Happy new year! Weathering the storms…


Well, the recycling bins are overflowing, the tree disposal centres are looking a bit sad, but at least the storm clouds finally seem to be breaking… although perhaps not over Limerick, quite yet (oh dear…)

After a very quiet semester on the blogging front, I’ll be back with regular updates in the coming weeks, and of course, regular job postings and event announcements.

2013 was quite the rollercoaster for the arts & cultural community — we’ve had a nasty budget with bodies like Culture Ireland and National Cultural Institutions especially hard-hit; the spectacular collapse of Temple Bar Cultural Trust and the closure of the Belltable Arts Centre in Limerick (and worrying times for the Irish Architectural Archives too); campaigns highlighting the precarious position of visual artists and compensation and the need for cultural research and better policy-making processes; controversies over corporate arts sponsorships and the Arts Council Music Recording Scheme bursaries.

Amidst the gossip and gloom there have been many bright spots as well — a very successful run by Derry as City of Culture; Rough Magic and Opera Theatre Company’s fab win in the Sky Arts Ignition competition; booming times for Culture Night nationwide;The Gathering (despite its rocky start) now being hailed as a great success. In our own neck of the woods here at UCD, we launched the new Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy and are looking ahead to issue 2 very soon.

What’s in store for 2014? The fallout from the Limerick City of Culture debacle is set to continue (though a new CEO has just been announced) — and in many ways it serves as an apt distillation of the challenges ahead. The bungled initiative has thrown into painful (and public) relief what we already know: the dominant rhetoric of corporate ‘rebranding’ and clashing conceptions of what a ‘city of culture’ is actually meant to deliver; public ‘cultural management’ practices which betray no deep understanding of either term; the small, imbalanced budgets now assigned to major arts events with the expectation of high (usually non-arts) returns; and the shockingly poor control of taxpayer-funded initiatives by the government department meant to oversee them.

There’s still time for Limerick to get its act together — and the mass turnout at public meetings and high level of publicity generated over the past few days bodes well for Limerick CoC. This matters deeply to many people, in Limerick and nationwide. However the issues underlying CoC that have fuelled this crisis have been with us for some time – and they aren’t going away. I’m looking forward to lots of discussions and debates over the coming months over how we can improve relationships between cultural policy, art practice and public funding, across all of the artform sectors. One of the benefits of working in a university is the boundless energy and enthusiasm for change and opportunity in the arts which floods through our doors every year. And as we enter into a new year, I’m taking a page from their book: perhaps we all need to adopt Woody Guthrie’s final New Year’s resolution (from his list that’s been making the rounds): Wake Up and Fight.

3 thoughts on “Happy new year! Weathering the storms…

  1. Vincent Mccabe says:

    Hi Emily,
    Welcome back and best wishes to you and your colleagues for 2014.
    The curtain opening comedy /travesty of Limerick CoC , as you rightly point out, is evidently another demonstration of the rising desire to control the arts in the interests of administrators, branding by marketing agencies, and tourism at the expense and in utter contempt of the irish public. It would seem that agency capture is almost -but not quite-complete and all is seriously not well in Irish Arts Culture. It would therefore be merely stating the obvious to point out that there is an invaluable lesson here for your faculty and cultural training in Ireland generally. The misplaced over-emphasis on this vulnerable three-legged milking stool under the arts cow may yet see the toppling of the entire bucket if she becomes over-sensitised by the squabbling around her restrained hind-quarters.

    Many administrative skills are of course beneficial to the better management of arts business, however, if practiced aggressively and arrogantly at an unacceptable remove over the heads of artists and public the result can only be the emergence of an “administortion” as evidenced in Limerick serving only the interests of control, containment and potentially censorship. It was good also to hear an articulate an confident arts group respond vociferously to all the bumbling shenanigans.

    Having been an early pioneer in the raw rock cutting work of the Project Arts I witnessed the sanitization of that embryo to the cost of many of its offspring as greater conditional processes developed around the administration of and the dependence on Grant Culture.

    The Limerick situation is particularly disappointing as early foundation work included inclusive practices and were beginning to establish new possibilities involving wider and deeper social interaction. And thereby hangs the political tail attempting to wag the artistic dog.

    With Regards to The Temple Bar Cultural trust It is worth reading the reports (Latitude and Internal etc) which also clearly evidence widespread and reckless misgovernance and possibly criminal illegalities( the Gardai are currently examining the files). As you rightly say this problem has been with us for a long time now and it is more serious than we had previously considered.

    Having just finished a national tour with Red Kettle Theatre Company in December last (inclding Limerick’s Limetree)I understand that The Belltable is back in the hands of Louise Donlon and due to re-open- lets hope so. Still time – only January.

    Finally, when will the contents of the Journal be accessible online?

    Warm Regards
    Vinnie McCabe

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