While a safe reopening of theatres and music venues and a return to some kind of normality is its primary concern, the hard-pressed arts sector is also now approaching the time of year when it must plan budgets and prepare annual funding applications to the Arts Council. Many organisations will be doing so in a still-uncertain environment as there is, as yet, no clear sign of any immediate return to permitting full box-office capacity, with the likelihood of continued restrictions on numbers heading into the winter months. It is a scenario that will extend the Covid shadow over venues and producing companies.
Last year the council received a much-needed financial boost from the exchequer, allowing it to support and sustain many arts organisations through the pandemic.The record €130 million provided for 2021 also made it possible for the council to make grants available to many who had not previously benefited from its support.
Arts funding has been an easy target when cuts were on the agenda in the past
The council chairman, Kevin Rafter, welcomed the unprecedented €50 million increase as a "strong signal" that the arts would be central to the Government's national recovery plan. His optimistic view will receive its first test in the forthcoming budget as the sector continues to require extra assitance heading into another tough year.
This long-awaited official recognition of the role and value of culture will have given hope to those who for years have campaigned for more adequate funding. Arts funding has been an easy target when cuts were on the agenda in the past and those working in the sector with long – even short – memories might well fear such short-sighted action again in any move to rein in spending.
Both the government’s very positive approach and the council’s management of the Covid-driven crisis deserve praise, though the matter of policy change on venue numbers and reopening remains an urgent concern. In its 70th anniversary year the council, and the artists it supports, are waiting to see whether the largesse it received this year represents a one-off rescue package or an overdue new deal for the arts.