Support for arts pays rich dividends

THE recent announcement of a laureate for Irish fiction, for which the recipient will be awarded €150,000 over three years, is welcome for writers and readers.

Support for arts pays rich dividends

The Arts Council has teamed up with UCD and New York University to select an outstanding Irish writer of fiction, who will encourage the public to read the best Irish fiction. The funding will also allow the writer to develop his/her work.

Novelist, Colm Toibín said it’s essential to honour the best of our writers while they are alive. There is nothing romantic about a writer starving in a garret, yet funding for the arts is considered a luxury by paperback-reading punters.

But to disregard the arts, even in these difficult economic times, is to deprive society of something hugely valuable.

The arts nourish our inner worlds and allow artists to express themselves.

This is the sixth successive year of cuts to the Arts Council. Since 2008, its budget has been reduced by one third. It is astonishing, despite the paucity of funding, that so many artists produce and show work. This is nowhere more evident than in Cork, where new theatre companies keep popping up, sometimes producing just one play a year, because of budgetary obstacles. The hard work has paid off for one such company, BrokenCrow. It was has been awarded €30,000 from the Arts Council for a new play by Ronan Fitzgibbon.

A few weeks ago, without funding, the TDC (Theatre Development Centre), at the Triskel, showcased theatrical work from six Cork companies. The programme, full of original voices, was called ‘SHOW’. As well as performing the plays for the public, for free, theatre programmers from the likes of the Dublin Fringe Festival, the Project Arts Centre and the Abbey were invited to see the work, perhaps to stage it in Dublin, or elsewhere. Too much good work in Cork goes unnoticed by decision-makers in the arts world. SHOW, the brainchild of Pat Kiernan, from Corcadorca, which runs the TDC, was a way of attracting attention.

The Cork Film Festival attracted attention with the dismissal of its long-serving director, Mick Hannigan, and its equally long-serving programmer, Una Feely. No satisfactory explanation was given. But Cork has an indomitable spirit.

With no Arts Council or City Council funding, Hannigan and Feely launched IndieCork, a film festival showing independent films, including seven Irish features. The five-day festival, with sponsorship from Cork-based Seven Windows Brewery, attracted an audience of 9,000 people in October. Hannigan says that the festival will go ahead in 2014, with continuing sponsorship from Benny and Cliona McCabe’s local brewery.

In November, the Cork Film Festival, under the creative direction of the dynamic James Mullighan, attracted an audience of about 30,000 — the same number that attended in 2012. Who says Cork can’t sustain two film festivals? On the literary front, the 15th volume of the Cork Literary Review was officially launched last month. This is an impressive tome, published by Bradshaw Books, which survives through modest funding from the Arts Council, Cork City Council and the Department of the Arts. Bradshaw Books is the publishing arm of the non-profit making Tigh Fili, some of whose staff are voluntary.

Poet, Eugene O’Connell, edited this year’s Cork Literary Review, a task he has undertaken for a number of years. He receives no payment. Editing the book is very much a labour of love for this retired County Cork teacher. It’s an all-consuming task.

Without the commitment to the arts from the likes of O’Connell, working for no money, the city — and, indeed, the country — would be a poorer place, in terms of artistic expression.

But this is not an argument for expecting artists and writers to work for nothing. Certainly, they have to prove themselves before being deemed worthy of funding. But, as Fitzgibbon says, working with shoe-string budgets is a major concern. No other profession would put up with the often abysmal working conditions of artists.

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