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Arts Minister reveals plans in address       printable version
08 Oct 2014: posted by the editor - Arts, Ireland

Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys has outlined her long term plans for the Arts after responding to a private members' Bill in the Dail. Her comments and vision are below.

The arts, culture and creative sectors have made a huge contribution to our society since the formation of the State.

Access to the arts, culture, and Ireland's rich heritage is vital to preserving our national identity and promoting Ireland's image abroad.

Promoting and valuing cultural and creative resources is a crucial part of positioning Ireland for the future.

And while the arts, creative industries and cultural tourism make a major contribution to our economy, the arts is about much more than that. I feel passionately about the individual importance of the arts, how self-expression through the arts can create a dialogue, and allow us to understand the world in a different way.

Learning from the past and looking towards the future, the arts, whether we know it or not, touches every aspect of our lives and, if allowed, can make a hugely positive impact on us as individuals and as a society.

Our National Cultural Institutions—the Museums, the Libraries, the Galleries, the Archives, the Theatre, the Concert Hall—are stakeholders in this process, as are the Arts Council, artists and the public. Through their collections, their staff and their contribution to knowledge, they are essential building blocks of the cultural identity and creativity of Ireland.

My Department's Statement of Strategy in relation to culture and the arts is "To promote and develop Ireland's world-class artistic and creative strengths at home and abroad, maximising their societal, ......and reputational value for the country.”

Developing a cultural policy is essential in implementing these aims.

Last June, an agreement was reached to draft a National Cultural Policy—Culture 2025—which will set out the high-level aims and policies in the area of culture for the period up until 2025.

This is the first time in the history of the State that any Government has undertaken such an endeavour.

Culture 2025  will focus on a range of issues, including:
•         what culture means to us in the 21st century;
 •        what can be done to embed culture at the heart of decision making  and discourse in the public and private sector;
•         policies for growth and expansion;
•         international representation and collaboration;
•         and the delivery of cultural services in the digital age;   I would like to reassure the House that I am fully committed to the delivery of this country's first ever national cultural policy and I believe that culture should be at the centre of Government policy.

My department is currently finalising a draft discussion paper, I will be initiating a wide-scale consultation process to ensure all stakeholders and members of the public can make their views known.

I attended a Culture Summit in Edinburgh last August, when an eminent speaker said 'It's not the economy stupid, it's the culture genius.' I would also like to take the opportunity to mention the Arts in Education Charter, which is something I am very eager to progress.

Making the arts more accessible will be a cornerstone of my ministry.

Immersing our school students in the arts through a targeted strategy will benefit future generations and give our young people a greater understanding and appreciation for the arts as they progress to adulthood.

I have already met with my colleague, the Minister for Education, Jan O'Sullivan TD, on a number of occasions to discuss this initiative in detail, and we are both very keen to progress the implementation of the Charter without delay.

Arts is for everyone and I am very aware of the great work done by Arts Officers throughout Local Authorities the length and breadth of the country and I want to work closely with them in bringing the arts to communities.

Commemoration of the 1916 Rising
The 1916 Commemorations are one of my major priorities.

I have consistently said that I want the Commemorations to be inclusive, respectful and appropriate.  I have had the honour of attending a number of World War One commemorative events since my appointment, and just last week I visited Richmond Barracks, which is receiving €3.5 million from the Department under the €22 million capital projects plan announced earlier this year.

This plan also includes a major project at the GPO, where an interpretive centre will be opened in time for Easter 2016, a new visitor centre at Kilmainham Gaol, and the refurbishment of the Military Archives at Cathal Brugha Barracks, among other projects.

I received an update from my Department today on the draft plan for the Commemorative Programme for 2016.

My intention is to bring the plan before the All Party Group on Commemorations, before putting it out to public consultation.

My Department is also liaising with the Department of the Taoiseach on the draft programme, and I want to be in a position to publish the draft plan in the weeks following the budget.

I feel very strongly that the arts must play a central role in the Commemorations.

The arts have a way of reaching out and speaking to people, of giving them a sense of pride, and making them feel both connected to the past and enthused about the future.

I also want to bring local communities on board for the Commemorations; it is important that people have a sense of ownership of the Commemorations, and getting local communities involved is the best way to do this.

The Film Industry
The Irish Film and TV Industry is going through a period of positive growth and international acclaim.

Not only are some of the biggest TV series in the world being made here, it was a real pleasure for me to visit the set of one of the biggest film franchises in the world when Star Wars came to Skellig Michael for a few days in the summer.

It was fantastic to be able to see firsthand the buzz a major production brings, and of course the positive spin off for the local community in terms of jobs and economic activity.

The welcome and the cooperation that the film crew got from the community in Portmagee is what Ireland is all about and makes us special.

I want Ireland to become a first choice destination for film makers.

The audio visual sector has a turnover of about €500 million per year, supporting 6,000 jobs.

The increase in independent TV productions is driving this growth and I remain very committed to supporting the industry through direct funding supports and financial incentives like the enhanced Section 481.

Budgetary position
Every member of this House is very aware of the dramatic and near catastrophic reductions in public spending brought about as a result of the financial collapse, which will forever be the legacy of the previous Fianna Fáil government.

Like every State body, our National Cultural Institutions have had to endure significant reductions in financial allocations over the past few years.

Notwithstanding financial and staffing restraints, all of the National Cultural Institutions together with our regional museums, galleries and cultural centres have worked tirelessly to minimise the impact of the cuts in funding and to maintain visitor numbers and the visitor experience to the greatest extent possible.

Many, if not all of the institutions have carried out critical staffing and operational reviews to better inform how they might achieve optimal performance within current financial and staffing number constraints.

