Gloomy days for the arts

It’s feeling cold out there, and not just from the dusting of snow outside this morning.

Continuing on from Friday’s post, this morning’s Irish Times carries two more articles on the effect of the Arts Council’s funding cuts on theatre and music. Peter Crawley reports on the closure of three small production companies (Galloglass, Storytellers and Calypso) as a consequence of the new strategy to cull organisations perceived as artistically weaker from the AC trough, while maintaining funding for the biggies. This predictably has met with mixed reaction, which Crawley (to his credit) fairly assesses, noting that the slippery criterium of ‘artistic excellence’ has served as the fulcrum for artform funding decisions:

There is more sense in the strategy than some would care to admit though. A couple of years ago, during Theatre Forum’s annual conference, one of the best attended and breathlessly titled discussions was: How do we Approach the Issue of Encouraging the Arts Council to Cut Companies Who are ‘Past It’ to Enable New Talent to Breathe?

With the economy then going strong, but arts funding forever in short supply, theatre companies themselves harboured the suspicion that there were simply too many of them to sustain, and that the council was notoriously slow to cull the panjandrums. Now the problem is deciding who’s ‘past it’.

Not an enviable position for David Parnell of the Arts Council, partially tasked with making such artistic evaluations:

The Arts Council will not discuss individual cases with the media, but David Parnell admits that artistic quality is the ultimate measure. In the case of de-funded companies, he says, “ultimately the work is not as good as the work being offered by other organisations, and in the context of shrinking budgets we have to take these difficult decisions . . . Fundamentally, it comes down to the quality of the work offered and the ambition of the work.”

There are familiar complaints as well about the lack of transparency concerning decision criteria and a flawed appeals policy, as well as the interesting suggestion that the shrunken funding pool may push forward a new model for theatre production, away from the company model and towards a new ‘hub’-like structure. Well worth a read…

Michael Dervan offers another take on the harsh economic climate for the arts, revisiting the music cuts which have already been well covered by the IT (Opera 2005 in particular), but mentioning also the anticipated drop in corporate sponsorship:

The nightmares that the banking sector is living through will have consequences for the arts too. Sponsorship and other forms of corporate generosity will be reined in. One of the major musical sponsorships of recent years has been Anglo Irish Bank’s support of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s subscription series at the National Concert Hall. RTÉ has always given the impression that Anglo Irish managed to strike a happy balance between the supportive and demanding sides of sponsorship, meaning that the bank’s profile in the deal was clear but not obtrusive. Although the sponsorship was a long-term one, it was reviewed – and hitherto renewed – on an annual basis.

However, with the bank in a crisis that has led to its nationalisation, the sponsorship deal, believed to be worth six figures, may not survive assessment in the light of the new realities.

More on this on a forthcoming post, which will review two new reports recently released on philanthropy and sponsorship in Ireland…