Heather Humphreys launched a new cultural initiative called Creative Ireland at the Irish Consulate in New York on Friday. Flanked by Secretary General Martin Fraser, Ireland’s highest ranking public servant, Humphreys, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs said the strategy was an “ambitious five-year arts and culture initiative which will place culture and creativity at the heart of public policy.”
Also present was director of the project John Concannon, the man behind The Gathering, the 1916 Centenary program of events, and the Wild Atlantic Way project.
Creative Ireland is the government’s Legacy Program for Ireland 2016. It is a five-year all-of-government initiative, from 2017 to 2022, which at its core is a strategy which aims to improve access to cultural and creative activity in every county across the country and among the diaspora.
Speaking at the Irish launch, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “Creative Ireland is about placing culture at the center of our lives, for the betterment of our people and for the strengthening of our society..."
Creative Ireland is built around five pillars:
1. Enabling the Creative Potential of Every Child
2. Enabling Creativity in Every Community
3. Investing in our Creative and Cultural Infrastructure
4. Ireland as a Centre of Excellence in Media Production
5. Unifying our Global Reputation
Irish success in showcasing the country through The Gathering, the 1916 Centenary, and the Wild Atlantic Way events has led to a strong recognition by the Irish government of the extraordinary “soft power” of Irish arts and culture.
Creative Ireland will have a dedicated Cabinet committee in the Irish government, chaired by Kenny himself. Fraser is to be chair of the government's working group with day to day running assigned to Concannon.
The launch comes off the back of a highly successful year commemorating the 1916 Centenary. Humphreys said the Irish government is looking to build on the “unprecedented levels of the cultural engagement."
Based around support for children, communities, infrastructure, media production and Ireland’s global reputation, Humphreys said investment in these five “pillars” would yield long-term benefits for the country.
And she said she could think of no more appropriate place to launch the strategy than New York, one of the great global magnets for the Irish diaspora.
“When I think of Irish culture and creativity overseas, I think of New York. There’s an Irish footprint on every block of this city. Irish culture permeates Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and beyond. The Irish government is hugely appreciative of all that the Irish community does here to keep our culture and our sense of identity thriving," Humphreys said.
Consul General Barbara Jones praised the strategy as a “strong positive message” and said she’d put her “top people” in charge of delivering it in New York.
Susan Feldman, artistic director of St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, caused laughter when she said, “Just sitting here I feel I’m in some kind of strange reality where art is appreciated and culture is amazing and we love our artists because something else has been going on out there!”
Speaking later to IrishCentral, Humphreys detailed that the aim was to put “culture in communities and allow citizens to have access to that culture…. building on that legacy of the [1916 commemorations].”
The decision to launch the program in New York was an obvious one due to the emphasis on promoting Ireland’s global reputation.
“We worked very closely with our embassies and our consuls during the 2016 commemorations so this is a follow on here. And we also want to engage the Irish diaspora abroad and encourage that interest they have in their Irish culture," she said.
Humphreys’ department is collaborating with their colleagues in education to involve schoolchildren as well.
“We have an arts and education charter which is a joint initiative between the Department of Education and ourselves. So we’re going to continue to develop a plan to continue to allow children to access the arts in whatever form they want. Some might want music, some may want drama or painting," she said.
She noted the success of Ireland in attracting international blockbusters, including Star Wars which has returned multiple times to film in Co. Kerry, “tapping into that beautiful scenery that is on the Wild Atlantic Way.”
As to whether there was a north-south basis for the plan, Humphreys said collaboration was ongoing between the two governments and when it came to appointment to boards she was very conscious of the need to have different views represented.
“I do appoint people from Northern Ireland so that gives us a cross-border element to it," she said.
The minister is clearly enjoying her work. “I love my job,” she said emphatically. “I absolutely think being the minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht [Irish Language] Affairs is a wonderful job. And it allows me to combine culture and rural Ireland, they really go together.”
But she was more cautious when asked when she thought her party leader Kenny would step down as taoiseach.
“Enda will decide himself when the time to go is. As far as I’m concerned he’s doing a good job. We’ve a lot on at the minute and the electorate in Ireland, I believe, just want us politicians to get on with the job of running the country," she said.
But no matter who the taoiseach is, the government’s huge emphasis on promoting Irish culture looks set to remain.