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Arts austerity could close curtains

Between The Lines
Arts austerity could close curtains

Aíne Ryan

AS the author of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, it is unsurprising that Lewis Carroll once wrote: “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” In the computer animated 2010 film of the famous story, which starred Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, my childhood memories of this wonderful tale that unleashes the imagination once again hurtled through the world of Mad Hatter and March Hare, White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat. . . 
Film, theatre, music, books, paintings, sculptures, the arts, in general, provides the bedrock for cultures. They free the shackles of humdrum rational thought, everyday routine, grim reality. They put a lens back on the status-quo, highlighting its hilarity, exposing its smugness, revealing its anachronisms, challenging its dogmas and dictums.
To ensure its efficacy as an integral, yet separate, dimension of community and society – as a unique contributor to the quality of life of the citizen – the arts must be supported by the State but not be its agency.
Unfortunately, just like every sector in our bankrupt post Celtic Tiger society, the arts have been bludgeoned by austerity measures. Major funding cuts in Mayo’s premier arts centre, the Linenhall, in Castlebar, may lead to redundancies and cutbacks in programming. Longtime Director Marie Farrell has told The Mayo News that if the local authorities, Castlebar Town Council and Mayo Council do not offer more financial support for the centre, she would have to take drastic action.
Ms Farrell was responding to the significant cut in the annual Arts Council grant for the centre. Unlike newer centres – many of which opened throughout the Celtic Tiger years and have a different funding model – the Linenhall relies mainly on the Arts Council for its annual funding. Along with Box Office receipts, this grant contributes to staff costs, overheads and the busy weekly programme offered by the centre. 
She explains: “The Arts Council strategy means there is disproportionately less funding for core-funded centres like ours. We are the older and longer established arts centres like the Backstage in Longford, the Triskel in Cork and the Belltable in Limerick. On the other hand, there is a whole raft of newer centres that receive dual-funding through Structural Funds along with grants from local authorities.”
Unlike the newer arts centres, which may have only one fulltime employee and a team of FÁS workers or other State sponsored employment schemes, the Linenhall employs nine staff and also provides a lot of employment for artists throughout the year.
Stressing the urgency of better local authority funding for the Linenhall, Marie Farrell illustrates her point further by comparing the fact that Castlebar Town Council had awarded the Linenhall €4,200 for this year whilst Ballina Town Council had given the Ballina Arts Centre €30,000.
However, it must be noted that the Ballina centre only received €40,000 from the just announced Arts Council funding while the Linenhall received €205,000; this reflects the distinction made above between the core-funding and dual-funding of centres. In effect, this is the nub of the problem. 
This funding dichotomy for the Linenhall is clearly illustrated by the fact that the Castlebar centre receives the third highest grant for such a venue by the Arts Council but is, at least half way down the list of arts centres (around 40), when grants from local authorities are added.
Marie Farrell explains that this is the fourth year of severe cutbacks in Arts Council funding, although a smaller cut in 2011 gave, as it transpires, false hope.
“We are down almost 40% on our 2008 tranche when we received €330,000 in comparison to €204,000 this year. We will have to reduce our programming now and consider redundancies,” she says.
Along with the nine staff on the Linenhall’s payroll, four FÁS employees are Visual Artists who run the Schools Programme.
Farrell says she must now devise a major fund-raising drive that may target well-disposed diaspora who have, perhaps, in the past enjoyed the broad selection of artistic events hosted at this iconic centre.

Council must be ‘fair’ to all centres
THE bottom line for Mayo County Council is that ‘it just wants to be fair’ to all the arts centres it funds around the county. And, like all government monies, its pot for the arts is smaller this year.
Speaking on behalf of its arts section, John Condon, the County Secretary, explains that the council supports six venues, of varying sizes throughout Mayo: the Linenhall (Castlebar), Ballina Arts Centre, Custom House Studios (Westport), Inis Gluaire (Belmullet), Ballinglen Arts Foundation (Ballycastle) and the Charlestown Arts Centre.
“Some of these centres get Arts Council funding and they all get money from the local authority. Last year Mayo County Council gave these centres €160,000 between them; this year we only have €144,000 to give them due to cutbacks. Recently, we had one-to-one meetings with them all to exchange information and to help determine how much we should allocate to each centre. We are now at the stage where we are considering these allocations,” says John Condon.
He continues: “For example, last year we gave the Linenhall €35,000 and Ballina Arts Centre €42,000, because it needed it more, and serves a large population. To put it in context, the Linenhall has an annual budget of about €500,000, Ballina has one of €200,000 and the Custom House has one of around €100,000. Because Mayo is so large it is necessary for us to support all the centres so that all the population has access to the arts. We are just as anxious that the people of Ballina and Belmullet, Ballycastle and Charlestown have equal access to the arts as the people of Castlebar.”
“We obviously have less money now but we are trying to be fair and want to help all the arts centres to survive,” adds John Condon.

Special contribution

ARTISTIC endeavours are a key element at Carrowbeg Enterprises in Westport. Its Manager, Jackie O’Grady-Dever has nothing but praise for the Custom House Studios, at Westport Quay, where many service users have indulged their artistic side.
She says the courses at the Custom House have ‘provided us with the opportunity to live out our Mission Statement for our service users to realise their full potential for living full and satisfied lives’.
Ms O’Grady-Dever observes that these courses help the service users to ‘discover new capabilities and creativities’, as well as ‘new levels of autonomy’, while the friendships and relationships with each other and the artists also enhances their quality of life.
“This has led to a level of confidence in each person that may never have developed otherwise. Often times the ability to communicate with word proves difficult but through art this is made easier and less frustrating,” Jackie O’Grady Dever explains.