IMA response: Arts & Culture Recovery Taskforce report

19 Nov 2020

The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sorts and Media’s Arts & Culture Recovery Taskforce Report, Life Worth Living, published yesterday 18 November 2020, contains recommendations to Government aimed to support recovery and resilience of the cultural and creative sector.

The Irish Museums Association (IMA) commends the valuable work of the Taskforce and welcomes this report, which recognises the dire crisis faced by the cultural sector and presents a significant step towards ensuring the sector’s survival and resilience as we face far-reaching difficulties due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of particular immediate concern is the re-examination of the current classification of indoor cultural venues such as museums, which sees these uniquely closed from level 3 without the option of enhanced measures within the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19 framework.

The IMA is delighted to see a more nuanced approach to closure of museums and certain cultural venues highlighted as a key recommendation, reflecting the IMA’s submission to the Arts & Culture Recovery Taskforce Museums and the road to resilient recovery in Ireland (IMA, 2020) and reaffirmed by over 50 museum directors as signatories in correspondence to Minister Catherine Martin, Minister of State Malcolm Noonan, and Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, among other public representatives.

Among the recommendations that aim to provide medium to long-term resilience to the sector in the ROI, we would like to highlight the following:

  • The IMA wholeheartedly welcomes the emphasis placed on sustaining the capacity of Local Authorities in their role as instigators and promoters of cultural activities within their local communities. We would emphasise, however, the importance of working with Local Authority Cultural Teams in delivery as these represent the broad makeup of cultural activity as defined by the ‘cultural and creative industries’* and that the additional costs in meeting COVID-19 guidelines/standards not be solely contained to the Arts Sector./Arts office. Instead this should take into consideration the significant expenditure incurred by cultural institutions such as museums in adapting and sustaining these measures, mostly absorbed through the heritage or library services and reflected in the key stakeholders mentioned as including the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage. (*We note the definition of cultural and creative industries in the document omits the words ‘museums’ and ‘tangible and intangible’ cultural heritage per the UNESCO/ European Commission definition and would welcome this correction).
  • Connectivity among cultural practitioners are among the three main areas of focus of the IMA, highlighted in its funding application to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media for 2021, and reflected in its Strategic Plan 2018-2022. While museum practitioners may not work in the same circumstances as arts workers, identified concerns around isolation (both physical and emotional) and the challenges it presents to mental health are a key concern. We welcome the recommendation of ‘funding established cultural resource organisations to contract the provision of specialised wellbeing services for practitioners whom they serve and support’ and would ask this be reflected in the Implementation process outlined in Appendix 4, recommendation 6, which refers solely to arts resource organisations.
  • In this same way, capacity building and training are primary areas of focus to encourage new leadership and ensure values of diversity and inclusion are embedded within our museums. Knowledge exchange, co-mentoring across sectors on how to rethink business models and strategies, and training aimed at enhancing digital engagement skills will allow practitioners to meaningfully connect with audiences, and build sustainable, collaborative relationships with community leaders. Already part of IMA’s offering, we look forward to supporting any actions arising from this recommendation.
  • Current funding structures have been problematic for museums, particularly SMEs. Short timelines, retroactive payments and capacity concerns present cashflow and resourcing issues when availing of grant funding. The IMA welcomes the recommendation of advance payments and early notification of allocations to be extended to existing and future funding initiatives and streams, whether these be through local authorities, central government, or government agencies. A focus on core funding streams to be made available to the wider museum sector would also be a positive step towards safeguarding staff in view of recent developments in this area, particularly in Northern Ireland, and allow museums to sustain adequate collection management practices that protect our nation’s cultural heritage.
  • The IMA is delighted to see specific recommendations in relation to the environmental impact of Arts, Cultural and event activities. Through our collections and programming, museums represent key sites for climate change education, engagement, action and research; highlighted in Museums and the Sustainable Development Goals (McGhie, 2019) presented to an Irish audience at the IMA Annual Conference 2020. The investment in research and establishment of a Creative Green Certification resource and guidelines is a very positive step forwards in bolstering Ireland as a world leader in the area of sustainability and Green Culture.
  • The adoption of the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market into Irish Law, with the substantial improvements made by Parliament and Council, is a positive step forward for museums as they increasingly look towards serving their users online and address problematics around ‘orphan works’ and the ‘20th century black hole’. Articles 7-9a will enable cultural heritage institutions to make copyrighted works from their collections, which are not in commerce, available online. Given the opportunities this presents to cultural heritage organisations, we would suggest that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage share responsibility for its implementation, along with the Office of Public Works.

Finally, with responsibility for the cultural heritage sector residing with numerous stakeholders, we welcome the reassurance by Minister Catherine Martin TD that the establishment of a cross-sectoral implementation group to oversee and monitor the implementation of actions arising from this report is already underway and encourage this group be retained in the future to ensure fluid dialogue between departments and agencies with cultural oversight.

We would welcome your feedback on this initial response to the report or any of the documents referenced and can be contacted on or, should you wish to discuss informally by telephone, contact Gina O'Kelly on +353 (0)87 279 0518.