Photo by Caroline McNally

The last eight years have seen arts funding cut across the board, with most focus on the drop in Arts Council money.

But the effects of cuts have also been felt by museums funded directly from the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht. Among them: the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

Which is why, last Wednesday, IMMA announced a new private fundraising initiative, called “IMMA 1000”, which aims to support the development of contemporary art within the museum.

A Reactionary Fund

It’s all about trying to temper the “devastating collective effect” of cuts that have left artists operating “within a delicate ecosystem and almost all sources of income for artists have been severely affected in the past 8 years,” said Aoife Flynn, head of audiences and development at IMMA.

The IMMA 1000 fund, which starts at €60,000, has three simple aims: 1) supporting artists to live and work in Ireland through bursaries and the IMMA residency programme; 2) supporting artists’ income through commissions and exhibitions at IMMA; and 3) supporting artists’ work by buying it for the IMMA collection.

“We have all seen cuts of close to 50 percent in government funding which have the collective knock-on effect of causing fewer acquisitions for public collections, fewer commissions of new work and reduced artist fees,” Flynn said.

There will be no application process for the monies raised, as such, and the IMMA 1000 fund will go straight to artists who have residencies at the museum, and through museum programmes. That’s usually about 16 artists a year, says Flynn.

“The hidden impact of 50 percent cuts across an organisation like IMMA, which has many fixed costs, means that our programming budgets, to commission, exhibit and work with artists, are reduced even more, by over 70 percent, in fact it has almost completely disappeared,” she says.

“IMMA are now in the position of self-financing our programme through a mixture of commercial income, membership, philanthropic donations and corporate partnerships,” she says.

The main corporate partner in this initiative is Goodbody stockbrokers.

In response to a talk given by IMMA director Sarah Glennie in 2014, John Cunningham, director of financial planning company CheckRisk, decided to kickstart the fundraising, which will be spent over the next three years.

Curatorial Integrity

You might think that this is exactly the kind of work that the Arts Council should be doing.

But between 2008 and 2016, the Arts Council was granted €85 million in annual funding and by 2016, that figure had been whittled down to €60.1 million.

So IMMA’s Flynn says that the Arts Council are on much the same page as the museum itself, with reduced investment.

She says the Arts Council does “extraordinary work with incredibly restricted funds”, but that this particular initiative allows IMMA to not rely so heavily on limited government funds.

“The reality of arts funding is that it has been cut across the board in the last eight years, to the Arts Council and to individual arts institutions,” says Flynn. “While that is very difficult for us as organisations and certainly puts us under enormous pressure, the unseen fallout from this is what this means to artists.”

Is there not a worry that private-sector funds will affect the artistic integrity of IMMA’s output?

It’s unlikely, says Flynn, as the fund will be doled out by directors and curators who work within the museum and not dictated by private investors.

While Flynn acknowledges “that in the future IMMA’s funding will come from a mixture of sources”, she says the “corporate and private donors understand the independent curatorial integrity of IMMA and don’t seek to influence the programme”.

The fund now stands at €60,000, which the museum plans to double after one year, with 60 individual donations of €1,000 each. Between 2016 and 2018, the museum hopes the fund will grow to €250,000.

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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