Fine arts and economic growth

Gerry Godley does not have the answer to the question “How much does James Joyce contribute to the growth rate of the Irish economy”, but he does raise some interesting points. (There is some self-serving pleading, but not too much.) See here.

37 replies on “Fine arts and economic growth”

@ Richard: measuring research excellence by citation??????

I am all for arts and culture, and I think we should have a culture university etc, as what seemed to be proposed at the farmleigh meeting.

But, as to the tax exemption and funding for artists and culturists (as opposed to arts and culture), there should be discipline put on the system.

Perhaps the sucessful ones could consider paying a tax streamlined to help the struggling artists or fund a culture university.
Failing that the tax exemption should be ended?
Another of our Aristocratic class seeking to self justify


His argument is not enhanced by quoting the bizarre statement that “Ireland beats Princeton hands down in the arts” seemingly unaware that one is a country and the other is a university.

@ Richard

Great timing!
There is only a few days left for the public service early retirement scheme.
Last time my name was in a newspaper…


I agree with the distingusihed guests at farmleigh.

After all the orchestra kept playing when the Titanic was going down.

All fiction though!!
No tax exemption for journo’s, truth to power and all that.
Perhaps spin doctors may have a special case here too.

Aren’t many of the five arguments conflations of stocks and flows? We have a stock of accumulated culture that provides us with an income, to be sure, but why should the relatively small changes in the flow grossly affect the income from the millennia-old stock?

I am not an artist, I am a taxpayer. I agree that art is important , and while I have no stats to prove it, I believe the following:
– Most artists are not wealthy. Many do not derive their primary income from art and, of those who do, their income is ‘lumpy’
– Nevertheless there have been many lucrative book deals etc for individual artists. Also successful actors, pop groups, etc can make huge money.
– I would be in favour of setting an artist exemption limit of say eu100k in any tax year, and 300k in any 5-year period (or similar). The excess to be taxable & some portion of that tax G’teed by Govt to be channelled to the arts.
– Am also strongly in favour of closing loopholes so that U2 etc. pay taxes in Ireland rather than Holland or the Cayman islands etc.
– And, I have no idea what, say, the Irish Film board does, so they need to start letting taxpaying citizens know who they are and what they are delivering.
(Aside: Art movies are essentially inaccessible to the 9-5 slogger, who lives outside the Pale. Every movie subbed by the Film Board should be made available for viewing over the internet. I’d pay a sub of say eu50 a year for this)
– While art is not emphasised enough at primary and secondary level, money is being wasted by providing too many arts places at universities. This should be explored further.

I’m not swayed. As a wannabe economist, for me listing the benefits is only one part of the argument. You also have to show that the benefits are greater than the cost. Arts and culture are valuable, but if you’re asking for subsidies, show me the market failure, show me why the government needs to intervene. I’d live without numbers. Even explaining in theory how it works would be of value.

For example, I’ll accept without quibble that the total benefit that we in Ireland have gotten from the works of someone like Seamus Heaney is far greater than whatever monetary payments Heaney has received over his career. The positive externalities are clear. It is not a difficult argument to make.

However, for me this piece can be added to the existing pile that can be summarized as: “Arts and Culture is great, therefore don’t cut our funding”.

@ Colm mccarthy

“Nobody does special pleading as elegantly as ….. writers!” That is precisely the problem, if we valued the arts as we should, they would not have to do any pleadings. Special, elegant or otherwise. Only for Haughey the arts would be well dead in this country.

It is about time that artists spoke up and put the culture of corporate greed and political corruption in their cross hairs. In Ireland, we definitely know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

How can anyone involved in the arts continue to defend tax exemptions, when something as basic as Jobseekers Benefit is subject to tax?

Anyone prepared to accept and avail of the benefits of living in the state, should be prepared to accept contributing to the funding of such benefits.

@ Colm McCarthy
“Nobody does special pleading as elegantly as ….. writers!”

A) Writers, by definition, do what they do in full view of anyone who cares to pay attention.

B) The greatest amount of special pleading in this country is done out of sight, by people who coincidentally have a habit of slipping legitimate political donations to those who make decisions.

C) You probably mean eloquently.

@ John Cowan
“You also have to show that the benefits are greater than the cost.”

Of course. But, why hasn’t this principle been applied to the cuts listed in Bord Snip?

@ Michael Harvey
“How can anyone involved in the arts continue to defend tax exemptions, when something as basic as Jobseekers Benefit is subject to tax?”

Absolutely. Now, let’s apply the same thinking to gross (in the greed sense of the word) pay, windfalls, bonuses and similiar glorified backhanders with which this country is littered.

I’d agree with Peter Maguire.

