Culture for the masses

Over the past few months I have written twice – here and here – on opera, and have suggested that an Dublin should have an opera house. Maybe I should state a more general principle: I think we need to include development of and support for the arts as one of the key expectations we have of ourselves as a society. Dublin, like many of the world’s major cities, has an impressive number of venues and facilities that house the visual and performing arts (even if it is missing an opera house). More generally, Ireland has an extraordinary array of voluntary and organised groups that put on cultural and artistic events. You can get a flavour of the kind of things on offer on this site, but in fact there are hundreds more all over the country.

The central piece of infrastructure we maintain for the purposes of developing and supporting the arts is the Arts Council. It maintains a database of organisations, venues and events that it has supported, and if you search through this you can see the extraordinary richness of cultural life in Ireland. Of course, times are hard now, and it is reasonable to expect that funding from the exchequer will fall over the next year or two; and so there will be casualties. But hard though this will be for some organisations, it can be accepted; but what we must not do is to conclude more generally that the arts are somehow elitist and therefore deserve to be hit particularly hard.

The arts serve a hugely important purpose in any civilised society. They give us an opportunity to turn a mirror on ourselves so that we can examine who we are and where we are going; they encourage understanding and tolerance; and they support us as we try to maintain civilised values. But they cannot survive effectively on voluntary support alone: the arts are one of those areas of life that do require us, as a society, to provide the funds.

As funding and resources are cut everywhere, it is hard to suggest that the arts should receive money that could go to schools and hospitals. But like schools and hospitals, the arts allow us to be a worthwhile society that will do something better than just scrape by. I hope that as our national priorities are set, they will include a commitment to a sustainable, accessible and still vibrant arts community.

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2 Comments on “Culture for the masses”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I’m going to make three or so points. Ancient Greece had various sites of religious importance, Olympia, Delphi, Athens, Epidaurus, the sanctuary of Asclepios. All had special places for putting on plays. Two in Athens, even if one was a vanity project.
    Now the Greeks had a bit of a thing about Theatre, but generally speaking there was never more that one in a region, o-n-e. Not space for every three gobshites that decide to inflict themselves and whatever nightmareish vision of Othello enters the mind.
    All over the State we have Spaces for this that and the other. And that is exactly the proper word, for these buildings are empty 95% of the time.
    For the next few years, 2020ish or so, we will enjoy trying to pare down Beckett.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Oh and if the telly licence is going to pay for the Orchestras then there should be a an opt out option. If people felt they had paid, then they might not feel so put off.

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