‘Cometh the hour – cometh the artist?’ – Joseph Conroy

'Cometh the hour - cometh the artist?' - Joseph Conroy“Our state was born 100 years ago – partly from the actions of artists as protagonists, and rebels, as agents of change. The Present chimes with that past again we have shackles to be shaken off – and a mountain to climb. Cometh the hour – cometh the artist.”

So say’s The National Campaign for the Arts’ (NCFA) colourful pre-budget submissions, delivered via YouTube, all snazzy animation, quick cuts, and armature dramatics.

I spoke with Philomena Byrne, part of The NCFA’s communication committee about how cuts over the last 5 years have affected the arts in Ireland – “People just don’t realise the damage that’s been done, the figure that’s been talked about is a 30% cut across the board during the recession. The arts were already operating at the edge before the recession and right now any further cuts in funding could see a whole swathe of organisations go under.”

NCFA constantly stress the importance of the creative industries and its value to the country. It’s an intangible asset that they say is ‘Ireland’s calling card to the rest of the world’.  The NCFA believe that our creative industries are “an underestimated commodity and important in maintaining Ireland’s international reputation”.

It’s important for tourism. In Board Failte’s 2012 Port Survey of Overseas Holiday Makers in 2012 91% of the tourists cited Ireland’s interesting history and culture as an important factor in their decision to visit Ireland.

The NCFA promote the benefits art can offer to people in communities across Ireland – “Art is important it gives us a common sense of purpose, solidarity, a sense of keeping the show on the road. We’ve been so hard pressed that a lot of that has been forgotten about”.

Nadine O’Regan, Books and Arts Editor with The Sunday Business Post spoke with NewsAnois about the problems facing the arts in 2013. She says that there is a measureable drop in the quality of productions staged by the major arts festivals in Ireland, there is, “not the same air of excitement when programs come out, there’s less high-profile international acts”.

But this lack of an international presence can open doors for home-grown talent.

Nadine says that she’s amazed by the resilience of Irish artists, particularly musicians in the face of the crises – “They’ve been forced into rethinking how they do things. They’ve started to band together and pool resources with people making music videos, putting on gigs, loaning equipment […]The quality of music coming out of Ireland has been brilliant, people don’t really care about what’s going on, if they want to make an album they’ll go and make an album.”

Popical Island is a loosely affiliated group of Irish musicians who work together. They all grew out of the same music scene but decided to come together during the recession.

I spoke with Padrig Cooney part of ‘Boss Popical’ their core group. “We decided that if we put a name on what we were already doing and consolidated the mutually beneficial thing we had going, it also had the side-effect of giving something for people to identify us by. Popical Island as an idea and has been a rallying point, something that represents things we consider good about making music. Practically, it provides a network of musicians, producers, graphic designers, artists, van drivers, video makers, merch stall operators and cheerleaders that we can all tap into when the need arises.”

At least Irish artists are being afforded the opportunity to live in some pretty interesting times. The recession has inspired a new-wave of Irish art, reacting and interacting with the crises as it has unfolded.

The Dublin’s Fringe Festivals new director Kris Nelson has observed the economic climate’s effect on the artist output of Ireland’s creative community – “With the fringe you can see that even a classic boy meets boy or boy meets girl or girl meets girl piece is complicated because maybe they’re in their 30’s and they still live with their parents because they have no money – these plays show the impacts of the economic problems on a very personal level”.

He also notes that the plays that Fringe have worked with have not been overly negative “It’s not the storm clouds, their offering hope; the light at the end of the tunnel – that or there’s a really profound protest at the pieces core”.

It seems that the thing that has kept the arts going during the recession has been the vocational nature of the industry. Philomena of The NCFA say that in the current climate and after the cuts the arts have seen in the recessionary years the industry is only being kept a float by “people [who] are willing to work for minimal reward or work as volunteers”.

Nadine also remarks that “Young authors do not see writing full time as a viable option, it’s not like the Tiger years, what they can make from it is incredibly low.”

The music industry has been having its own problems as sources of income have become scarcer and scarcer in the digital age. Musicians have continued to create music. In fact as the price of recording top quality music has become cheaper total musical output is higher than it has ever been.

It seems that no matter how much money leaks from the industry creative people are going to continue to create. Irish art and Irish artists have learned to adapt and work with and around the economic crises and will continue to do so – no matter what.

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