THERE has been some debate about the level of support for the arts.
I am acutely aware that it has been a challenging time for the sector with the downturn.
I am a champion of the arts, and as the minister responsible I support them in a range of ways.
One of the key issues facing the community is funding. This has been raised with me almost every day.
Since the economy crashed in 2008, the amount of money available to me has fallen, but I have done all I can to keep it as strong as possible. This year, the Arts Council will get almost €57m from the taxpayer.
In addition, my department supports the Irish Film Board and museums and galleries.
In total, for every week of this year, more than €2.3m will be spent on the promotion of art. This is not as much as I would like, and I hope that as the economy recovers, we can increase this level of support.
However, direct funding is only part of the way in which we back the arts. The Government supports the film sector, for example, through changes to the taxation system.
The film, television drama and animation sector contributed more than €168m to the economy last year, up 42pc on 2011.
The Government is also investing in infrastructure, and this year a €26m renovation project started at the National Gallery of Ireland.
The arts play an extremely important role in our society. They help foster creativity, challenge us and teach us about ourselves.
Is there also an economic benefit to artistic activity? Yes, of course. The arts support thousands of jobs, attract people to visit our country and contribute hugely to how Ireland is viewed internationally.
The way in which Irish arts are viewed on the world stage supports trade and tourism.
Vibrant arts communities also help to define how towns and cities are viewed. They put places on the map. Galway and Kilkenny, for example, are well known for the arts. We need more of this, not less, in the period ahead.
The City of Culture initiative, which is in Limerick this year and will next be held in 2018, will promote the vibrant arts scene that can be found in towns and cities across the country.
Every sector has been challenged by the downturn. This is as true for the arts as for anything else.
While future increases in funding are linked to continued economic recovery, I am very optimistic for the future – for artists and organisations, for those we are encouraging to get involved and express their creativity, and for the hugely important economic contribution that the sector will surely make.
JIMMY DEENIHAN IS MINISTER FOR ARTS, HERITAGE AND THE GAELTACHT