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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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.