Wednesday 17 January 2018

Five year arts plan - 'a real wake up call'

Marie Brennan of Creative Wexford, pictured here with Cllr Malcolm Byrne.
Marie Brennan of Creative Wexford, pictured here with Cllr Malcolm Byrne.
Cllr George Lawlor

A new county arts officer is to be appointed and a new arts programme is set to be outlined over the coming months.

A five year action plan to make County Wexford one of the arts counties nationally was debated at the meeting.

Marie Brennan from Creative Wexford, a group formed by Wexford County Council to develop the arts in the county, said: 'This is about branding Wexford as Ireland's creative county. It's the culmination of six months of really in-depth work looking at how Wexford is dealing with the arts and what we can do to build on our strengths.'

A 100-page report incorporating consultations, comparative studies, interviews and desk research was commissioned and councillors were briefed on its findings. The report researched how the arts are clustered in the county and the various disciplines. Ms Brennan said heritage and cultural tourism is big in New Ross, while Gorey is at the fore of new media while Wexford's strengths lie in its festivals, contemporary art and literary fields. Writing was deemed to be at the forefront of the Ennsicorthy arts scene.

Ms Brennan described the plan as achievable and ambitious. She said funding will have to be sourced from Europe by groups, adding that Wexford County Council can only fund so many arts initiatives in the region.

Ms Brennan said Wexford can play a very strong part in the capital of culture bid, adding that the county needs to be a centre of excellence for arts nationally.

Cllr Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin said with the county's literary giant and artists can make a very strong case for the capital of culture. 'This document serves as a real wake-up call,' he said.

The meeting heard that the arts department is manned by a staff of three, two less than in previous years.

Mr Ó Súilleabháin described the annual budget of €378,000 as very inadequate.

'In comparison to other counties Wexford had only half the funding.'

Concern was expressed that most of the funding is being used in Wexford.

Cllr Fergie Kehoe said the local authority has not cut funding to the arts where most other councils have.

Cllr George Lawlor said there is a two tiered arts scene in the county, adding that 'the hard core arts' are prioritised in terms of funding over community arts projects and drama and music groups.

'Wexford Light Opera Society put on a show recently costing €100,000. 4,500 people came to see it and it afforded a facility for young people to get involved, people who would never have been on stage before and yet the funding it received from Wexford County Council was minimal.'

He agreed with funding Wexford Festival Opera due to its economic benefit to the area, but questioned why some small groups receive significant funding over larger musical groups.

Cllr Anthony Kelly suggested a museum for Wexford based on its maritime history and Ms Brennan agreed that this was something many people were seeking for the town. She said it may come about through a partnership deal.

Cllr Deirdre Wadding said the costs of putting on a show at the opera house meant many groups were prohibited from doing so. Cllr John Hegarty said it will take some time to implement real change in the arts in the county.

Cllr Keith Doyle said an administrator is essential for the Presentation Arts Centre in Enniscorthy.

'Has it been watered down? We set it up specifically for the arts. An administrator could pull it all together.'

Ms Brennan said arts ensemble funding is available for small groups, while Director of Services John Carley said: 'We are in advanced discussions with the opera house for access for other groups. They are very conscious that it is very expensive to run the National Opera House and that it is expensive for groups top perform there.' Cllr Mary Farrell stressed the importance of making arts accessible to young people, older people and people with disabilities.

Wexford People

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