Milestone for Irish museums: Irish Museums Survey 2016 launched

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Launch of the Irish Museums Survey 2016 / LAMN 1916 Exhibition. From left: Liam Bradley (Curator, Monaghan County Museum); John Rattigan (Chair, Local Authority Museum Network); Minister Heather Humphreys; Brian Crowley (Chair, Irish Museums Association); Dr Sandra Collins (Director, National Library of Ireland); Dr Emily Mark-FitzGerald (UCD School of Art History & Cultural Policy). Photo by Gary O’Neill.

 

It’s out! Yesterday more than 100 museum professionals gathered at an event in the National Library of Ireland for the launch of the Irish Museums Survey 2016 by Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

This survey is indeed a milestone: it’s the first comprehensive study of the Irish museum sector in a decade. Funded by the Irish Research Council’s ‘Engaging Civic Society’ scheme, it’s the product of a collaboration between the Irish Museums Association and UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy.

I was the Principal Investigator and author of the report (along with the research team Gina O’Kelly, Dr Colleen Thomas, and Fernando Sanchez), and I’m delighted it’s now available as an online publication.

The results are alternately fascinating, encouraging, and worrying. Here are a few highlights:

  • There are approximately 230 museums in Ireland (north and south); 118 participated in the survey (ranging from independent/community museums to national cultural institutions)
  • 6.1 million visitors were welcomed by Irish museums in 2014: on average museums reported 35% international and 61% domestic visitors.
  • The positive effects of the Museum Standards Programme of Ireland (run by the Heritage Council) over the past decade in enhancing museum practice nationwide was widely observed
  • Provision of educational services has increased from 31% in 2005 to 60% of museums in 2016
  • Digital engagement has risen sharply: museums reported growing levels of collection digitisation, and high levels of engagement on the web and on social media: 98% of museums have a website; 78% are on Facebook; and 40% are on Twitter

… however …

  • 46% of museums have experienced budget decline since 2005; this contrasts sharply with 2005 data.
  • Museums have experienced drastic reductions to the labour force and increasing reliance on volunteers, interns and community employment schemes: 41% indicated they are ‘very dependent’ on voluntary/unpaid labour, and 17% of museums have no paid employees at all. The majority of museums (77%) are staffed by fewer than 10 paid employees.
  • Comments from participants extensively detailed problems with infrastructure and basic facilities, affecting museums across the country. Cutbacks on every aspect of museum provision (education, programming, conservation, security, etc.) indicate the broad and deep impact of budget reductions and hiring freezes.

The report is chock-full of information and analysis, covering all aspects of museum activity. We hope this report will help inform future programming and planning for museums at national and regional levels. This is especially critical for many institutions (large and small) which reported serious problems with infrastructure and facilities in a severe state of disrepair.

Our primary recommendations? In a nutshell:

  1. Establish a research unit to enhance quality and regularity of data collection, based at the Irish Museums Association, the Heritage Council, or the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
  2. Improve museums’ data collection practices by developing training opportunities for Irish museums, to better support advocacy efforts.
  3. Prioritise, in future policies and programmes, the primary resource needs as identified by museums: (1) capacity (staff, volunteers, time); (2) funding and fundraising support; (3) buildings and storage.
  4. Enhance support of community and independent museums, including a review of supports and the development of a national strategy concerning the needs of small museums.
  5. Offer additional training and resourcing in the areas of digitisation and the development of digital and online strategies.
  6. More detailed research is needed on museum outreach and education, to be further correlated with policy developments such as the Arts in Education Charter.
  7. Low rates of improvement in disabled access since 2005 should be addressed by museums as a priority.

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(version for web viewing)

(version for printing)

 

 

Arts jobs, events, and publication announcements

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Places Matter The Umbrella Project by Rhona Byrne, commissioned by Fire Station Artists’ Studios and supported by Dublin City Council

Like most scholars of memory & Irish history on this island, I’m wiped – 2016 has been a crazy busy year due to centenary-related events (nine conference papers/presentations since Sept, plus an exhibition opening!) Apologies for the relative blog silence as consequence.

