Editorial: The Public

Just as this issue is going to print, the Arts Council has published its report, The Public and the Arts 2006, providing a snapshot of the behaviour and attitudes of Irish people as regards the arts. The last such report was published in 1994.The intervening...

Just as this issue is going to print, the Arts Council has published its report, The Public and the Arts 2006, providing a snapshot of the behaviour and attitudes of Irish people as regards the arts. The last such report was published in 1994.

The intervening period has seen the population rise from c. 3.6m to over 4.2m; a growing number of one-person households, households without children, and retired people; continuing urbanisation; a growth in income levels; and a better educated population – all of which would suggest better audiences for the arts.

Yet, at the same time, there is a movement away from subsidised artforms towards more commercial artforms. The report points to a fall in attendance in opera (from 6% to 4%), classical music (from 9% to 7%), traditional Irish or folk music (from 24% to 19%), art exhibitions (from 23% to 15%), and drama/‘a play’ (from 37% to 30%). This is despite the fact that the public perceives fewer obstacles to attendance than it did in 1994 and that such falls occurred during a decade of significant investment in the arts.

Most striking is the fact more than four out of five people say that arts education is as important as science for children and young people; that three out of four believe as much importance should be given to providing arts amenities as sports amenities; and almost nine out every ten people believe that the arts play an important role in our society.

In its conclusion the report reads ‘…for all the increasing value the Irish public places on the arts there is perhaps a lack of understanding about the role of artists and the nature of their work.’ Immediately we hear cries that this must be changed, but let’s stay with the bigger picture. Martin Murphy points out in his article on p.30 that, with an election in six months time, arts organisations, rather than focusing on their minority interests, should be pulling together to make it work for everyone. This report would seem to support that view: the public’s good will is not really concerned with the nuts and bolts of arts practice – music education, for example – or with the predicament of the Irish artist today, but rather it is driven by an idea of the arts. Even politicians recognise the power of an idea.

Published on 1 January 2007

Toner Quinn is Editor of The Journal of Music. His website is https://tonerquinn.com/

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