What’s wrong with special pleading? Let’s face the reality – a whole range of cuts are suggested in McCarthy. These are one set of options. There will of course be other cuts proposed and suggested by government advisors and departments. In the main, these view the challenge as one of accountancy – keep chopping numbers until you hit your target. But in reality it is a political process with all the clashes, fudges, sensitivities and evasions which it entails. There will be a clash of conflicting interests and in theory ‘society’ would debate which issues matter most – how important it is to preserve the arts, or how well healthcare funding should be protected or how much of a decline in funding for education is acceptable and so on. In practice a distorted version of this debate takes place through interest groups, lobbying and PR campaigns. That’s the nature of political life, and I cannot see how it is any different for the arts community to make their case than it is for healthcare workers, public sector unions or pharmacists.

The beauty of great art is that speaks to something universal in the human experience. It transcends its immediate cultural imprint and historical context. It endures, sometimes over several millennia, because it says something to us of what we are, or might become, or that we would rather not know about ourselves. It is inherently subversive and individualistic. It is self replicating in the sense that today’s great artists borrow and reinterpret, even plagiarise, building on the insights and expression of previous masters of whatever form their art takes or inventing new forms, taking advantage of technological innovation. And it has absolutely nothing to do with money and, at the same time, everything to do with money.

Great art has tended to emerge from wealthy societies, where there are plenty of wealthy patrons who wanted to use the products of art for their own self-adornment or glorification; or from culturally rich, anarchic societies in a state of flux. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here, is it?

Nowadays, the State is the main patron of the arts in society. The policy of this State appears to be one of divvying out resources to as many organisations, associations, institutions and agencies as possible, in pursuit of a variety of aims, including fostering community relations, cross cultural and social exclusion objectives, increasing tourism numbers or simply in the hope that if you spread the jam thinly enough around the arts something good might come out of it. Also, we appear to be growing agencies in this sector as in so many others – ‘Culture Ireland’ established in 2005 and with a €10m plus annual budget to promote Irish arts internationally.

I think it’s evident there’s something wrong with the overall policy direction for the arts in Ireland. It also appears more than a little shambolic. It cannot fully achieve any of its objectives, because it is articulating too many conflicting objectives.

It seems to me that there is a great confusion between what fostering the arts in our society should be about and achieving commercial returns from broader arts-related activities. We mistake the output of unmemorable boy bands with a relatively short lifespan or ‘writing by numbers’ chick-lit authors or dancing troupes clip clopping their way around the globe in Ireland’s footwear answer to the Dutch clog for art, when in fact they are commercial enterprises with an arts related content.

Shortly before he retired from the Cabinet, the late Seamus Brennan signed off on a National Arts and Culture Programme for 2008. One might have thought that this was a job for the Arts Council, around for the past fifty years or so, and that the Department was duplicating a function that properly didn’t belong to them, but no matter. The Programme contained one particular gem: an historical perspective on State support for the arts in Ireland.

As follows:

“Current funding for the arts and culture sector is up 5.25% on 2007, 16.3% on 2006, 33% on 2005 and 67% on 2004.

In the last 5 years, current funding for the arts has grown by 112% (i.e. it has more than doubled)

In the same 5 years, capital funding for the arts has grown by 440%, (i.e. it has more than quadrupled)

Funding for the Arts Council itself has doubled in 5 years from €42m in 2003 to a projected €82m in 2008.

Total funding for the Arts in Ireland in the last two years alone is over €475m.

Infrastructural funding for the Arts in Ireland under the NDP 2006 to 2013 is over 900m, (excluding the current funding).

The total implementation cost of the Arts Council Strategy Partnership for the Arts 2006 –2008 is €272m. The Government has now allocated €247m towards that programme and it will be fully funded by the middle of February 2009. Therefore, we are substantially on target to meet the funding milestones of the strategy.

In the last 5 years funding for the National Gallery has increased by 46%.

In the last 5 years aggregate funding for IMMA, the Chester Beatty, the National Concert Hall etc. has increased by 141%.

In the last 5 years aggregate funding for the National Archives, Museum and Library has increased by 265%.

In that same period funding for the Film Board has increased 117%.

Elsewhere, the Department boasts about Ireland as a likely ‘global centre’ for artistic creativity and innovation, which is presumably what this vastly increased expenditure is supposed to bring about. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any figures on the increased output achieved for this expenditure. The output, it seems, is the increase in expenditure itself.

Meanwhile, full time artists and writers continue to enjoy an average annual income of about one fifth of the stipend paid to the Chairperson of the Arts Council. And a tiny number of commercial arts enterprises, if I may call them that, and an even tinier number of individual artists who happily, and good luck to them, make the cut on the international stage, enjoy the benefit of the so-called ‘artists’ exemption’ on earnings up to €250,000, whilst other SMEs reap the benefits of various tax exemptions.