A few updates, in any event:

Jobs have recently been refreshed — lots of great ones in there: CEO for the Irish Baroque Orchestra; General Manager of Macnas; Collections Registrar for the National Trust NI; Heritage Officer for Westmeath Co. Council; etc.

Registrations are now being taken for Places Matter: what happens when we invest in the arts? on 12 January 2017, Dublin Castle, a one-day conference on local arts engagement organised by the Arts Council of Ireland in collaboration with Local Government. The speaker list looks very interesting (esp. keynote by Geoffrey Crossick), and I’m looking forward to seeing Emmett Kirwan in a new setting!

The Irish Museums Association’s Annual Lecture is next week (28 November) and this year features Diane Lees, Director-General of the Imperial War Museums. The lecture will be taking place in the special surroundings of the newly renovated Courthouse at Kilmainham Gaol. Tickets are only €5 and this lecture regularly books out, so do register to avoid disappointment.

Next week will also see the launch of two big projects, long in development:

  • The Irish Museums Survey 2016, the first major survey of Irish museums in more than a decade, will be launched at the National Library of Ireland on 30 November by Minister Heather Humphreys. I was the Principal Investigator on this project, which was funded by the Irish Research Council and executed in collaboration with the Irish Museums Association. I’ll be publishing a separate post after the launch, detailing some of our key findings, which will be of interest to anyone working in the heritage or museum sector on the island!
  • We’re very pleased as a School to announce the publication of After Francoise Henry: 50 Years of Art History at UCD (1965 – 2016), part of our current anniversary celebrations. arthistorybookIt features scholarly contributions from members of the staff, past and present. The book will be launched on Thursday, and will be available soon for purchase.

Upcoming events in Irish arts management and cultural policy

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Titanic Quarter – image c/o visitbelfast.com

Lots of exciting updates in today’s post!

Jobs have recently been refreshed: closing soon are posts at the Tain Arts Centre, Droichead Arts Centre, Screen Producers Ireland, etc.

Next week (13-15 October) is a major conference on Making Memory: Visual and Material Cultures of Commemoration in Ireland, at the National Gallery of Ireland and NCAD. A very diverse lineup of artists, historians, archaeologists, geographers, and heritage professionals will be speaking about memory-work in a variety of commemorative contexts. Don’t miss Guy Beiner’s keynote on vernacular memory in the Royal Irish Academy on Day 2 – he’s really an outstanding speaker, and his visits to Ireland are always a treat.

Enfranchising Ireland? Identity, Citizenship and the State is a public seminar on offer at the Royal Irish Academy on 20 October. Expect political big-hitters including Francis FitzGerald (Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality), and expert presentations on contemporary and historical perspectives on Irish citizenship and the public sphere.

The Irish Museums Association event City Life: Museums and Community Regeneration on 21 October is now taking reservations. This is a FREE event at Ulster University (with free transport from Dublin – Belfast provided for students and IMA members) sponsored by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Rural, Regional, and Gaeltacht Affairs,. A great lineup of speakers will be addressing case studies of community-building and museums, followed by a guided site visit.

Mise Eire? Shaping Ireland through Design is taking place from 4-5 November at the National Museum of Ireland (Collins Barracks). Apart from having a stunning website (!) this 2-day seminar is part of the 2016 centenary programme, and a partnership project between the National Museum of Ireland and the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland. Highlights include a keynote by Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes, and a fabulous range of speakers encompassing all aspects of design and national identity.

The Cultural Policy Observatory Ireland has announced details of its 2-part winter seminar at University of Limerick on 16 November. Part 1 is a Methods Seminar for CPOI Affiliate Researchers and doctoral candidates; Part 2 is a public lecture by renowned cultural policy scholar Eleonora Belfiore. Reservations for both segments are now being accepted!

Who chooses cultural management as a career, and why?

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Today’s Arts Management Network newsletter carries a very interesting review of the French sociologist Vincent Dubois’ new book Culture as a Vocation: Sociology of career choices in cultural management.

