Our lead article by Dermot McLaughlin takes issue with the progress made by the Arts Council in the traditional arts since the turning point three years ago when the Special Committee on the Traditional Arts delivered its report.
What is significant about that Committee is that it received 87 submissions from the traditional-arts public, everything from short letters to comprehensive documents containing a wealth of insights and innovative ideas. It indicated an extraordinary degree of interest in Arts Council work from an arts constituency that at that point was receiving no more than 2.4% (€891,150) of the Arts Council’s total revenue budget of over 37 million. Many of those making submissions had never had a funding relationship with the Arts Council.
The energy behind those submissions arose from a feeling that this was a unique opportunity to try and shape the future of the traditional arts. Were they right? Since 2004, the Irish Traditional Music Archive has moved to new, much larger premises; Na Píobairí Uilleann has refurbished its premises and appointed its first CEO; a traditional musician has been elected to Aosdána for the first time; there has been a stream of traditional-music books, CDs and DVDs; and more festivals have appeared and others have consolidated their work.
However, ITMA and NPU had been working steadily towards their new premises and organisational development for years beforehand, Dónal Lunny’s election to Aosdána had little to do with Arts Council policy, and there was a long history of entrepeneurialism across the traditional music community which produced CDs, books and festivals for years, and would no doubt have continued to do so.
What is new, therefore, in the Arts Council’s relationship with the traditional arts?
There is no mistaking the financial injection, a direct result of more people applying. In the first three months of this year alone, €174,146 was awarded to 25 traditional artists and organisations under the Deis scheme. Also this year, as part of the Small Festivals Scheme, €282,445 went to 51 traditional-arts festivals. In revenue funding, 12 traditional-arts organisations received €1,868,300 this year, almost one million more than they did three years ago – although in this case it can be seen as part of a tide that lifted all boats, for traditional arts remains at 3% of the overall revenue budget.
This must be seen as progress, but many of the above 87 submissions displayed imaginative thinking beyond the obvious criterion of finance. The Committee made 46 recommendations in response, many of which related to the status of the traditional arts in the contemporary arts landscape.
You see, it’s not exclusively about the money. Is it ever?