Being disappointed that no one in charge seems to be interested in using the recent global financial meltdown to address whether there may be a different way of doing things, I have started to wonder exactly HOW different things could be. I’m not talking about a revival of hammer-and-sickle-style Communism, but when I read in the papers, or hear on the radio that we’re doing better because “the markets are recovering,” or because “the markets are responding well,” I experience that sinking here-we-go-again sensation – because it’s that uncritical belief being reinforced, the belief that characterises the markets as some kind of intelligent, even ethical entity – ethical in the sense that the markets are also used to address the issue of health care.

So yes, things could, indeed should, be different there – but what about the arts? How could we reorganise the arts? The highly laudable Campaign for the Arts is responding to the siren call of the markets by defining the usefulness of the arts in financial terms – and why wouldn’t it? When backs are against the wall (and on trolleys in hospital corridors), money makes the loudest arguments. And yes – of course the arts contribute both tangibly and intangibly to the economy, and our status on the international stage.

But imagine if we were allowed a different sort of argument. Or else, imagine if we were allowed to build again, from the ground up. Would we do the same again? Would all that money (some definitely squandered) still be spent on buildings for the arts? What about the alternatives? I was wondering this as I attended yet another opening in a gallery in a town not famed for its visual cultural heritage (or contemporary enthusiasm for it), sharing the space with the director, the artist, and the artist’s mum.

So instead of an arts centre with a gallery for the visual arts in every county (and large-ish town) in Ireland, what about a fund to organise trips to larger cities – with resources focused instead of dissipated? Plus support to organise exhibitions in ad hoc spaces? What about artists’ studios privileged over spaces for showing – with the proviso that they be opened to the public one day a month? What about a visual artist and an architect in residence in every single school in ireland? I don’t know if it would work or not. But I do think it’s time we thought differently. About many things.

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