stuart McLaughlin, chief executive of Business to Arts, reflects on President Mary McAleese’s unrelenting support of the arts and the Allianz Business to Arts Awards during her time in office

Stuart McLaughlin, chief executive of Business to Arts
making a presentation to President Mary McAleese at the
Allianz Business to Arts Awards
Stuart McLaughlin, chief executive of Business to Arts making a presentation to President Mary McAleese at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards

FOURTEEN years ago, one of the first engagements for our President Mary McAleese when she took up office was the Allianz Business to Arts Awards.

This event marked the beginning of her time as patron of Business to Arts, and firmly established the fact that the arts would play a significant role during the years of her presidency.

This year's Allianz Business to Arts Awards comes towards the end of Mary McAleese's second term in office and, with this in mind, it is a fitting time to reflect on her advocacy and support of Irish arts and culture, and of her support of Business to Arts. During the speech at the 2011 awards ceremony the President said she had been proud to be patron of Business to Arts these past years.

"I thank the board and executive for allowing me to play a small part in this big and big-hearted mission," she added. But this, of course, is a modest estimation of the role that her support has played for our organisation. In each of the seven years that the President has attended the awards our audiences have always commented on how her presence lifts the event and, as many observe, her ability to 'read' the mood of the country and her understanding of the central role that culture can play in all aspects of society has been an inspiration to those involved in our organisation. The President's personal passion for the arts was also shared with us in 2008 as the members of Business to Arts were treated to a tour of the art collection of Áras an Uachtaráin, given by Patrick J Murphy who, at that time, was the art adviser for the OPW.

The stories of the development of this varied and personal collection, representing the best of contemporary Irish art, were fascinating and many of the pieces had a specific resonance with the President after she had viewed work and met artists in exhibitions across Ireland. The devotion to Irish art also extends to the selection of gifts given by the Áras when the President travels internationally. Drawing from a wide range of art forms and styles we were delighted to discover that, coincidentally, the artist who created our 2011 award, Mark Hanvey, is one of those who has been commissioned to create works for the President.

Other artists who have been involved in the awards over the last 20 years have had their work featured in similar ways. In Business to Arts' case, of course, the stakeholders come from across two apparently disparate worlds and it has always been our sense that the President has engaged with and understood our mission. This year she commented that "the Allianz Business to Arts Awards are at the very heart of our drive to improve Ireland's business narrative and our arts narrative. That the two are seen as part of an integrated partnership is hugely to your credit. For over 20 years you have proved time and again the magical alchemy that allows both spheres to get results by working together which would have eluded them were each working wholly independently of the other".

We have been honoured and fortunate to have President McAleese as our patron over the past 14 years. We wish her the very best with her plans and look forward to meeting again at an exhibition, a theatre performance or concert in the coming years.

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