A wealth of arts on meagre funding

IN the arts, January is a quiet month. Yet last week, I saw two major plays, Druid’s production of Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn and the revival of Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara.

A wealth of arts on meagre funding

Unusually, I didn’t attend a gig, but I viewed six art exhibitions, including two I really liked, Vera Klute’s ‘Deadweight’ at the RHA, in Dublin, and Amanda Dunsmore’s video installation, ‘David’, at the Crawford Art Gallery, in Cork. And I saw Martin Scorcese’s new film, The Wolf of Wall Street.

I’m not boasting about my social life. The point I’m making is that, even in a quiet month, there is no end of arts events worth attending. And this is the lull before the festival season, which, in my life at least, extends from February to November, though that is only because I don’t get along to the Temple Bar Trad Fest in January.

On my personal calendar, the Cork Spring Poetry Festival comes first — it opens on Feb 12 — followed by the Dublin Film Festival, which opens a day later, followed by the Cork French Film Festival in March.

Thereafter, my schedule is likely to include the Cork Choral Festival, the Cork Midsummer Festival, Live at the Marquee, the Kinsale Arts Festival, the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, the West Cork Literary Festival, the Galway Arts Festival, the Kilkenny Arts Festival, The Masters of Tradition festival, in Bantry, the Electric Picnic, the Dublin Fringe Festival, the Dublin Theatre Festival, IndieCork, the Cork Jazz Festival and the Cork Film Festival.

Along the way, there will be many diversions. The Limerick City of Culture programme will, no doubt, provide any number of them this year.

Most of these events will be helmed by a handful of salaried employees, backed by voluntary committees and small armies of voluntary helpers.

Even now, most will already be beavering away on their programmes, trying to match their ambitions and dreams with the harsh realities of funding. It’s a running joke in the arts community that each of the past five years has seemed likely to be the worst imaginable for funding, only to be remembered with warmth and fondness when the cuts dug deeper the year after.

It’s no joke at all that funding for the arts is still seen as an indulgence rather than a vital investment in the well-being of the nation.

Even within the arts, there is often resentment towards those who draw salaries as arts administrators. The reality is that most of those who run even the top cultural institutions in this country are paid what is average for middle management in other sectors.

Most of those who make a living in the arts — and they really are few — count themselves blessed. Most have come up the hard way, organising events without reward for years, learning on the hoof how to balance budgets, liaise with artists, venues and sponsors.

Most will have wondered, often, why they could not have had more regular ambitions.

Throughout the recession, the arts community has kept doing what it always does, creating the moments of magic and transcendence that help make life worthwhile. The reality for most arts workers is that they will never make a bean from their endeavours. The wonder is that they accept this with such good grace.

This year, as ever, I expect to be outraged and enthralled, moved to tears and laughter, humbled and empowered by the arts in Ireland. I will wonder again at how, in the theatres and cinemas and concert halls and galleries, no one cares where you come from, or what you do for a living, or what you might be worth (anyone who thinks ticket prices are a barrier to enjoyment of the arts should compare them to those in Britain and beyond; believe me, we have a sweet deal in this country).

I look forward, as ever, to the day when the funding we allocate to our arts venues and festivals matches the rhetoric we employ to boast of their successes.

And, in the meantime, I can only salute the heads who make things happen, those few who are salaried, and particularly those whose material reward may extend to a free t-shirt.

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