The defence of the pay-out was made at the annual general assembly of creative artists’ group Aosdána, at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin.
During a one-hour annual public session yesterday, figures from the world of literature, creative design, and poetry hit out at claims the group does not deserve its €2.7m annual funding. The figure for the organisation — which was set up in 1981 by the Arts Council and then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey to help support some of Ireland’s leading artists and which tightly regulates membership — is spent almost entirely on stipends for the majority of members, which has not fallen since the recession began.
Despite concerns from some members over whether the millions could be put to better use in other parts of the public service, the majority of speakers insisted cutting the funds would risk damaging Ireland’s cultural heritage due to a “value for money not money for value” agenda.
“We more than contribute,” said poet Theo Dorgan, who accused the Department of Finance of suffering from a “malaise” in that its accountants “only consider the cost of something, and not the value”.
He said the return on the State “investment” in Aosdána members’ work is “a multiple of tens or hundreds” and that the Government would “drive JCBs full of money” to the doors of any private business that could repeat this.
James Hanley, a painter and member of the board of governors at the National Gallery of Ireland, said whether Aosdána is providing value for money is “for somebody else to decide”.
He suggested the group had “an obligation” to look at the wider financial picture — adding members could do more “as an advisory body” for the wider artistic community, an issue it has previously been criticised for failing to address.
Lead speaker and writer Hugh Maxton said Aosdána is providing value for money. In a moment of levity, he quoted a blogger who wrote: “Please don’t complain about €2.7m. Fair City costs €11m. Popular culture doesn’t come cheap, you know.”
Aosdána — whose members include Irish literary stars like Brian Friel, Sebastian Barry and Edna O’Brien, poets like Paul Muldoon and visual artists such as Robert Ballagh — receives €2.7m a year from the Arts Council of Ireland, the vast majority of which is used to pay for annual tax-free payments of €17,180 to 155 of its 247 members. This money is meant to ensure artists can continue their work despite sometimes tight personal finances. It has not fallen since 2007, in contrast to almost all other artistic groups’ State funds, and is the second-highest State pay-out in the sector — behind only the Abbey Theatre’s €6.5m sum.
The entire Aosdána group meets just once a year for a day-long general assembly, with just one hour open to the public. However, its 10-person committee — which is elected from within the organisation -meet at least three times every 12 months.