Based on interviews with 654 students in MA courses in cultural management in France, it yields some intriguing insights on the demographics and aspirations of those seeking to become cultural managers (emphases mine):

Dubois examines, on the basis of his survey, the social factors and characteristics of the aspirants for an occupation in cultural management. In doing so he finds that these persons are mainly female, in the majority have a comparatively secure social background, often originate from families of academics and are equipped with a high educational capital. On top of that they frequently come out of an environment in which they early had the opportunity to socialize in a cultural way, as for example by getting private teaching lessons in music instruments or by being member of a theatre group.

This resonates strongly with my experience working in UCD’s Arts Management & Cultural Policy MA for 13 years. Given that arts management is often an economically precarious and competitive career, Dubois’ research into individual motivations for pursuing this path is intriguing:

Finally, Dubois points out further reasons for a career aspiration in cultural management – resulting from a broader social context. Thus, many of his study participants understand cultural work as an expression of self-fulfillment, freedom and satisfaction, because it gives them the feeling of doing something for the public welfare and acting for a higher purpose in life. Thereby, at the same time, they distance themselves from pure economically orientated occupational fields. A career in cultural management by that becomes a personal self-realization project, all in the sense of the central concepts of neo-capitalism.

Whether or not you agree such aspirations are an expression of neo-capitalist ideologies (and I would be more doubtful of aspects of this analysis), the descriptions Dubois offers are very compelling. To date, most research on the arts labour market deals with artists’ careers, incomes and training. Given the expansion and development of arts management as a specific career path (something I am directly involved with), this type of research is very valuable in thinking through the challenges of arts management training, and consequences for the sector as a whole. The overwhelming dominance of entry-mid level arts management positions by women, for example, is often remarked upon, but we understand little about the effect this actually has on careers, progression, and the functioning of arts organisations themselves.

One of the insights I found most interesting is Dubois’ description of the relationship between the social backgrounds of arts management and audience development agendas:

Dubois’ findings make it clear that the diversification of the audience required by cultural institutions can hardly be successful if the majority of their staff originates from academic families with a (high) cultural education. They simply cannot put themselves in the position of the living conditions of socially disadvantaged people or groups of society belonging to minorities and therefore in their work they reflect – as it is also criticised again and again – especially their own expectations of culture and cultural mediation.

This is a problem further exacerbated by the prevalence of unpaid internships in the arts, which creates a significant barrier to a diverse work force — a paradox not fully acknowledged by arts organisations that may run outreach programmes, but be structurally closed off for professional entry by individuals from similarly challenged backgrounds.

There are so many questions raised by this study — I look forward to reading the full text at length — and discussing whether they apply (or not) to the Irish experience.

 

A New Irish Ministry for the Arts (Or, Through a Hedge, Backwards)

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upon hearing the cabinet reshuffle news

(*update 11/5/16: thanks to RTE Arena for having me on air yesterday to speak about this: piece begins at 4:00. Please consider signing the petition to reconfigure a new arts ministry started by John O’Brien)

Like many in this country, I’ve been patiently waiting for our warring political factions to hammer out some kind of resolution to the election impasse. Listening to the radio, getting my young kids ready for school in the morning rush, stopping for the occasional eyeroll as the merits of this-or-that coalition is debated… waiting.

Finally on Friday, the new Cabinet was announced. Some familiar faces, a few surprises, and then the biggest shock of all: the newly configured Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht. Cue my disbelief.

In what other European country would such a combination be acceptable, or even logical? Have the arts (and heritage, which seems to have fallen off a cliff) really fallen so low in government estimation?

