From top: The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD speaking to the media at Government Buildings yesterday outlining details for her department’s work in relation to Budget 2020; Eamonn Kelly
The budget has not been kind to the arts.
The National Campaign for the Arts said they were “devastated” and feel that the sector is being left behind.
Their head, Angela Dorgan said, in an impassioned press release:
“The announcements today are devastating to Artists’ and Arts workers’ incomes and livelihoods. We feel that despite rhetoric to the contrary, this budget is sending a message to artists that Ireland doesn’t value them.”
But rather than slip into despondent musings, there is an energising aspect to all this. Maybe it’s time to borrow from fiction and declare “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”
Vaclav Havel explained how power works.
“All power is power over someone,” said Havel, “and it always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behaviour of those it rules over…”
Power is a two-way street and if the Arts are not being supported by power, and if 10,000 people are left homeless by power while property owners get rich, this is because power has been taught and shaped by people’s passivity.
But with regard to the arts it goes deeper than this. Because the arts are gestures of Hope. The workshops where hope is created.
Of hope, Václav Havel said:
“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…”
What better summation of the arts could that be? To work on something because it is good. (I am indebted to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings website for collating these insights.) Arts practise itself is Hope. It takes place in a realm where cynicism is absent.
Angela Dorgan said in her press release that the ongoing neglect of the arts makes it:
“next to impossible for our young creative minds to live and work here. They’re all leaving and when they’re gone, who will write the songs and the books, who will create for the theatres, who will create the artworks? Where will the Taoiseach and all the Ministers bring their visiting dignitaries when there is no-one left here to create and make great Art?”
Most people would agree that “good works” are a benefit to society and community. Though I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people who could actually describe to you what a good work actually is.
Helping the disabled, might spring to mind. Or visiting the lonely. Those familiar Christian ideas of “good works”.
But Arts practise also belongs in the realm of good works. It is not work that is of immediate apparent benefit to the fast buck understanding of the utilitarian, but arts practise percolates through the culture and enriches everyone.
Why does everyone listen to songs? What could be more useless than a song? A bauble of nothing, loosely chained by a few words and a tune, that drifts on the air? And yet everyone keeps at least one song locked away in their heart, like a treasure.
Paul Simon wrote of this in his song Renee and Georgette Magritte, about the surrealist artist and his wife coming to New York.
Of all the wonders that they witness, they keep hidden in “the cabinet cold of their hearts”, songs by the doo-wop groups of the time; cheap throwaway, worthless pop songs.
In this song Paul Simon identifies not only the spiritual worth of the apparently worthless bauble of a song or a tune among even the finer arts, but also the mysterious value of art itself in a world ruthlessly defined by economy and the bottom line. But not everything’s value can be measured in cold stats.
He shows, in a song, that in the end the simple popular song is often more valuable to the soul than money. Because the song, like all the arts, contains within it, the seeds of hope and love upon which all humanity invests its private, often unspoken dreams.
When you starve out the arts, you ultimately starve out your own soul and the soul of the culture.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.
Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet
Wednesday: Money For God’s Sake