Noel Kelly, director of the Visual Artists of Ireland, speaking at VAWF 2016
WE had just woken up to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU. Huddled around with coffee in one hand and a generously-chocolate biscuit in the other, people shared titbits of information they had picked up from the news. Cameron had resigned. The pound was plummeting. Companies were already announcing their departure. Would Ireland follow?
It was an overwhelming start to the big day we had ahead. The big day I’m referring to was the Visual Arts Workers Forum, which took place at the Glucksman in Cork on Friday 24 June. This once a year coming together of artists, writers, curators, administrators and more, is an important time for people to share ideas and talk about the challenges facing us all.
The topics on the day were themed around “the future”; the future of spaces; the future of networking; the future of activism. Each section began with short and punchy 5 minute presentations, and ended with a panel discussions. This national meeting of arts workers has real implications for our local community. We know we want more money for the arts, and that it has a hugely transformative potential on our economic, social and cultural lives; if there’s one thing we know in Limerick, it’s about the transformative potential of culture.
There are certain things you can rely on every year at VAWF. There was discussions about the lack of funding, the lack of an art market in Ireland, and the increasingly exhausted career trajectory artists are expected to follow. Yet, the claims that there is no money, that the system is broken, began to meet resistance. One contributor spoke about the need to resist a culture of despair, as “it’s hard enough to be an artist already”.
Across the media, and even in my own column, a lot of the conversation about the arts and funding has focused primarily on gap between Irelands spend on the arts, and the EU average (we’d need 6 times more just to catch up). Mainly spearheaded by the National Campaign for the Arts, this has been one of the most successful campaigns on behalf of the arts in recent years, as it has compressed a long lists of problems, complaints and goals into an easily memorable – and even tweetable – slogan.
This year, VAWF 2016 seemed hungry for solutions, answers and actions. The presentations, panels and audience contributions that stole the limelight were those that were the most specific. Artist Niamh O’Malley provocatively suggested we rename the artist fee, and call it an administration fee to recognise that these small payments don’t come close to compensate the work involved – often ranging from €150 to €500. Additionally, Michelle Browne spoke about her Mothership Project, which was formed in response to the lack support and accessibility of the artworld to parents. And Noel Kelly, director of the Visual Artists of Ireland advocacy group, spoke to the need for more and better research; we know we want additional funding, but until we identify exactly how much, why and for what, policy makers won’t be convinced.
Increasingly, the need for more funding is being linked to the opportunities and potential that a properly funded arts sector offers. Demands are being paired with vision. VAWF 2016 was a condensed overview of this slowly forming groundswell of campaigns, projects and action – here’s to VAWF 2017, I can sense a lot will happen in the meantime.
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