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Thoughts on the Arts Council of Ireland.

April 4, 2009

Graffiti on Moss St.

Graffiti on Moss St.

Maybe we could draw a parallel with the patronage of the arts in Florence during the Renaissance? Lorenzo di Medici was personally involved in selecting artists and commissioning their works and if it wasn’t for him, we perhaps would never have had the talents of Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini. It would seem that not being directly involved in the work you’re sponsoring would bring about less motivated artists- why work hard if you have nobody to directly answer to? Plus, I think the arts council in ireland is too dispersed. A good idea might be the formation of a proper arts guild in ireland, separated from the government, but recieving funding from them. That way we could have a well regulated commission which would raise the benchmark, improve the standard of the arts and increase feedback to individual artists. It would also act as a forum for the artists throughout the country.

I think we can learn a lot from history on this point- if you look back in time, there are two main periods where arts guilds were ‘mandatory’- once during the late medieval/renaissance period and again during the neoclassicism period, particularly in France and in the Netherlands. The guilds existed to protect their members and also the consumers. This ensured a high quality of workmanship- each article had to be examined by a member of the guild and approved. (This isn’t as labourous as it sounds, all the workshop masters were guild members), prices were regulated and so on. This protected the customer, but then the guild also acted as a union for the workers themselves. They provided for funeral expenses of the poorer members and that sort of thing. The guild held a monopoly on the trade in that particular utility in that area. We have a few rough equivalents to the guilds today- like the Irish Illustrator’s Guild and the Embroiderer’s Guild, the Playwriter’s Guild, etc.

The ‘new’ Arts Council could refurbish itself by bringing together all these guilds into one new guild which would establish a moratorium on the quality of its members. This means only members fulfiling a specified standard could be a member-this standard would be both technical and ethical (are they being professional in their working methods?) This would work on two levels- first, by providing individual artists with a ‘card’ that they could use to establish themselves as working artists and which they could use internationally and also to reduce rip-offs of freelance workers by drawing up standardized contracts that they could use in various situations. As I said before, it would also mean that the ‘customer’ would get a ‘guaranteed’ standard for a regulated price.

The ‘new’ Arts Council could refurbish itself by bringing together all these guilds into one new guild which would establish a moratorium on the quality of its members. This means only members fulfiling a specified standard could be a member-this standard would be both technical and ethical (are they being professional in their working methods?) This would work on two levels- first, by providing individual artists with a ‘card’ that they could use to establish themselves as working artists and which they could use internationally and also to reduce rip-offs of freelance workers by drawing up standardized contracts that they could use in various situations. As I said before, it would also mean that the ‘customer’ would get a ‘guaranteed’ standard for a regulated price.

The guild would consist solely of working artists- no ‘office’ workers! The forum would meet maybe once a year to elect a new commission and this commission could be answerable directly to the Minister of the Arts. This would reduce a LOT of bureaucratic red tape and mean that the guild could work much more efficiently.

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