Skip to main content

Remarks at the Inaugural Forum of the Chamber of Arts, Heritage and Culture


Remarks by An Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore TD at the Inaugural Forum of the Chamber of Arts, Heritage and Culture

 Dublin Castle, 17 January

 A chairde.

Tá an-áthas orm bheith i bhur láthair ar an ocáid specialta seo. Tá me buíoch dibh as an cuireadh agus an fáilte forchaoin a chur sibh romham.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here in Dublin Castle for today’s discussion on the topic: ‘Harnessing the Cultural Sector as an Economic Resource – An Unparallelled Opportunity and Project of its Time’. Particular thanks to Audrey McKenna and Neil Keenan for their kind invitation to address you at this, the inaugural forum of the Chamber of Arts, Heritage and Culture.

Audrey first introduced me to her idea for a Chamber of Culture a few years ago over coffee in Bloomfield Shopping Centre. She described it as a movement to support the particular set of needs of practitioners operating in the art that would mirror the Chamber of Commerce model. It was an idea she has been developing for about a decade arising from her strong belief that there is no contradiction between being an artist and a business person.

Since that meeting Audrey has developed the Chamber and has benefitted from the tremendous support and guidance Neil Keenan and his colleagues in the Dun Laoghaire Chamber of Commerce have given to the initiative.

I am delighted to note that the Chamber of Arts, Heritage and Culture has grown and prospered since its official launch a year ago. The Chamber’s mission statement To be a platform to bring together all aspects of Arts, Heritage & Culture and link them with business organisations at a Local, National & International level so that Arts, Heritage and Culture can be a key economic driver for Ireland going forward” is indeed a bold and optimistic one.  However just seeing the attendance here today is testament to the fact that you are more than meeting this remit.

The areas under the remit of the Chamber are and always have been fundamental human enterprises. When we seek to know the nature of a people in another place or time, we go to their buildings, artefacts, rituals, stories, and music. When we seek to understand the meaning of life or ambition, we go to music, drama, art, literature and film. In making and appreciating art and culture, we make ourselves. In understanding our culture and heritage we understand ourselves. These traits are central to cultural identity. This comprises the common experience of all humans as a species, and also the distinctive identity of particular peoples, places and times.

There have been many champions in these areas over the years, but I think that both the Arts Council and Business to Arts deserve special mention.

Over 60 years old, the Arts Council possesses considerable knowledge and expertise. Established in the 1950s, in a different Ireland, the Arts Council is a major positive force in the development of the arts in Ireland today. This year, the Arts Council will receive almost €57 million in funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Business to Arts is dedicated to creating the structures to support and fund the Irish arts community. Since its establishment a quarter of a century ago as Cothu, Business to Arts has strived to enable and support creative partnerships between business, individuals and the arts. I’m delighted to note that Stuart McLaughlin, CEO of Business to Arts is here today and sorry to have missed his contribution to the discussion.

We all recognise that we are living in challenging times. In times of difficulty, it is easy to underestimate the importance of our cultural heritage when competing priorities dominate the headlines.

However, this Government is strongly of the view that arts and culture, as well as being central to our cultural identity, have an important contribution to make to Ireland’s economic recovery.

Despite extremely straitened budgets, for every government department, for every week of 2014 more than €2.3 million will be invested in arts, culture, film and national cultural institutions. Well over half of this - €70 million - will go to the Arts Council and the Film Board. This will help to maintain and support the important role the arts play in innovation and expression as well as job creation and economic recovery.

There is much potential in the arts and in the cultural, heritage and creative industries to create growth and jobs. A key objective for the Government, will be to maximise the economic and employment creation potential of these sectors. Cultural tourism – to which these sectors bring so much value - also has a significant contribution to make to Ireland’s economic recovery and the rebuilding of Ireland’s reputation on the international stage.

My own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade views Ireland’s culture as a unique national strength which defines us on the world stage and is one of our greatest competitive advantages. Culture is also an effective “door opener” which helps in our pursuit of objectives relating to jobs, trade, investment and tourism.

