Nothing quite matches the rancour of artistes scrapping for funding. They make a pack of feeding hunting dogs seem positively polite. Of late, teeth are gnashing on the pages of the Irish Times over an anticipated windfall being siphoned into a new quango: Creative Ireland. It’s not so much a call for art for art’s sake, but leave it to the Art’s Council, for f*ck’s sake.
Taoiseach Varadkar left a pretty vocal hostage when he let it be known during the Fine Gael leadership run-off that he wanted to double arts expenditure. But the literary establishment are worried this won’t be passing through their glad hands.
John McAuliff, the paper’s poetry editor, deputy chair of the Arts Council, and professor of creative writing at Manchester University wrote an op-ed dismissing Creative Ireland in symbolist terms as: ‘part-car, part-temple, part-group-hug and part-energy-drink’.
The campaign is being spearheaded by Culture Editor Hugh Linehan who took to the airwaves on RTE’s Arena to bemoan the state of affairs last week.
No doubt the government have some awful schemes up their pin stripes through Creative Ireland. They’ll be fitting out leprechaun suits, sending comely maidens to dance at crossroads, and offering throaty renditions of Danny Boy. Anything for the Yankee dollar.
But the current model of funding doesn’t make Ireland an easy place for artists to operate. A career in the arts is, overwhelmingly, a middle class luxury; and in order to survive most spend an inordinate amount of time filling out funding applications.
Here, the worth of projects often seem to be measured in abstruseness, what McAuliff refers to as the ‘painstaking annual decision-making process’. Not as painful as some of the resulting output one could say.
What most artists would settle for is a reduction in the cost of living across the board, but especially in the capital. This would make the pursuit of money a less overwhelming necessity. Most artists accept they will never be wealthy, but even a low income now is a form of penury, with dramatic rises in rents making life especially difficult. Bringing selected artists, usually already middle class, up to a middle class income does nothing to make society at large more sympathetic to art.
Most artists just want to get on with their work rather than justifying it in lengthy applications processes, and then feel compelled to promote themselves constantly among the select group who decide on funding. That means most who get serious go away.
James Joyce once playfully mused: ‘is this country destined some day to resume its ancient position as the Hellas of the north? Is the Celtic spirit, like the Slavic one (which it resembles in many respects), destined in the future to enrich the consciousness of civilization with new discoveries and institutions?’ Not under the current regime.
It’s hard to think of a single poet writing in Ireland today that has managed to transcend a readership of fellow-poets, or a visual artist who is really speaking to the public. As ever, most of what is good on the Irish cultural scene is happening far from the filing cabinets.