Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sustainable Funding of the Arts and Guinness

Elevated to status of sainthood, Arthur Guinness and his newly formulated 'Arthur's Day' is the deleterious celebration of a man who created the social lubricant of Irish people. Next Thursday will provide the gentle reminder of who is keeping us down and letting us pay for the experience. Additional frivolities have been brought to the corporate embellishment by this year's 'Arthur Guinness Projects'; a scheme run under the banner of 'Championing the talent and creativity of Ireland', allows hopeful, creative people to be in with the chance of winning funding from the burgeoning pockets of Diageo. The requirement being that they have their friends, colleagues and community vote online to show true commitment to the Dear Leader of Irish society.

The positives for Guinness are clear: their brand is associated with young talent, further ensuring that Guinness stays alive in the Irish psyche. The project takes advantage of the lack of funding being provided to the Irish Arts Council. Successive cuts have taken place to the council's budget, damaging the hopes of an Ireland to be known for its imaginative dreams, rather than for poor financial market regulation.

All the while, various projects further enrich the cultural wealth of Ireland, such as the annual Westport Arts Festival and next Friday's Culture Night without corporate branding. While their funding has primarily come from the state, these projects receive sponsorship from local businesses. They remain true to their artistic ambitions: provide the means for art to flourish organically. Sustainable development of the arts, and art funding as it has been up until now, have been locally funded artists creating and performing among their communities. While the fears voiced by Una Mullalley and Emer O'Toole are reasonable responses to the encroachment by a large multinational on culture and national identity, they have forgotten the fundamental nature of art to human psychology and development. What Guinness will not be able to achieve is any embodied connection with art. The projects emerging from the voting competition will achieve far more with the help of funding and will be seen for what they are: projects that would have worked without any connection to Diageo. The fund will certainly aid projects' development and decrease the effort involved in sourcing financing for the drivers behind the projects.

Culturally-valuable art will continue to be sustained and supported by the Irish community, regardless of corporate sponsorship because, as a group, Irish people hold art, culture and heritage dear to their hearts. Our make-up and vibrancy as a nation comes from our shared belief that self-expression and exploration of identity is full of merit. The engagement with the world around us will be as thorough with or without an attempt by a drinks manufacturer to sidle its way into new areas, especially as pressure mounts to end sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies.

The vibrancy of Ireland's heritage will continue to develop from determined individuals living out their ambitions. For young, social entrepreneurs to take benefit from a private company's shrewd business plan makes perfect sense. For Diageo however, the project appears as a vain and insecure attempt at strengthening their marketing power.

'When money's tight and is hard to get,
And your horse has also ran.
When all you have's a heap of debt,
A pint of plain is your only man'.

Flann O'Brien, 'At Swim-Two-Birds', (1939)

While Flann's wistful poem of pints of plain getting us through tough times, Arthur Guinness will not be providing the lasting legacy of art in Ireland.

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