Youth Arts Report

Youth Arts Report

Full Transcript:
I wish to discuss the Youth Arts Now report commissioned by the local authority arts services of Kilkenny, Carlow, Wexford and Waterford, together with Creative Ireland Waterford, and facilitated by Waterford Youth Arts. It was launched this day last week in Smock Alley Theatre. It was fantastic to see so many young artists there doing exactly what young artists should, expressing themselves, finding meaning and making art. The report provides a clear-eyed overview of the current context in the youth arts. While it fully acknowledges the increased levels of funding being made available to the arts sector under this Government, it still echoes in its introduction the finding of the National Youth Council of Ireland that the youth arts sector is still working with inadequate, inconsistent and piecemeal funding for youth arts provision set within an under-resourced youth work sector.

The report prompts us to ask what we are talking about when we talk about youth arts. Among its 19 findings, the report states that national policy is distributed across many policy sites and Departments and each Department has priorities and outcomes peculiar to itself. Consequently, youth arts as a stand-alone practice can fall between policy cracks. Youth arts is treated as an input into other policy objectives and not a sector in its own right. There is little priority given at a national level to the idea of young people as artists. The emphasis falls on personal, social and economic outcomes. Funding enters the sector from multiple sources, with different criteria. Funding is increasingly outcome-driven as opposed to rights-based, with a particular emphasis on improvements in individual well-being and tending towards targeted as opposed to universal provision and access.

Is it the case that we think youth arts should do something in order to earn its crust? It certainly can be useful to help resolve issues like social inclusion or to explore mental health difficulties. Surely youth arts also has to be a space in which there are no objectives other than for young people to have the space to make art. Chief among its ten recommendations, the report argues that the national strategic youth organisations and those working in the delivery of youth arts must collaborate on a framework national youth arts policy, built on a sector-wide agreed definition of youth arts and a vision for the development of youth arts. Are there plans afoot in the Department to do that?

I want to finish on the words of Mary, who helped launch this report. She states:

My mother signed me up for creative writing classes with Waterford Youth Arts when I was thirteen, and I hated her for it. My words were mine. I didn’t want someone to read my words and tell me that they were wrong. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do with my words, or what to do at all. My mother signed me up for creative writing classes and it was one of the most influential moments of my life. It took a while, but when I shared my words, I found that there were no harsh critiques, there was no scorn, no side eye glances at the weird sideways girl.

I am the person I am today because of youth arts. It isn’t simply a youth club, or a school play, or some handmade posters on a wall. Youth arts is a living breathing thing. It fosters and nurtures creative self-expression, which in turn nurtures a young person into a young adult. I know I still have a lot to learn about life and myself even. But, having grown up as a veteran of youth arts, I’m not the weird sideways girl I used to be. I’m confident, and I’m brave, and I have the strength to follow the path I’ve chosen for my life, winding and bumpy as all life paths turn out to be.

Really, what more should we ask than that? We should be less focused on objectives and outcomes and more focused, in a coherent way, on creating a space where young people can authentically express themselves.

Deputy Neale Richmond

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I am responding on behalf of his party colleague and my constituency colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. I was very touched by the Deputy’s contribution and I am very well aware that this is a personal passion of his as well as something he is bringing forward on behalf of his constituents. The Deputy notes the local authorities and counties that came together in order to commission this report together with Creative Ireland Waterford and facilitated by Waterford Youth Arts. It was also funded under the Arts Council’s collaboration scheme.

The Deputy knows better than anybody else that Waterford Youth Arts has a long track record in this area. This report is an interesting example of a multidisciplinary youth arts hub or resource in their local area. A particular highlight in recent years has been The Lit, a youth-led literature festival which has been funded via Waterford Youth Arts annual programme of activities. The Deputy’s expression and his emphasis on the importance of creative writing and being able to give people the space to develop that are well made. I also understand that this organisation has made incredible efforts to structure its youth arts programme and to support its young members.

This report by John O’Brien is very timely indeed. The research report studies youth arts policy at a national level and it builds on previous work commissioned by Youth Arts Now regarding youth arts. It is interesting to see the mapping of funding going into youth arts and to note the obstacles faced by these youth organisations. The report contains a number of interesting case studies and, most importantly, makes a number of recommendations which will no doubt contribute to the debate about the future of youth arts in Ireland.

