Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arts Industry

Reports on the 'arts hustings' organised yesterday by the National Campaign for the Arts are available here from Rosita Boland and Lorna Siggins in today's Irish Times. A podcast of the Dublin meeting is available here.

The reports seem to confirm what I was told in an email early yesterday evening - that film was barely mentioned and that not many members of the film-making community were in evidence at the Dublin meeting. Perhaps things were different at the meetings in Galway, Cork and Limerick. Pictures here.

According to the report of the Dublin meeting the panellists were all asked if there would there be a cabinet minister with responsibility for the arts in the new government. 'Everyone answered “yes” unequivocally, to a palpable sense of relief from the audience.'

I actually think that was the wrong question because if the government departments are consolidated (which Fine Gael may well have in mind) then the arts could become a very, very minor responsibility within a much broader remit.

Two of the panellists present, Jimmy Deenihan (FG) and Alex White (Lab), were mentioned in a recent post I wrote about Johnny Gogan's candidacy in Sligo-North Leitrim. One might have thought that they would have had something interesting to say about the film or audiovisual sector but apparently all the panellists, including the current minister, came out with a similar line about retaining the tax break and the Film Board.

That's all very well but the real questions, the harder ones for us all to answer, begin with why. As in, Why have a tax break and a Film Board? There is such an emphasis in the culture sector - and yes, it's widespread in all areas of public spending - on maintaining frail budget lines that first principles have, by and large, gone by the wayside.

I blame this forgetfulness not on the fraught state of the economy but on the hiatus in discourse that took hold during the supposed boom years when it became easier to argue about How much? than to enter into a debate about Why?

As a result, the discourse around funding for the arts has drifted from the premise of support for the making of work into justifications based on economic outcomes which are seldom challenged within or by the ‘arts’ community. These are the positions and arguments being adopted by many in the arts in the run in to the election.

I believe it’s a diversionary, apologetic logic which on the one hand tacitly undermines the value of art (‘for art’s sake’) and, on the other, shelters a burgeoning adminstration that mediates between the making of art and the citizens' access to it. So yes, ‘the arts matter’, and yes, we should ’support the arts’, but we need to be very clear about our guiding principles and that they deliver culturally valuable outcomes.

Otherwise we should do away with the government department and the Film Board, as Colm McCarthy suggested, and situate the culture/arts brief in a department where the remit is resolutely centered on marketing, employment, and industrial outcomes. A department where the cultural or artistic value of the output is immaterial as long as businesses prosper and job numbers grow.

Perhaps this is more an issue with film, and the discourse around its funding, than it is with the other arts. It is a fact, for instance, that the public cost (€600,000) of turning a Dublin intervention beef warehouse into a studio for Leap Year was greater than the public cost of either Adam & Paul or Once or His and Hers or any of the three Catalyst film projects - Eamon, Rewind, and One Hundred Mornings.

In fact the total Irish public cost of Leap Year was €13m, whereas the total cost of the other six films above amounted to around €2m. And, if I'm not mistaken, no ownership or rights in Leap Year are retained within the state. The spend and spin-off arguments for the likes of Leap Year are like holy writ so let's have some heretical rhetoric.

Let's ask ourselves, what is our culture policy? Why do we have a cabinet minister for culture? What are our cultural priorities? What is the primary purpose of public funding for film?

If our answers to these questions begin with anything other than what may be conveyed to ourselves and others by the work itself, work such as Leap Year, then we are not talking about artistic endeavour but its by-product.

That is analagous to talking about the Joyce 'industry' as if Ulysses were a meaningless pot boiler that signified nothing other than the steady, if occasional work it has created for publishers, printers and booksellers.

There is no 'industry' around meaningless endeavour in the arts, only the greasy till, the tugged forelock, and discordant tunes played by off-shore pipers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are on the mark. However the one benefit films like Leap Year have is that young film makers get a chance to work with seasoned pro's. They get a chance to learn the film making process which will in the end give there creative ideas portals of discovery. Too many people do not follow the process, the craft. as a result many a great idea is lost, great scripts are butchered