Irish arts still smiling

<p>A younger, more radical and, if I am honest, less wise me was prone to knocking the function of the Irish Arts Council. I propounded the view that books should be able to stand on merit in a given market, even artistic books, and that companies which required funding to support their literary and artistic lists were failing somehow.</p>
<p>Experience has taught me lessons of many kinds, but by the far the best has been the positive, effective and lasting impact arts council funding can have on publishing. Now that I am wiser, I am keen to preserve that Irish Arts Council funding and see it used to the best advantage of artists, readers and publishers.</p>
<p>With a budget of some &euro;82m (&pound;65m)&mdash;about &euro;18.50 (&pound;14.70) per person&mdash;the Arts Council is hardly a wanton extravagance in modern Ireland.</p>
<p>However, the importance of this money should not be underestimated: in 2008, the Irish Arts Council supported 38 literary organisations including 15 publishers, nine literary magazines, and seven literary festivals. The total awarded to publishers under the three main funding programmes in 2008 was &euro;978,000 (&pound;777,571).</p>
<p>But with Ireland&rsquo;s media almost ravenously pouncing on news suggesting that the economy is set to flirt with recession, political discussion has moved onto considering where cuts will most likely fall.</p>
<p>It is my feeling that pressure will come to bear, if not in 2008 then when the 2009 budget is being agreed (as has recently happened in the UK). Even if its budget is not slashed, inflation seems likely to erode its value.</p>
<p>It is more than likely that there will be cutbacks, and if there are, publishers such as Mercier Press who receive Annual Programming Grants (as opposed to core annual funding) will be the first in line to lose out.</p>
<p>Since joining Mercier Press I have been struck by the confidence with which the company embarks on large-scale illustrated children&rsquo;s projects. These only happen because the original artwork can be commissioned with the aid of Arts Council funds. Even then, the first print runs of such titles are tightly costed affairs and yet they deliver wonderful books into the hands of young readers instilling a love of reading and reinforcing the threads and stories of Irish history and mythology.</p>
<p>Without the backing and support of the Arts Council, or some other form of sponsorship, such projects would simply not happen.</p>
<p>If the budget and economic strains should result in a cut in funding, it is very possible that funds that would have financed another series of these excellent titles will evaporate and the world of Irish publishing, children&rsquo;s books and Irish art will be much, much poorer for it. </p>