Under the Arts Act 2003, the Arts Council has primary responsibility for the development of the arts in Ireland. The council works under its ten-year strategy to address its statutory remit through a policy-driven focus on investment, advice, advocacy and partnership including investment in the traditional arts. The Arts Council offers a wide range of financial supports including for young people, children and education. The Deputy will be interested to note that with the Government’s recent support to extend the Creative Ireland programme for the period 2023 to 2027, the Minister will be bringing a new Creative Youth plan to Government for agreement. This will be along with her Cabinet colleagues, the Ministers, Deputies Foley, O’Gorman and Harris. Like its predecessor, the plan will operate across formal education and training settings and the wider community, and will provide further support for professional development.

The first Creative Youth plan provided a collaborative framework to enable the creative potential of children and young people. Since 2017, over 2,000 schools and Youthreach centres have had the opportunity to enrich their school’s creativity through programmes such as Creative Schools and Creative Clusters. Educators such as the Deputy have been supported to embed creativity into their professional teaching practice. Access to programmes such as creative writing, youth drama and creative technology has expanded in communities. Local Creative Youth partnerships have been established in six education and training boards, prioritising provision for seldom heard children and young people in their locality.

Under the Creative Communities initiative, I understand that the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, together with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, provides funding to each of the 31 local authorities to support culture and creativity teams to implement their individual culture and creativity strategies. These teams also deliver Cruinniú na nÓg, the flagship national day of free creative activities for children and young people. To date, over 2,800 events have taken place in partnership with all 31 local authorities. For example, 20 events were held across Waterford last year. The next Cruinniú na nÓg is scheduled to be held on 10 June this year where many more children will get to participate in this national day of free creative activity for young people. I underline the importance of letting children expand their own creative horizons. I fundamentally believe that should be the main focus of this and I know my belief is shared by Government colleagues. The end goal is to get as many people involved and doing what they love in a space that they find is comfortable for them to truly express themselves.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

I very much agree with that final sentiment. This has to be about facilitating children and young people and having that space to make art. Just in listening to the reply, however, we heard references to the Department of Education, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, in its local government aspect.

When I first entered politics, I was given some advice by former Deputy Trevor Sargent. He told me that one of the main challenges was to get a Minister to put his or her name to a proposal to avoid it being bounced around from Department to Department. The report reads:

Funding tends to be small, project focused and not guaranteed across time, creating a dependency on volunteerism … at the point of delivery. This level of funding [on a short-term basis] positions youth arts as a non-professional practice outside of the area of state responsibility [and essentially being bounced from pillar to post in terms of funding].

The Minister of State mentioned how Waterford Youth Arts had been in the business for a long time. Ms Breda Murphy and Mr. Ollie Breslin have been involved in it for probably more years than they would care to admit. However, instead of focusing on arts practice and fostering the artistic expression of young people, a large part of the job is chasing money from pillar to post. We need to be more coherent in bringing everything together and making it a reliable job for the people involved.

It might be the first time the Minister of State is hearing this, but the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is probably sick to death of hearing about how we are developing a framework for progressing well-being budgeting. I have been arguing consistently that we should have a 12th indicator that measures arts, culture, language, etc. Through such a framework, perhaps we could enhance our understanding and appreciation of what arts can do within our society.

Deputy Neale Richmond

I am taken by some of the Deputy’s comments. It is important to assure the House that the Government is committed to youth arts, particularly in the context of Creative Youth, which is one of five pillars of the Creative Ireland programme. Creative Youth is being implemented by, and is focused through, the Department of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. She is the Minister putting her name to it. However, the Deputy will appreciate that this is being done through partnerships. Be it in the formal education setting or the wider community setting, there must be buy-in by Departments, their agencies and local authorities. We cannot restrict this to one field. It cannot just be for people who are of school-going age, are within the formal education sector or have decided to proceed with a creative arts vocation. This is something that should be for every young person if he or she so chooses or, as in the case cited by the Deputy, if his or her parents so choose. He and I shared a video a couple of weeks ago of my son’s attempt at creative art not long beforehand as part of junior infants. That was not necessarily something he wanted to be a part of, but it was the first thing he talked about when he came home. He is still singing about penguins. I hope he continues doing so, be it in the formalised education sector or more widely.

I take seriously the Deputy’s points about the frustration of those who are entrusted to develop and deliver youth arts. We must ensure that they can make a career or living out of it. I will bring all of the Deputy’s concerns to the Minister. She is well versed in the Deputy’s opinions on the indicators. This is one that merits deep consideration. I will bring it to the Minister and other Government colleagues in due course.