Ever since the infamous Battle of the Books (when the force of Saint Columba and Saint Finnian ended up fighting over the illegal copying of a psalter), Irish people have been opposing each other over the creation and ownership of works of art.
It’s been particularly interesting to watch the dynamics in the Irish art and creative sector over the past 10-15 years, especially where it relates to live performances. In an area where larger, nationally funded organisations tend to dominate the landscape (and hog the available funding), there’s been a noticeable sense of exasperation among performers and creators locked out of that funding stream. That frustration has led to many independents going off to create their own organisations or working as part of larger collectives to compete with the established ‘institutions’ for a more democratic share of the funding.
The pandemic has probably had the biggest impact of all, in that Covid prevented most large-scale performances (the mainstay of the larger art organisations) over a protracted period. Under immense pressure from a struggling sector, the national art funder finally had to release money to smaller, more localised organisations and performance. Since 2020, therefore, we’ve seen some ingeniously innovative, local and regional art productions, most of which wouldn’t even have received the ‘sniff’ of a single Euro just a few years before.
A nice indicator of this is a recent report from ISACS (the Irish Street Art, Circus and Spectacle Network – a support and advocacy group for the smaller arts organisations). ISACS was established in 2010 and since then, have seen their membership grow steadily year on year, reaching a peak in 2021 with over 200 members (40% more than the previous year).
You can be certain that some of the established Irish arts institution will be watching such developments with concern and using every connection they can to ensure the funding goes back to where they believe it should reside (with them).
ISACS are going to have to be very canny and very strategic in their thinking to prevent things going back to the previous status quo.
I wish them luck.
You can find the ISACS promo reel HERE
Image featured above is ‘The Bishop’s Lady’ from Limerick’s 2019 Samhain Festival (creator’s name could not be found)