Posted tagged ‘performing arts’

Higher education and the performing arts

August 30, 2010

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.

Culture for the masses

October 11, 2009

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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