Higher education and the performing arts

When I became President of DCU in 2000, I was immediately drawn into the world of Ireland’s performing arts in various unexpected ways. Construction for the Helix, which was to be North Dublin’s main cultural centre, had begun in earnest, but we were all perhaps a little unprepared for the task of running it and making it pay (or at least not siphon off money from the rest of the system). I was also asked to join the board of the National Chamber Choir; and almost at once I was also having to grapple with the government’s then plans to establish an Irish Academy for the Performing Arts based in (but not integrated into) DCU.

At that time my experience of the performing arts was as a member of the audience. What struck me early on, however, was that the performing arts (like sport) should be playing a huge role in the university’s life; but what also struck me was that we were all fairly ignorant about how the arts work.

In Ireland there are performing arts programmes in at least four higher education institutions, whole others (including DCU) have been playing a leading role in supporting performers and performing groups in practice. In DCU, apart from the National Chamber Choir, this includes Classic Stage Ireland and all the things that go on in the Helix. Quite apart from the inherent intrinsic merit of drama, music and dance, the performing arts use techniques and encourage attitudes that are eminently transferable to other contexts including management.

Right now provision and support for the performing arts in higher education is scattered around the country and is uncoordinated. This slightly chaotic scene has produced significant uncertainty about future funding, about higher education infrastructure for the arts, and about the future of performing arts-focused institutions such the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM, with degrees validated by DCU) or the Gaiety School of Acting.

The arts are also part of what makes a country attractive to investors. To maximise their impact, the current higher education providers of arts programmes or activities should at their own initiative coordinate their efforts much more and offer shared programmes. It is an area that needs to be taken much more seriously.

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5 Comments on “Higher education and the performing arts”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Isn’t this a bit like saying that education is a bad thing. That anyone who makes such a statement might as well stamp a patent of idiot on his forehead.
    However is it not also like that report from RTE this morning about the new heart drug. Where they are including Arklow in the mix as if Arklow has had a impact of the developement.

  2. Al Says:

    Arts should also learn how to perform financialy too.
    A healthy performing arts community is one that can sustain itself.

  3. Mark Dowling Says:

    @Al – It’s interesting to speak of an “arts community”. In theory, a community should be self-sustaining, with some parts profitable, others not and the former helping out the latter.

    To the outsider, it seems like the profitable bits of the arts keep their money (tax free, to a certain extent) while the unprofitable bits are required to seek funding from general taxation. This is an overly simplistic view, since at least some sales and income taxation accrues from arts endeavours, but it’s probably worth serious study.

    Our host said: “the performing arts use techniques and encourage attitudes that are eminently transferable to other contexts including management.” But how many members of those arts would fancy swapping a grant system simply for being an artist for becoming a sort-of academic, and how would the teaching unions welcome this involvement?

    • Al Says:

      Transferable techniques attitudes….?

      Now that I think of this, it is an important point.
      Alot of arts exist on a shoestring and create materials from pocket change.

      ~If only the public purse was managed by such techniques….

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