Sunday, August 2, 2009


From 2008 to 2009 the Arts Council took a 15% cut (I think this is accurate but need to check it). At the Theatre Forum Conference in Wexford John O'Kane of the Arts Council suggested that we should brace ourselves for another 20% cut going into 2010 and a further 20% going into 2011. Ok, that brings us dangerously close to 50% of what was available in 2008. Now, in 2008 the Arts Council spent in excess of 50% on five clients....

In other words in 2011 there will only be enough money to underfund those five clients.

And we should bear in mind that the department (or whatever department the arts end up in ) will view those five clients as theatre's major contribution to cultural tourism and will ensure their continued survival.

I don't see any money left for this hub, or rim or axle or whatever....

While I'm on the topic of hubs didn't we used to call them theatres? You know a place where a writer or a director would take their script or idea and then that place would agree to produce the show, and they'd look after all the finance, production, staffing and marketing and they wouldn't have to hire a performance space because they were one. Oh and yes, they had set workshops (no transport costs) and wardrobe departments and stuff like that, real cost saving things. But that wouldn't work here because most of our theatres don't have enough cash resouces to invest in shows nor do they have the physical space for all those other cash saving ideas that used to be part of theatres.
As Mark Twain reputedly said there are lies, damn lies and statistics. Over the last few months everybody working in theatre and the arts has been subjected to a storm of statistics, powerpoint charts of every shape and size, and admonitions that everything has to change, made in that unique tone of voice reserved for ungrateful children and beggars.

Well I want to add to the great statistical conversation with some figures of my own. In 2009 the company I work for was given an Arts Council award for €120,000. By the end of 2009 we will have returned approximately €51,000 to revenue in direct taxation, approximately €10,000 in indirect taxation and we will have saved the social welfare about €40,000 by taking people off the live register. Which means that the net cost of our "grant" is €20,000 or 16.5% of the face value of the "grant".

I'm italicising the word grant because to my mind if somebody gives me money and I give most or all of it back then what they've given me is either a loan or an investment. Very different from a grant.

However, back to the point. What if this statistic mentioned above were true of every arts council and local authority supported organisation in the country. It's a very simple analysis to carry out I suggest we all do it and see if, in fact, the net cost to the exchequer of investing in theatre is 16% of the face value of the investment. Wouldn't that be interesting? If theatre really only cost the government 16% of what they say it costs.

We should be realistic though, we are still costing the state money - albeit only 16% of what they think we're costing. Surely the best argument we can make for maintaining funding at existing levels is a plan to develop other revenue streams (sponsorship, Endowment funds, affinity schemes, reclaiming the booking fee) that we can invest primarily in increased production, which means more jobs and more VAT, which means we narrow that 16% gap between investment and return. The long term objective, of course, is to make the state a net beneficiary rather than a net benefactor.

The only way we can do this is to disover the power of the industry we work in. All of us feel threatened by the rumours and by our own knowledge of the depth and extent of this recession. What we must not feel is isolated. If we think we are dependent on a handout from the Arts Council so we can do some art with some like minded people, then we are vulnerable. When we realise that we are a nationwide industry managing state investment in a - mostly - imaginative and cost effective fashion then we can see possibilities.