In fine-art circles there’s a bit of an allergy to discussion of the ‘instrumental’ value of art. This isn’t too surprising. Once you start judging art solely on the basis of its ability to pull in audiences, rescue bad architecture, help inner-city communities, etc, you get into very murky territory. I am not saying that art should not be used for such purposes – it should be used for a million purposes; what’s upsetting is when the utility of art becomes the standard by which it is measured.

On the other hand, most artists do not need convincing on the intrinsic value of art; it’s what artists want to be doing. What would be nice, though – to silence those of a more utilitarian bent – would be an extrinsic basis on which to value art-making, without falling into the instrumental trap. You know the sort of thing: why should artists get grants when hospitals need doctors / nurses / equipment etc, the government finances are in an awful state, and we all need to bear the pain?

It turns out that there is very strong pro-arts argument, one that should be repeated and elaborated as much as possible. Put it this way:

  • Would you like to visit a country that has a thriving arts scene, or one where the arts are an afterthought?

  • If you’re part of the knowledge economy, and you’re thinking of setting up new offices in some country, will you look at what the cultural life is like there? (If you’re a hard-nosed money-maker, you should still ask yourself: mightn’t those potential high-value employees you’re hoping to entice to your new operation be interested in the cultural life of that country?)

  • If you’re a creative industry, or just a successful industry looking for creative thinkers, and you’re contemplating relocating, won’t you want to know what the cultural scene is like, what the colleges are producing by way of creative thinkers, lateral thinkers, etc?

  • And so on.

Apparently cultural tourism is worth around €5 billion to the Republic of Ireland each year, and apparently also it is the only aspect of tourism here which is growing. High-end multinationals tend to invest in areas where there are ‘clusters’ of good things going on – education, culture, etc – so that they have a body of intelligent workers to draw on, and so that they can attract educated workers to them.

In the larger scheme of things, the arts don’t cost the government much. Cutting funding to the arts – which is a very likely scenario – will, it seems, have an immediate impact on the Ireland brand. Make the cuts, and you lose a lot more than you save.