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Press Release : Marking 25 years of Local Arts Development

In June 1985 the first County Arts Officer was appointed to Clare County Council, marking the beginning of a new relationship between the Arts Council and local authorities in promoting and developing the arts at local level.

There are many who would argue that this single strategic initiative has provided the main impetus for the transformation of the cultural landscape of Ireland over the intervening years. Since the 1990s particularly, local authorities have led the development of a number of new arts venues around the country, supported through the central government capital support schemes CDIS, Access I and Access II. New arts legislation introduced in 2003, The Arts Act 2003, requires each local authority to prepare and implement plans for the development of the arts within its functional are. In most instances local authorities had already been developing arts strategies and many are now on their third or fourth plan. There are now 34 arts officers employed by local authorities countrywide.

A conference that marks 25 years of Arts Council and local authority partnership took place in the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick on 25 and 26 November 2010.
Panel discussions on current salient themes – such as the Creative Economy, Area Development and Cultural Planning, were chaired by Olivia O’Leary. Contributions included case studies of Irish Chamber Orchestra, Film Offaly, Derry City of Culture 2013 as well as theoretical and academic responses. Sustainability for arts and cultural development over the next 25 years was a recurrent theme throughout the event.
A special recording of RTE's Sunday Miscellany took place in the The Irish World Academy during the conference. It featured readings by Kay Sheehy, the first arts officer, visual artist Amanda Coogan, Hugh Murray, Chairman of EVA. Music performances included solo performance by Micheal O’Suilleabhain, 12-year-old prodigy, Andreas Varady playing jazz guitar and the Limerick County Youth Choir. This recording will be aired on RTE Radio1 on Sunday 12th December at 9.15am. A podcast from the programme is available www.rte.ie/radio1/sundaymiscellany/
The conference is featured on www.platformireland.ie arts channel, Irelands first audio-visual weekly Local Authority arts news service. The feature has interviews with some of the key contributors in the 25:25 Conference which looked at the role of the arts and culture in achieving local economic and social development objectives.
For further information about the conference, please contact Lucina Russell, Chairperson of the Association of Local Authority Arts Officers
Tel : 045-448318, 087-2399212, Email: lrussell@kildarecoco.ie
FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE 25:25 CONFERENCE
Opening addresses were provided by Frank Dawson, Chairman of the City and County Managers Association, Community, Social and Economic Development Committee, Mary Cloake, Director of the Arts Council and Lucina Russell, Chairpeson of the Association of Local Authority Arts Officers. Each address reinforced the importance of the relationship between the Arts Council and the Local Authority in embedding the Arts Officer and arts service within the local authority.
A key note address by Australian cultural analyst Jon Hawkes focused on the theme of culture as one of the pillars of sustainability in public planning. He talked about the new paradigms there have been in public planning over the past decade, the shift from the 'economic' paradigm to one that is more about sustainability, equity engagement and well- being, referencing the principles of Agenda 21. He differentiated between the arts and the broader church of culture describing them as a 'culturally intense sector'.

The event was formally opened by Michael D Higgins TD, the first Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht (1993- 1997), who mischievously described the early days when Arts Officers were first appointed to the local authority system, which traditionally had little or no provision for the arts. He acknowledged the role of the arts officer in enabling citizens to engage in quality arts experiences at a local level. He lamented the removal of the ‘Arts’ from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport portfolio. He spoke with sadness about the failure to move culture in from the periphery of European concerns. He stated ‘we are living through a period where culture is seen as soft, where economics is hard and where it is most macho to be in the new technology end of the economic Europe. There probably never was a time then when we needed more the capacity to be reflective, to consciously articulate philosophical options’.
Chaired by journalist and broadcaster Olivia O'Leary, a series of lively panel discussions took place with senior contributors from Ireland and the UK exploring the role the role of the arts and culture in local development.
Three distinctive case studies on Local Arts and Area Development – The Irish Chamber Orchestra Music Director of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, John Kelly who compounded his point about creating opportunities to engage with the arts by playing O’Carolans Concerto on violin, Aideen Mc Ginley mapped out the transformation of the Derry in advance of winning the bid to become inaugural UK City of Culture 2013, while Marcella Corcoran Kennedy set the rationale for establishing Film Offaly.
The potential of integrated Cultural Planning to enhance the city was investigated by Dick Gleeson, Planner in Dublin City Council. Jill Miller, Director of Cultural Services, Glasgow spoke about her challenges in managing 141 cultural venues. She emphasised the importance of setting milestones for organisations and the valuable contribution that arts advocates can make. In responding to this, Marian Fitzgibbon, Head of Humanities in AIT reflected on her role as broker in the mid 80s, encouraging County Managers to recruit an arts officer. In 1985, Clare Co Council took the lead, appointing Kay Sheehy. Today there are 34 arts officers in City and County Councils countrywide.
Looking towards the next 25 years, Emer Coleman, Greater London Authority highlighted the potential of social media for arts development in local authorities. Academic Clive Gray cautioned against aligning the value of arts participation against Cultural Tourism and number of bed nights. Professor Finbarr Bradley presented an Ireland in the Innovation Age. He emphasised the importance of embracing Irelands uniqueness as a sustainable competitive advantage. Bradley describes intangible resources that nurture innovation.e. motivation, memory, tradition

The panel discussions were punctuated by artists interventions, entitled ’5 x 5’, whereby 5 artists are being commissioned to create short pieces in response to the theme of Local Arts. Participating artists were Rionach Ni Neill; Andrew Duggan; John Byrne and Laura Fitzgerald. The fifth commission was a commemorative dvd, by Samhain Productions,which poignantly captured the extent of local arts development.
Andrew Duggan presented a new screening of 9.8 Metres per Second, a powerful film shot in one of 70 unsold houses on an estate in Co Carlow, featuring dancer Cindy Cummins. The houses lie empty, uninhabited. Yet there is a eery sense of ghost town abandonment mixed the future possibility of dilapidation.
John Byrnes irreverent autobiographical monologue with projected backdrops referenced previous works such as ‘The Border Worrier’. Byrnes recollection of a conversation with a farmer (his cousin) about his performance and installation artist had resonance for the delegates in terms of the lack of understanding about contemporary arts practice.
Dancer Rionach Ni Neill transformed the conference space, with Seandálaíocht; a multi-media solo performance that explored the paradox of a language spoken by only one person. It reminded the delegates of the potential of spaces for making/ presenting art.
Laura Fitzgerald acted as a visual narrator, creating a series of small scale drawings in response to visual stimulus and performances, ideas and comments raised throughout the conference.
Each of the 5x 5 presentations acted as reflective tools to remind the delegates that nurturing the arts and artists must remain at the heart of what arts officers do.


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