Sunday 25 February 2018

Arts Council must look beyond crowd-pleasers

In times of financial crisis, it may be that only good art should be supported.

Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre
Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre

Emer O'Kelly

THE Arts Council is about to undertake a consultation process which will be carried out by a 12-member expert group independently chaired by Terence O'Rourke, the chair of Enterprise Ireland. The group's remit will be to report on a way forward for both the council and the arts themselves in the "current financial climate". That climate has provided a total of €57m for all of the arts nationwide this year. Rehab's funding was almost twice that.

"Breadth and balance" has been a self-declared strategy of the way the council spends taxpayers' money. It may be interpreted either as the more populist forms and institutions deserving the larger slice of the cake; others may think the lion's share would be better spent on programmes, institutions and people of recognised artistic achievement and reputation.

Inevitably, the issue of accountability must also arise. A balance must be struck: the council has a right to demand, and should demand, on behalf of the taxpayer a copy of full audited annual accounts; without them, there is a case for all funding to be withdrawn. Equally, freedom of artistic choice should not involve the council being "prescriptive" in anything other than actual standard of work.

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