Looking after our Galleries

16th December, 2008

Paschal is a big lover of the arts. He recently raised the future of the national galleries with the Minister for Arts. The below is his speach and the response from the Minister.

I wish to discuss with the Minister of State this evening the planned consolidation of many of our national galleries. This is a matter that has been discussed, albeit briefly, within the media. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been the subject of much discussion within the Oireachtas.
My understanding is that the Minister of State’s Department is poised to consolidate and amalgamate many of our major national galleries, in particular the Crawford Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham and the National Gallery. In raising this matter for discussion, I stress that I am approaching this with an open mind. I am a huge fan of the galleries mentioned and spend my spare time in the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham, which is a magnificent institution within our city.

I am trying to flesh out and better understand the Government’s plans in this regard. My first concern is that the Government, in any moves it might make, ensures that opportunities for young Irish artists, in particular, are not reduced. The Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham has a magnificent residential programme which allows young children to view artists’ work and to engage with them on it, which is wonderful. My second concern relates to the funding arrangement that might pertain in the future. As I understand it – I must stress again there has not been much discussion of this issue in public – the funding arrangements for each of the galleries in question will be consolidated and the galleries in question will then draw from a central fund as opposed to managing their own budgets.

My third concern relates to the make-up of the board and composition of the different institutions and galleries as they stand. To what degree, in terms of any future arrangement, will the autonomy of the galleries need to be changed or reduced? This is an important point. Each of the three galleries referred to, all of which I am aware will be affected by this change, have their own unique identities and culture. I would be disappointed if, in the future, they were to be homogenised or reduced as a result of any changes that might take place. I have one question in addition to the concerns outlined. What savings, if any, will the Department recoup as a result of this move?

In raising this issue with the Minister of State, I have an open mind on it. This issue has not received the kind of debate it merits. I look forward to the Minister of State outlining the position and responding to the individual points I raised.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh): I thank the Senator for raising the issue because I am sure the questions in his mind are also in the minds of other people. I am happy to set out where we have got to in this process up to now. I share the Senator’s view and his fondness and affection for the three galleries in question. In the National Gallery, I recently opened the Hugh Douglas Hamilton exhibition, which I recommend. There is also a fine Finnish exhibition there. The Crawford Gallery in Cork has an excellent exhibition of the work of Daniel Maclise.

The Government has decided to combine the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Crawford Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Ireland, while retaining their separate brand identities and integrity. This decision, which was announced in budget 2009, arose from the scrutiny by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism of administrative costs, which was undertaken earlier this year as part of the Government’s efficiency review, with a particular focus on the number of State agencies and other bodies and in the context of the ongoing oversight exercised by that Department of these institutions against the backdrop of the 2009 Estimates process.
It is important to ensure our national cultural institutions function through, and are supported by, administrative and other structures which are efficient, effective and reflect the principles of modernisation and flexibility set out in Towards 2016. As the continuing pressure on the public purse will not be matched by any decline in expectation or demand for quality customer services, the rationalisation of the support or back office functions, within complementary national cultural institutions, is not an optional consideration at this time and must be undertaken. Some of the institutions have reasonably good numbers of support staff. However, the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. which recently came under the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism as a national cultural institution, did not have in-house administrative support. Institutions such as this cannot be expected to function efficiently without the normal level of human resources, finance and other back-up.

A consultative process with the directors of the National Gallery, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Crawford Art Gallery has been initiated. The directors have been requested to consider the future arrangements necessary to give effect to the decision and bring forward any issues they perceive will need to be specifically addressed under various headings such as legislation, governance, unified management structures, unified support services and resources. A consultative committee will be established in respect of this project. It will be led by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and will include representatives of the three national cultural institutions concerned.

In parallel with this process, the corporate and legislative positions of each of the institutions is being examined with a view to drawing up heads of a Bill to give effect to the required legislative changes. These changes will include amendment of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 and the National Gallery of Ireland Acts 1854 to 1963 and the creation of new legislation. The objective in this development is to seek the best structures for the three institutions so that, in facing into times of stringency, they can continue to deliver core services to their respective customers to their normal and superlative standards.

The status of the Irish Museum of Modern Art was already scheduled to undergo change, arising from a commitment in the programme for Government to put it on a statutory footing. The recent Government decision provides for further change. It is important to emphasise that it is intended in the Government decision that each institution will retain its own identity. There is an opportunity now for the three institutions to focus on how their individual identities are not only retained but enhanced by the process. It will be open to the directors, through the consultative process, to put forward ideas as to how the combining of the three institutions can be effected in such a way as to ensure that each of the three institutions has an even greater impact in its own area of expertise. We need a dynamic, vibrant visual arts sector and it is in our interest that the three institutions continue to cater for their different customer groups.

In more discerning markets internationally, the national cultural institutions differentiate us as a destination of distinction and value. This summer, a visitor to Dublin could have viewed works by Bacon, Monet, Gauguin, Freud, Scully and Rembrandt and read original Yeats and Joyce manuscripts before enjoying the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and catching a glimpse of an Oscar winning songwriter. This is the kind of cultural immersion and variety that few cities in Europe can offer. It is entirely appropriate that we continue to invest financially and legislatively in these internationally important institutions so that they continue to flourish in the new economic environment. It is not possible at this stage to identify what savings, if any, will be realised through this process.

I reiterate that the Government is fully committed to all three institutions and envisages them working closer together for mutual benefit, in particular in terms of pooling some back-up systems. I fully appreciate what the Senator said about opportunities for young artists. I mention in passing that the Office of Public Works buys a significant quantity of new art for public offices around the country and each year it holds an art of the State exhibition, which is currently showing in the atrium of the OPW, 51 St. Stephen’s Green. The Senator is welcome to come and view it at any time.