Feedback is an interesting thing – thank you to everyone who responded to On mediocrity (9 July) – there’s the public face and the private face, where (as was discussed) everyone says “you’re great” to your face but god knows what’s going on behind your back. Writing for print can be like sending words into a void, and by the time one piece is published you’re in the thick of researching and writing the next, or even the one after, so print feedback can seem a little disconnected (if you get it at all). That’s one of the beauties of the internet: immediacy – both of publication and response, and why it lends itself to a particular kind of debate – immediate, urgent, multi-voiced. It’s also why I think CIRCA should start printing again as soon as possible – because we need space for both types of writing and of reply.
On to something new… The Kilkenny Arts Festival opens this weekend, with the art element this year curated by Oliver Dowling. Dowling is also one of the Curators of Dublin Contemporary, to take place in 2011. This convenient coincidence led me to think about the differences between, and also the value of such different events in the art landscape in Ireland. Summer in Ireland is thick with festivals – not just arts – but the arts festivals all have their visual element, and these range from a show of local artists in an available venue, to significant exhibitions and commissions (I’m thinking, for example, of Brian O’Doherty’s The Lookout: Fort within a Fort, at Kinsale last year). The eclecticism of the summer arts festivals also gives space for that ‘holy grail’ of the arts: New Audiences; to come to the work, as towns and cities are filled with a mixture of locals, tourists, theatre-goers, visual-arts attenders and people who came to see the Tindersticks.
Budgets have, of course, been cut back to the bone, and sponsors, a former mainstay, are far thinner on the ground. In this landscape, it’s a brave move to commit budgets the size of the one backing Dublin Contemporary. Maybe that’s what we need – something enormously international. The question (with all of these events) is: why? Culture is increasingly sold as a economic stimulator and tourist magnet, and I’m certainly not going to argue against any arguments for culture. On the other hand, should such projects fail, the fall-out would be felt across the arts. In terms of sport, anecdotally, I have been told it cost €30 million to bring the Ryder Cup to Ireland (I can’t actually believe this), but that there has been no measurable increase in golf tourism since.
So the question is, in times of limited resources, do you put your money behind grassroots initiatives, or flagship projects (if it has to be an ‘either / or’)? One thing I have never seen the logic of wasting money on though – and both Kilkenny Arts Festival and Dublin Contemporary were guilty of this – is launches for things that haven’t happened yet. They’re sometimes nice to go to, but I can’t help thinking (beyond the photo in the papers the next day), always pretty unnecessary.