Many of us experience January as a particularly hard month which makes the First Fortnight Festival and other cultural happenings even more vital this year. At this juncture, it hardly needs saying that this is not the start that anyone of us would have hoped for and a typical January gloom may be freighted with the ongoing uncertainty that continues in our lives. What remains striking is the professionalism that those working within the arts continue to demonstrate in every aspect of their work. It is staggering to contemplate how much and how well teams have adapted, most especially in response to recent curfews. Decision making against such a backdrop is extremely difficult and we salute your grace and professionalism.
Two major deadlines fall on February 3rd when the window for agility and bursary awards closes. Because we anticipate a very high volume of applications, we strongly encourage people to submit before the deadline. Please do not hesitate to contact the relevant team member with any questions you may have over the next few weeks – they will be delighted to help.
2021 was a year of great challenges and extraordinary arts moments across the country. When we reflect back on the year, it is particularly satisfying to note the number of new voices which we were able to support. We are determined to better embed the priorities of equality, diversity and inclusion in our core work. Through the newly introduced Agility Award, we piloted a plain English description and we improved accessibility. Over 1,800 artists were funded, 50% of whom were emerging or early career stage artists, with 40% first time applicants. We are heartened by the response to this new award and we revel in the fresh energy that these connections bring.
It is also gratifying to reflect the massive increase in bursaries across all art forms. The value of the awards increased from €1.8 million in 2019 to €9.3 million in 2021. These landmark advances provide a source of much optimism for future years.
This month marks the 70th anniversary of the very first meeting of the newly established Arts Council. From a very modest inaugural budget of £20,000, the Council will this year invest €130 million to ensure that a vibrant artistic landscape can be experienced and enjoyed by as many people as possible. That historic situation of almost complete neglect for the arts is now, thankfully, a distant memory, and the prospect of an appropriately supported arts sector is truly energising.
We will use the year ahead to reflect on the value of the arts to our lives and to lay the foundation for future generations of artists and audiences. So many people have contributed in brilliant and inspiring ways over those seven decades and we hope to acknowledge many magnificent achievements throughout the year.
We wish you all the very best with your plans for the year and we anticipate easier, less limiting times when we can be together once more.