September. The beginning of my year.
Holidays are over. Summer having gone from wet and warm to wet and windy to wet and cold.
Things kick back into action
play goes into full throttle
This is my silly season.
And what better way to start than with ‘Culture Night’ or is it? What is it? Easy to miss. That’s what it is. ‘Culture Night’ is a state initiative in which as the City Council state on their website;
“the theatres, galleries, observatories, public laboratories, artist studios, prisons, historic houses and museums of Cork are staying open late and putting on a range of special programmes for one night only. With over fifty venues, one hundred and fifty events, the city opens its doors and lets the culture flow. You, your family and friends can all explore Cork and its culture in many different ways. There are workshops, plays, movies, readings, music, dance and exhibitions. Running from the early evening until past midnight, the events all offer a new way of experiencing culture in Cork. Everyone one is invited, the young, old, families and friends, visitors and residents. The Cultural organisations, their staff and their funding partners have all welcomed and supported this project. Cork City Council would like to thank them for all of their efforts in creating this programme for you to enjoy”.
This year the appointed night is Friday 25th September.
I for one am ambivalent about it. When looking at it from a cursory point of view it seems to be a fantastic idea. Why not? Bring everyone in. Let them see the mechanics. Show off the rich and varied culture tapestry of the City. Let the punter meet the makers, the workers, the people behind the scenes. The people that make it happen. Give the public a host of free events to pick and choose from; catch a bus with poetry on it, a walking tour, a cycling trip, look at the stars, the cosmos, listen to music, participate in a piece of impromptu theatre and so on. It all sounds great. And it is but for one thing. It is singularly hypocritical and does not serve its function in any meaningful way. On closer analysis there is, for me, something inherently wrong with the whole concept.
Firstly, you have a Government that spends less on culture per capita than all but two countries in the EU (Poland spend 31.5% less than Ireland while Greece spends 38.5% less) but claim to support and love the Arts. According to the European Institute, Ireland spends a measly €52.46 on culture per capita (see Cultural Policies and trends in Europe as part of the European Institute for Comparative Cultural Research @ http://www.culturalpolicies.net). The European country that spends most on culture per capita is Denmark at €351.99 (670% more than our culture loving state, the average spend in the EU is €137.53 per capita). What’s worst about these statistics is that they tell a pre- recession story. This was us at our best. Even more galling is that a percentage of that measly pot went into erroneous spending by our government representatives – in particular our wonderfully enlightened former Minister for the Arts, John O’Donoghue – and I’m sure more revelations will come out in due course. It’s an absolute disgrace. The phrase “put your money where your mouth is” comes to mind.
Putting all those figures aside let us ask ourselves another question. Is a ‘Culture Night ‘relevant and who does it benefit? Well simply put all culture is relevant. That goes without saying. We are the product of culture, we all take part in the creation, birth and development of culture, we live in it, play in it. Breathe it. So why the special night? Why turn it into a circus? Why distinguish it, set it apart from everything else? Who is going to benefit? The quick answer to a complicated question is that the state will. Once again – as is often the case – Culture will be used as a branding tool to give credence and legitimacy to the status quo. ‘Culture Night’ is part of this branding exercise. It is a smokescreen hiding the inadequacies of the state and its attitude to the arts and those that work in the culture sector. The status quo will become more entrenched
It is vitally important that people who care for and nurture culture do not allow the arts to be turned into a branding tool by the state. The state must start viewing the cultural sector as a necessary part of life and not merely an adornment. It must not take culture or those working in the sector for granted. Most importantly we must not let the state use cultural events to make itself look better when facing into the eye of a financial storm. A storm in which the cultural sector will be the first to be hung out to dry
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