Cultural diplomacy is an important part of the broader public diplomacy work of our Embassy Network. It allows us to promote Ireland to a much broader range of people than traditional government-to-government contacts. During 2012 our Embassies overseas organised almost 350 cultural events, to promote Irish literature, music, dance, film, fashion, crafts and art. This is in addition to our close coordination with Culture Ireland, which ensures that the local knowledge and contacts of the Embassy network are put to work to maximise the potential of international travel by Irish artists.

We are immensely proud of our cultural offering and of the dynamic and innovative culture sector here in Ireland. We are always grateful to Irish artists and academics who travel overseas to participate in events organised by the Embassy Network; this support and expertise is essential in helping us to effectively promote Ireland through its culture across the world.

2014 promises to be another great year for Irish Culture overseas. Our Embassies are building on the success of the ‘Culture Connects’ programme which was a central part of our EU Presidency and are planning ambitious events in both established and new markets.

This summer, Ireland will feature as country of honour at the ‘Festival Interceltique de Lorient’ which will have 700,000 attendees. In China, the first ever Irish Studies Conference will take place, with academics travelling from across China and from Europe. St Patrick’s Day will again play a central role in our promotional efforts, with parades, ceilis and festivals taking place across the globe- from Amsterdam to Zambia.

Through the Global Irish Network, the Government engages with more than 300 of the most senior Irish and Irish-connected business figures across the globe. Culture is, rightly, a constant in that dialogue.

Culture also featured at the most recent Global Irish Economic Forum, in October.  Among the ideas to emerge from our discussions in Dublin Castle were the designation of a year to celebrate Irish design and a proposal for the development of a system to measure the full impact of the investment of Government, business and artists in the arts.  I expect we will see progress in these areas in coming months.

Ireland has long been recognised internationally for the important role that Irish creators have played, at home and abroad, for many generations. The diversity and quality of creativity in Ireland is the most important ingredient in fostering our reputation of being a dynamic and culturally rich nation.

The link between the cultural and tourism brands is particularly powerful. Tourism Ireland has identified “sightseers and culture seekers” as among the best international tourist prospects, currently accounting for almost 60% of all holidaymakers to the island of Ireland. There is also strong growth potential. Of the 115m potential visitors to Ireland in the ten largest markets, 75m have a strong interest in sightseeing and culture, and for 33m of those, it is their core holiday motivation.

In an increasingly globalized world, our arts, culture and heritage have become our 'calling card' and our Unique Selling Point on the international stage. The Gathering 2013 helped strengthen those bonds and afforded us an opportunity to showcase all that is good about this country. So by carefully building on our renowned international reputation for arts, culture and the creative industries, this sector will continue to be an important element in restoring our presence on the world stage.

This Government came to office almost three years ago, with one overriding objective:  economic recovery.  And while much remains to be done before our people can truly feel that recovery in their own pockets, recent developments allow us to be optimistic about our prospects. Companies across Ireland, including enterprises represented here today, have created 58,000 jobs in the past twelve months. We have moved from a situation where we were losing 1,600 jobs a week during the crisis to one where we are now creating 1,200 a week.

This performance is shoring up the economic conditions which allowed our exit from the EU/IMF Programme in December, and creating the confidence in our recovery which led to our very successful engagement with the international bond markets earlier this month.

Much of this is due to the resilience not only of our people, but of small and medium enterprises across Ireland, including those active in the arts, heritage and culture sphere, who have faced the difficult economic conditions of the past few years with great resolve and determination. 

The arts, our culture and our heritage form part of a rich tapestry within which Irish national life is woven and overlaid in a myriad of ways. The importance of showcasing and promoting the wealth of arts and culture in Ireland should not be underestimated – both in terms of ‘soft power’, and economic return, that in turn creates jobs and opportunities for our people. That is why initiatives such as yours are so important.

I know that the Chamber of Arts, Heritage and Culture in the years ahead can make a significant contribution to that common endeavour, and I wish you well in that journey.  Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.