An economy recovers — artists suffer?

Nadine O’Regan: Artistic Licence

 

You can feel it, can’t you? It’s in the little things: the purchase of an unnecessarily expensive birthday gift, the impulse shopping in the sales, the decision to go on a foreign holiday. Slowly but surely, confidence is being restored to the Irish public.

The so-called green shoots are flourishing. We’re all thinking about upping the ante, changing our cars, negotiating our jobs upwards, selling our houses. Companies are hiring again.

There’s a heady whiff of banknotes and excitement in the air.

But what does an economic recovery mean for artists? You’d think it would be a good thing: more arts fans will want to go out, spend money on seeing plays, buying books, going to the cinema.

Perhaps funding for the arts might increase, particularly if the government sees fit to stop squandering all its cash on 1916 spectacles, and diverts the money into more meaningful engagements for those artists who are creating independent work and need financial support for those projects to bear fruit.

But, in truth, a thriving economy puts a terrible pressure on artists. As more than one artist noted back in the boom, the Celtic Tiger did little or nothing for them.

They didn’t see the kind of pay boosts that many office workers and those in the building industry enjoyed. Instead, almost paradoxically, they faced more pressures: pressure to take up nine-to-five jobs that were available and vaguely suitable; pressure to spend more money on nights out with friends in fancy restaurants; pressure to rent places they couldn’t afford; and pressure to ostentatiously spend, spend, spend.

When the wheels of the construction industry ground to a halt and the cranes vanished from our skylines, the artists returned. Over the past few years, it’s been a pleasure to live in a Dublin that is so full of creative life.

The crash brought with it intense financial hardship for so many, but it also gave us back a sense of community and cameraderie.

Theatre practitioners shared their work spaces, musicians helped each other out for free on studio recordings, debut authors wrote books, partly because they’d been made redundant from their jobs, and had the time to do so.

Novels by authors such as former Sunday Tribune writers Gavin Corbett and Paul Lynch might not have emerged without the kind of push the bust offered.

The Guardian wrote in late 2015 about the astonishing surge of fiction coming from Irish authors of late. Headlined “A new Irish literary boom”, the article by Justine Jordan chronicled the rise of debut authors such as Eimear McBride, Sara Baume, Lisa McInerney and Colin Barrett, describing how there was a “palpable energy” in Irish fiction.

The timing of such energy isn’t a coincidence, as novelist Claire Kilroy noted in the article, arguing that the consumerist ideology of the boom had meant that Irish writers became “artistically neutered” during that time. She wasn’t wrong.

We are a nation of dreamers, thinkers and creatives. But we often undervalue our own gifts, and, in tandem, our needs in terms of doing creative jobs that we find fulfilling.

Study after study has shown that money only brings us happiness up to a certain point: after you become financially comfortable, a bigger pay cheque no longer increases your happiness in the same way.

In Dingle at the Other Voices festival last month, I was lucky enough to hear Donal Lunny giving a Banter talk in Foxy John’s pub. “It’s important for your wellbeing,” Lunny said, “to be involved in things one likes.” It was such simple advice, but it stuck with me.

We need to learn lessons from our boom-to-bust past. We need to nurture our artists and remember that, if and when the good times come again, it shouldn’t be at the expense of our national creativity. A commercial boom shouldn’t have to spell a creative bust.

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