Light Entertainment and the Arts

I really enjoyed last night’s ‘Battle Station’ on RTE, this is probably the first time I have watched RTE in some time. It bears remembering how relevant the Late Late Show was in the 1960s and 70s. Discussions on abortion and birth control, young intellectuals from UCD questioning the role of the Catholic Church in State affairs – this is back when UCD wasn’t just interested in making money and inviting page three girls to debates. Students had a voice, and many went on to become strong visionaries for an Ireland that was changing rapidly. What I also found interesting was that the management structure felt very strongly about critical programming, the TV was not something one went home to tune in and tune out to. They felt passionately about the intellectual role of the nation’s premier station. We have seen an astronomical rise in light entertainment in the last 10 years, so much so that it is impossible to engage with the TV on any level – unless you’re comatose. I am that desperate for debate that I now long for the after match analysis that comes with the football and rugby. I am also a huge fan of the bizarre’ après match’ whose team needles RTE in just the right manner without RTE even noticing. I think Craig Doyle might be quite a high functioning automaton – well semi-functioning. All this made me think about the Arts and the funding crisis we now face. It is an awkward situation wherein you have the Croke Park agreement which means that museum staff cannot be fired and no one can be hired, hence a backlog of talented young art workers without a place to go; except into internships that ultimately lead nowhere. At a time when funding and grant getting is high on the agenda the staff of these establishments have been there so long on good salaries that neither the need nor the knowledge has been garnered to get funding. This is something the younger strand of graduates is well adapted to. Most graduates now have a history of grant applications and exhibitions that would translate well to a belt-tightened museum. Streams of high level funding have disabled the museums to such an extent that they are now severely in debt and have no way out of it. What could happen is that the light entertainment factor that has beleaguered RTE (and TV in general) spreads into the arts. It would make sense, look at Tate Modern. Over-blown solo shows of historical favorites such as the recent Mondrian show, each coming with a shiny book and poster to take home with you. We are not however adequately positioned for this move, we hold little in the way of megastars, the ones we do have stock of are actually rubbish but they were certainly prolific ( I won’t mention names but I am sure you have a few that spring to mind). Large loan fees would curtail getting a noted international name in. So we have to fall back on what we know, which is (or was), a high quality of art exhibition that references the time. We need to promote the next generation of artists, at a graduate level, not just when the galleries have deemed them worthy. I remember reading Isabella Blow’s biography which detailed how she found Alexander McQueen at St Martin’s and after only seeing a few samples bought his entire graduate show, she then went on to use his work in high profile shoots for Style and British Vogue. The group of players may alter, but they will bring with them their own wave of industry. The museum shouldn’t be afraid of this. Let’s not allow the arts in Ireland to become light entertainment; it is relevant and important, now more than ever.

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