It is testament to this collective effort and a strong resolve to succeed that in 2013 there were over 3.6 million visitors to the cultural institutions directly supported by my Department, an increase of some 4% over and above the previous year's figures.

Despite the cutbacks of recent years, I am pleased to say that there are a number of major capital projects underway at our cultural institutions. The major work currently being undertaken at the National Gallery of Ireland provides for an overall refurbishment of the historic Dargan and Milltown wings at a cost of some €32 million, creating almost 300 construction jobs. I recently had an opportunity to view some of this work myself.

This two year project is scheduled to be completed by 2016 and will bring the National Gallery back up to international standards and allow it again to present world class exhibits in a world class setting.

It is important to remember that it was only three years ago it was facing closure of those wings.

A major €4 million refurbishment has recently been completed at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham premises of the Irish Museum of Modern Art—which again has brought this institution up to international standards and having visited it in August I was very impressed by the galleries.

Funding has been allocated for building development works at the National Archives Headquarters on Bishop Street, which will address the longstanding problems associated with the storage conditions in the National Archives. It is anticipated that construction will begin in early 2015. I visited the premises and was amazed to see the tremendous collection we have and the excellent relationship they enjoy with PRONI.

Similarly funding has been approved for a significant renovation project at the National Concert Hall as part of the Decade of Centenaries celebrations.

This project involves the renovation of the 'Kevin Barry Room'.

Again this work is long overdue and will serve to improve substantially the facilities at this much loved venue.

My Department and I have been engaged in intensive Budget negotiations for the last number of weeks, and while I cannot of course go into detail at this point, it is certainly my intention to protect our cultural institutions and the arts from any further budgetary cuts, as far as possible.

Guarantee independence of our national cultural institutions and their boards from political interference
I would like now to address the issue of the reform process being undertaken at the national cultural institutions.

I would immediately like to dispel the notion that there is any intention to undermine the independence of our national cultural institutions.

In fact the opposite is the case.

The intention is to copper fasten the legal position of each of the Cultural Institutions to ensure that there is absolute clarity and certainty as to their roles and responsibilities.

As you will be aware the reform of the cultural institutions was first mooted by Fianna Fáil as far back as 2008 when little or no progress was made in relation to this issue.

Indeed, it was that Government which proposed wholesale amalgamations and mergers of these venerable institutions.

Those amalgamation proposals were reviewed by the Fine Gael/Labour Government—and I am pleased to say they were subsequently scrapped.

My Department carried out an in-depth examination of the position in each of the cultural institutions and following this review the then Minister, Jimmy Deenihan TD, brought proposals to Government which were accepted in relation to the institutions which I have already mentioned.

This includes creating a legislative basis for three cultural institutions, the National Concert Hall, the Irish Museum of Modern and the Crawford Art Gallery and updating the legislation in relation to the National Gallery of Ireland, which dates back to Victorian times.

The proposals also provide for a range of operational reform measures, including shared services, governance reform, reduced board sizes and enhanced processes for board appointments.

I am pleased to report that significant progress has already been made on an administrative basis in relation to a number of reform measures.

For example, the three main art galleries in the country, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Crawford Art gallery are already sharing support services and improving cooperation in a number of different areas.

Shared HR services are in operation and there is good progress towards shared financial support services.

Draft Heads of Bill have been produced, approved by Government and submitted to the relevant Oireachtas Committee for scrutiny.

It is important to re-emphasise that artistic policy at the national cultural institutions has never been nor ever will be the remit of the Minister and this is guaranteed in all of the draft legislation currently being prepared.

I come to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with no baggage, and I bring an open door policy.

In my opinion, nobody has a monopoly on good ideas and I am open to consultation and listening, because at the end of the day, what I want is the best workable solution possible, so that our National Institutions can thrive and flourish, while at the same time operate within the principles of probity, fitness and good corporate governance.

Board Appointments
Yesterday evening, following an invitation from Senator Byrne, I addressed this House on the issue of the board appointments I have made to date since I was appointed Minister.

I don't wish to go over the same ground these evening. Tonight, you have invited me before the house to discuss arts and cultural policy, and I am very pleased to do so.

What is important now is that we move forward.

New plans announced by the Government last week will ensure that all state board appointments are made through the public appointments process.

As I said last night, I have already instructed my management team within my Department to immediately set about implementing the new system for board appointments. It is a system I intend to adhere to strictly.

As I have already said, I regret the controversy surrounding my first two board appointments, and I have learned valuable lessons from this experience.

My priorityas Minister is to advance the policies areas I have outlined this evening; the commemorations, the cultural strategy, progressing the Arts in Education Charter and arts in the community.

When this Government took office in 2011 we inherited a catastrophic financial position. Unfortunately it has not been possible to save the arts and culture sectors from what, by any standards, have been substantial reductions in funding.

I will make every effort to secure as much funding as is possible for both the national cultural institutions, and indeed for the overall arts and culture sector going forward.

This will not be easy. But I am fighting tooth and nail.

But I want to see the arts contribute to and benefit from our economic recovery.

In conclusion, I want to say what a privilege and an honour it is for me to serve as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and to work hand in hand with such a dynamic and creative sector.

The arts are for everybody.

For every human being who ever wanted to lift their voice in song, who felt the need to write a poem, who took a pencil in their hand to create a thing of beauty.

The arts are not about just passive enjoyment.

They're about active participation and dialogue.

The arts are how we explain our world to ourselves—in song and story. They're the end product of when we dream dreams and see visions.

But that's only the beginning of what they are.

They're connectors. They are enablers.

States that prioritise the arts, from when their citizens are toddlers—those States do well, not just in the arts, but in industry, technology and innovation.

So here's the bottom line, as I see it.

It's my job to help make everybody own the arts, enjoy the arts, gain from the arts.

That's a big, complicated task.

And I'm up for it.

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