The Irish Times article is undoubtedly well-intentioned, but, I think, misguided. Whatever the quibbles about its individual recommendations in this area, the McCarthy report has done a great service in raising questions about what we’re doing to support the arts, and individual artists earnings in turn, and whether we’re going the right way at all about fostering the development of arts-based industries. I’m fairly convinced at this stage that there is a problem with the overall policy; and that some of the institutions charged with responsibility for promoting the Arts in this country are no longer fit for purpose since there seems to be little to show for the increased largesse with which they have been endowed in recent years.

Apologies for the length of this post.

Thank God for government: without it there be no art. Oh, wait…

Congratulations, artists, you have made yourselves prisoners of a capricious single-source funding model.

BTW, if all State-funding of the arts disappeared tomorrow, we would not be sacrificing any Seamus Heaneys but rather the dozens of unknown, unread and unimportant poets – not to mention the vast Potemkin village of administrators and permanent infrastructure put in place to support them.

If the arts are so important to our reputational capital and actually accrue benefits on behalf of businesses, let the business pay for them. But they won’t, because all the airy pronouncements Godley quotes are just that. Dermot Desmond, though a generous collector of paintings, knows damn well his p&l depends not one jot on the size of the arts sector (is it really 170,000 jobs? so we had an arts bubble too? good grief).

Sorry to be totally off-topic. But, is there a problem with this site today? Or is it just me? I couldn’t log on at all for about an hour in mid-morning. First-time ever. In the past few minutes, I’ve finally managed to log on, but its not the normal display of thread headings, just a very curtailed version showing one thread heading only, which I couldn’t access.

Veronica is right, as usual.

Art serves three purposes:
It is pretty, broadens the mind, and makes life more pleasant.
It attracts tourists and it sells.
It stimulates creativity and innovation.

From that follow three questions:
What is the appropriate level of government support?
What is the appropriate form of government support?
How does that relate to current government support?

I wish I knew the answers, or that at least someone in government would know.

Most discussion of the artists exemption overlooks a crucial aspect of this tax measure: its subjective nature. Not all writers, artists, musicians etc are entitled to the exemption. You need to be approved by the Revenue, in consultation with the Arts Council. These officials decide which artists make a social/cultural contribution — and which ones do not.

The rejected artist, then, is placed at an obvious competitive disadvantage. This becomes particularly acute when the boundaries between fine and commercial art are blurred.

Let me declare my interest. I am a cartoonist, published in The Irish Times, Sunday Tribune and Irish Independent. There are about eight full-time newspaper cartoonists in this state. Six have the exemption, the remaining two do not. As one of the rejected two, I find this discrimination outrageous. I have to compete with people at the same level of talent (or otherwise) doing exactly the same job, under a state-imposed handicap.

I took this up with the Revenue, and an official told me, “There is nothing in the statute that obliges us to be equitable.”

For the record, I believe that anyone who can afford to pay tax should… artists included. And I believe that reforming the Irish tax system to be more transparent and equitable would do far more for Ireland’s reputation abroad than dishing out goodies to a favoured few creative types.

Discrimination is illegal, even by the Revenue.

Tax breaks for artists are justified if they promote Ireland in their work as a result or if they attract tourists by their presence.

This does not hold for the average cartoonist I’m afraid.

I’m getting the same as John, using Internet Explorer. Firefox seems to be immune to the problem, which probably explains why no one else is commenting on it.

You raised some interesting points. I sought legal advice, and was told (a) that the artists exemption as currently administered is probably unconstitutional and (b) I hadn’t the money to take a case!

I have no objection to a project — artistic, technical, or commercial — getting tax relief if it can be proved to promote the state’s interests.

(On the cartoon front, I’d cite a terrific Irish animated feature, The Secret of Kells, which has attracted good notices internationally:

But there should be objective and transparent criteria for state aid; the current subjective system is far too prone to clientelism.

@ Colm McCarthy
“Nobody does special pleading as elegantly as ….. writers!”

Actually, music is Gerry Godley’s thing. It says so at the end of the article, if you read that far.

One thing that has struck me about arts funding policy over the years is that choices about funding policies in the area, when made rationally, are unusually sensitive to objectives. In many other policy fields, the objectives recognised by mainstream players are sufficiently congruent in policy implementation terms to allow a fairly high degree of stability as to how they are pursued, with implementation evolving coherently rather than jumping around. That congruence seems to be missing from arts policy.

@ Richard,

I wouldn’t really know how to go about answering your questions.

