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Minister Cannon T.D. speech at the Inaugural Irish Central Creativity & Arts Awards

Thanks to Liam Lynch, Mike Rich, Connla McCann, Caoimhe Ní Mhuilleoir and all involved in pulling together tonight’s event.

Congratulations to the winners and to all the nominees.

The wealth of creative talent in this room is astounding.

For the first such awards, Irish Central has done a remarkable job – not just in pulling together this evening’s event but in mobilising interest and excitement. I am already looking forward to next year!

Arts and culture have long been Ireland’s international calling card.

This is built on long-established foundations.

In the Nineteenth Century, and later, Irish men and Irish women came to this country.

At the time, to outside observers, they came with little or nothing – no possessions to speak of.
However, what they did bring was much greater than material possessions. They brought their music, their culture and their names.

These gave them a sense of pride and togetherness, including when facing discrimination and when struggling for a place in society.

They kept their culture alive and this culture – our traditional culture - has been woven into the fabric of the United States.

Ireland’s traditional music and dance and, increasingly, the language, continue to attract people – those with and without Irish heritage – to Ireland.

Celebrating and promoting Ireland’s contemporary culture and creativity reinforces rather than replaces this connection.

The traditional and the contemporary sit side by side - sometimes even in the same event, as we saw in Dublin with the Irish Arts Centre’s show bringing Liam O Maonlaí together with the jazz singer Cassandra Wilson.

We must help both to flourish.

Of course, creativity is about much more than the arts and, rightly, tonight’s awards recognise this.

The arts may be what fosters creativity and allows it to grow, but it touches on every aspect of our lives. It is manifest in engineering, in business, in fashion and in design – in science as much as in the arts.

We saw some of this showcased in 2015, celebrated as the Year of Irish Design. But it is something we need to pursue more consistently.

Creativity sets humans apart. We can bring it to bear in everything we do.

In my home region, in the west of Ireland, companies apply creativity to addressing all kinds of issues in the development of complex medical devices and addressing challenges in the broader life sciences.

The creativity of the Irish is at work in these and many other areas.

Thank you to Irish Central for celebrating this broad-based view of creativity.

Irish Arts Across the US
Those of you here this evening who are New York-based have a wealth of Irish culture to draw upon on an ongoing basis. You can see it side-by-side with the best the world has to offer – and holding its own.

It reaches other places also, beyond the East Coast - thanks to the likes of Catherine Barry, of the Los Gatos Irish Writers Festival, and the O’Sheas of the Celtic Junction Arts Center.

But that reach is not what it could be. There are parts of the US which are not adequately serviced by Irish culture, in particular by contemporary culture. There is demand for it – demand from presenters and from consumers – but it is not always easy to meet that demand.

With this in mind, at the beginning of the year, the Consulate here in New York, in partnership with Culture Ireland, convened a meeting of Irish cultural centres from across the US. Representatives from 16 States, plus Canada, turned up.

It marked the beginning of a process to build a stronger network of cultural centres and groups, capable of sharing information and performances and, ultimately, deepening Ireland’s reach through culture, all across North America.

It is a collective endeavour and we are open to participants and to ideas.

We want to work with you.

Ladies and Gentleman,

Irish Central’s founder, Niall O’Dowd, recently wrote in the Irish Times of the challenges faced in maintaining our links with the diaspora. While I might not agree with everything he wrote, he is right on the scale of the challenge and he is right that we need to be innovative in trying to meet it.

In successive US censuses, the number of people self-identifying as Irish-American has declined. We have lost a connection with millions.

I believe strongly that culture is essential to maintaining and growing again those connections.

You represent some of the best of Ireland culture and creativity here in the United States.

You make connections with young and old alike, with both Irish and Irish Americans.

I hope we can lean on your talent and your achievements as we work to repair lost links and to build new ones, all across this country.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In a podcast last year, one of tonight’s nominees, Maeve Higgins, said that “creativity is a form of speaking truth to power”.

It is. It always has been. It can make it possible to say things that might not otherwise be said.

Please keep that spirit and that possibility alive in yourselves and in your work.

Thank you.

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