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What might this afternoon’s Budget hold?
After months of slow leaks, we’re unlikely to be surprised by this afternoon’s 2019 Budget headlines. From the point of view of arts organisations, there are high hopes hope that the Taoiseach, working with the Minister, will live up to his 2017 Fine Gael leadership promise to double funding for arts, culture and sport in the following seven years. This would ease the relentless pressure to do ever more with already limited arts budgets. That promise’s implied deadline of 2022 is another year closer now and arts funding remains as uncertain as ever. Arts sector uncertainty about funding and its future makes it more difficult to plan projects of scale and impact. Let’s hope that uncertainty in the arts is counteracted this afternoon with this Government putting the money behind their promises.

The Big Issues
Relative economic buoyancy allows the Government to tackle the two most important issues of our time, health and housing. We hope that the Budget measures are big and bold enough to make a much-needed difference.

Arts funding – Thinking nationally
Increase Arts Council funding with conviction
The Arts Council, awarded €68 million in 2018, is still lagging behind its 2008 high of €82 million and 2009 allocation of €73.35 million. For arts organisations making, producing and touring work as well as venues and arts centres presenting that work, Arts Council funding is still the bedrock of publicly funded arts production and presentation nationally. Established, emerging and aspiring artists and production companies all need funding to bring ideas to life and onto our stages. The Arts Council must be in a better position to fund more artists and arts organisations to make work if it is to be truly effective as the agency for funding, developing and promoting arts in the State. Giving the Council the funds and scope to support artists making work is long overdue. Let’s all hope that the resources allocated to the national arts funder are increased enough to enable them support new and ambitious projects, and not just manage the status quo.

Arts funding – Acting locallyEnsure arts and culture funding has a broad reach
Local Authorities have a less visible role but equally important role in arts funding locally. Collectively, they are party to a framework agreement between the City and County Managers Association and the Arts Council. Later today, we hope to hear that Local Authority Arts Programmes see a significant increase to support their work in communities to broaden and deepen cultural engagement. As owners and major funders of much of the country’s essential arts infrastructure of venues  their energy and programmes, when harnessed effectively, are a powerful force for good in communities. While a theatre without actors is only a building, venues, theatres and stages are vital for artists and production companies to bring their work to citizens and communities.

Arts Funding – Promoting collaboration
We hope that today’s Budget confirms that a doubling of arts funding that benefit the Arts Council as well as Local Authorities, Creative Ireland along with Culture Ireland. In addition, a clearly defined pathway as to how that funding will be deployed effectively to sustain a sector that has experienced harsh cuts exacerbated by uncertainty would be timely as well as a welcome boost to restoring the sector’s confidence and ability to work for the public good.

Arts & entertainment sector lagging behind
Like workers in other sectors, the fall in the USC rate, increase in USC thresholds and increases in some tax credits will be welcomed by PAYE arts workers. So too will be social welfare payment increases and extension of PRSI to the self-employed. Free GP care for more people as well as many measures to tackle the housing crisis are all expected but crucially important.Post Budget 2019 announcements, we will be examining the stark reality of payscales in our sector. According to the CSO Q1 2018 Earnings and Labour Costs Quarterly Report,  the Arts & entertainment sector was the only one to record a decrease, -3.5%, in average weekly earnings in the five year period 2013-2018. So poor pay has become a feature of working in the arts, while benefits such as pensions and leave are less and less unavailable to many arts workers. Access to housing and healthcare as well as benefits is urgent for people working in the arts sector as pay and conditions lag further and further behind other sectors.

So tune into Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe’s speech starting at 1pm. We’ll be listening with interest and will follow up with more detail and commentary tomorrow.Best wishes,

Anna & Irma