Maybe part of the solution is to break the policy up into its identifiable constituent parts? Cut the Arts Council down to size both in its remit and resources and have a separate division within Enterprise Trade and Employment and its agencies to support culture-based industries and associated commercial activities? Abolish ‘Culture Ireland’ , whatever that is. Locate the Budget for the 180 festivals and the 0.5m euro spent on supporting brass bands in 2008 and travelling circuses within the Department of Tourism and Culture, plus Irish language cultural activities coming from a merger with the existing Department of Rural Affairs etc.? Let the Department of Education take responsibility for promoting arts in the schools’ curriculum and also maybe take over responsibility for the museums or create a sort of National Trust to maximise the potential of these institutions and fund their needs appropriately?

There are various programmes in the UK for increasing employment and career opportunities in arts/culture related business that we might usefully have a look at to see if we might copy any of them or tailor them to our requirements. As for the tax exemption, most ‘artisits’, writers, cartoonists, hardly qualify to pay tax on their earnings, so I don’t see what purpose is to be served by retaining the current exemption.

What I feel strongly though is that the massive increase in the so-called ‘arts’ Budget from 2002 onwards seems to have been frittered away to no great lasting impact. Current policy doesn’t work.

All human endeavour must justify itself before the self-appointed tribunal of the economists (so say the economists!).

What we have in the arts and culture programme is the usual Irish political boondoggle. The arts and culture community have been turned into supplicants dependent on politicians. In countries with honest governments artists are treated in the same way as all other self employed individuals whether they be doctors or wrought iron workers. This is just one of many areas where Ireland is deficient. The cure is to decentralize government and adopt policies that treat taxpayers in a fair and equitable manner. Towns should not have to go on their knees to the local TD in order to get funds for cultural activities, they should be able to levy taxes to fund what the town council considers worth funding. The carefully built political structures have evolved slowly into a suffocating blanket that ensures support for the entrenched politicians or else we expire. We built similar political machines in a dozen US cities until the cronyism and nepotism became too oppressive to stomach. The only good that could come out of this depression is that the electorate will clean out the Dail. On the other hand I have to be realistic and face facts, minor modifications around the edges is the best we can hope for.

@Ernie Ball
By no means.

But all who claim tax money should justify their claim.

I, for one, cannot justify why I should have free access to the National Gallery. I’m happy and able to pay. So why should anyone sponsor me?

@Richard Tol:

My enduring memory of the 1990 World Cup quarter-final against Italy in Rome is the throngs of Irish people, the day before the game, happily parting with €4 or €5 (a zillion lira at the time) to visit the galleries and museums around the city. But not to be contemplated in Ireland!

There is an argument to be made that govt funding/exemptions destroys the best of Irish culture as the muse becomes govt largese rather than ones specific creativity.
Presumably this would apply to research too?

A friend of mine who spends his summer in France told me that there is a law that X amount of music played on the radio must be french. Consequently this created a market for music that would fill the gap: ie- crap

Should this be true, is there an argument for less funding altogether?


There is no reason to be believe that you are wrong, but no evidence to prove that you are right.

Unfortunately, there is no culture of evaluating public investment in Ireland.

That means that a 20% in the total budget means a 25% cut in every project (the minister’s pet projects exempted), while one’d rather cut the silly projects by 100%. However, the evidence of silliness is anecdotal only, rather than systematic, and you can’t say “I heard this story in the pub and therefore I’m gonna close your shop.”

@ Richard
What is regretable in this situation is that a debate on what level of public services are –
and desirable
hasnt been occuring amoung those (political class) invested with making those decisions. There has been little leadership on this at a national level from govt, or at a local level by politicians willing to stand up and lead a debate on this.
This mental obesity is a major problem at this stage, but we got what we voted for also. In the midst of all the ‘desireables’ attempting to protray themselves as ‘necessaries’ it is a pity that there wasnt a publicly orientated research group within DOF or CAG telling the truths as they arise.
Perhaps we should have started with a Micheal O Leary version of An Bord Snip to take the flak so that the Mc Carthy report could stand.


The website for Dulture Ireland is

Feeling guilty about making a snark about an agency I don’t know anything much about, I decided to educate myself. The overall idea of promoting Irish arts and cultural events abroad is a good one in principle, even if some of the activites (and destinations) granted aided are a bit curious. But it beggars belief that a separate agency, with a full Board appointed by the Minisiter, a CEO and staff, are required to perform the functions described. It probably costs more to run the agency than it gives out in grant-aid. That’s just my opinion; I’ll leave it to others to make up their own minds.

Bord Snip, I think, recommended that CI be wound up. As argued above, the whole edifice of support for the Arts in Ireland requires radical surgery. Not with the precision of a scalpel either; taking a good sharp axe to it might be no bad thing.

Culture Ireland is an export-promotion agency, that should be merged with other export-promotion agencies to (1) save costs and (2) create economies of scale.

At the same time, we should wonder why some sectors have taxpayer-subsidised export-promotion and others do not. Export promotion is just a form of advertising, after all, and many private actors are expected to pay for their own advertising.

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