Call me an optimist: in the triumph of hope over experience, I’ve perpetually believed that as the economy improved, our government might turn again to nurturing the cultural life that has actually sustained us during these last few, depressing years of recession. That it might recognise how, in spite of resources slashed and professional expertise often discredited, folks working in our cultural sector have continued doing what they love and believe in, often at great personal expense (both in terms of morale, and financially). Playwrights and novelists haven’t stopped writing; actors and musicians have persisted in performing; artists continue to create work that makes us think and challenges us to look at the world anew. Museum workers, even in their dwindling numbers, welcome school groups across the country; volunteers keep heritage sites open and welcome visitors with a cup of tea; our national collections and archives continue to paste over the cracks, and keep institutions functioning in the face of disappearing funding, threats to their independence and the hiring moratorium.

What about the near-incessant stream of 1916 centenary events? Who do the government think have been producing the talks, performances, exhibitions, public events that have attracted thousands over the past few months, with many more in planning? I’m of the personal view that the commemorations have been incredibly rich, dramatically expanding public narratives that were previously frozen by polarised political ideologies. We can be proud of our centenary year to date – but this is because of the creatives (artists, archivists, academics, etc) and the willing public who have made it so.

I’m flabbergasted, frankly. Some will say the cabinet reshuffle doesn’t matter: power has, and always will, essentially rest with the senior civil servants who actually run the Department of Arts & Whatever Else You’re Having. But I happen to think it does matter. Do we live in a society that believes in the integrity and value of our cultural life? Why haven’t we been given a government department and minister that signal a central (not peripheral) willingness to cultivate and protect our much-lauded reputation as a small, global, cultural powerhouse? All too often it feels that Ireland’s cultural richness has not emerged because of government support: it’s happened in spite of it.

What does this active disregard feel like on the ground? Let’s just look at one slice of this – Irish museums –as I happen to be finishing writing up the results of the Irish Museums Survey (to be published in the next month). Funded by the Irish Research Council and undertaken by the Irish Museums Association and UCD, it’s the first time in a decade any statistics have been collected on the museum sector (these aren’t officially collected, by the way). The more sophisticated analysis will come later, but here are just a few insights into what eight years of budget cuts have achieved (some from the survey, and others from my own experience):

  • In 2015, 300,000 visited the Natural History Museum of Ireland (ah, the Dead Zoo! Beloved of generations everywhere, and annually in the top ten most visited free attractions in Ireland). It had no dedicated education staff, and only 2 curators (one of whom is the Director).
  • 40% of the budget of the National Museum of Ireland system has been slashed since 2008. Let that figure sink in.
  • Thousands of tickets have already been pre-booked for the (free) exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at the National Gallery of Ireland, which opened 5 days ago. Yet a large proportion of the gallery has been closed since 2011: despite government declarations it would reopen in 2015, and then 2016, it’s now slated for spring 2017 (maybe?) Apart from the loss of public access to national collections, this also means we’ve had a talented museum director (as we are lucky to have in Sean Rainbird) compelled to manage a mostly-closed museum.
  • As part of the Museum Survey we asked 100+ museums across the country (small and large; urban and rural) what impact budget changes have made over the past five years. Here is just a small sample of the responses (more to come!):
    • Our heating was removed
    • Reception staff annual leave has to be covered by curatorial staff
    • A reduction in staff numbers from 28 to 5
    • Difficulty in paying electricity and public liability
    • A 70% drop in our programming budget
    • Unable to repair damaged roof and flood damage

Such accounts could be multiplied many times over, if extended to the visual, performing, and literary arts. And yet – on 28 March at the conclusion of RTE’s acclaimed broadcast Centenary, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to the centrality of Irish culture as inspiring the new State:

From that foundation, that cultural and literary awakening, Irish artists known and appreciated throughout the world have emerged, and continue to emerge. Tonight we celebrate not only our rich cultural heritage, but also its contemporary expression, our new imaginings, and the many creative ways in which we are telling our stories. For ours is a story still in the making.

This year, as we celebrate this important centenary and reflect on what we have achieved, we are committing ourselves to continuing the journey of imagination, committing ourselves to sustain the artistic work that will form the next chapter of our story.

A month later, and we’ve been presented with the new Department of RDRAAG to carry this ‘national story’ forward. Perhaps no acronym has ever been more fitting.