Artist, Ian Wieczorek, who moved from the UK to the Republic in 1992, says that the country is justifiably proud of its creative heritage, especially its storytelling traditions and literary luminaries like Beckett, Joyce, Yeats and Heaney.
He cites the likes of digital video artist, John Gerrard, as a talent who’s prominent on the international scene but says there’s not the same level of public acknowledgement or engagement with contemporary visual arts at home.
Westport, County Mayo, where Wieczorek has his studio, is on the west coast of Ireland, a remote corner of Europe with nothing between it and America except the rolling Atlantic. But it doesn’t mean he’s not connected to the wider scene.
Earlier this year his work was seen in 2018 EVA International, Ireland’s biennale of contemporary art; in September he’s part of a group show at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. This year has also seen residencies in France and Austria, and he is currently working on a collaborative project with a Brazilian artist.
His practice includes painting, video and installation, and explores the influence of digital technology on the contemporary experience.
Initially, he came to write a novel and for personal reasons – his wife is Irish – and loves the place because there’s an engagement with the arts at all levels.
“One of the most refreshing aspects here is how democratic everything is; people [in the arts] are very approachable here, regardless of status.”
Ireland’s an arts tax haven
Ireland, a member of the European Union, has a reputation as a tax haven for those in the arts and for having a supportive funding scene. Wieczorek says that while the Arts Council and other statutory organisations grant bursaries, it’s a relatively small pot and a competitive field.
“It’s not the land of milk and honey; but creatives do come here from elsewhere and there’s real cultural engagement, both formal and informal, and while the arts sector is generally regarded by practitioners as underfunded, there is a degree of funding and arts infrastructure.”
As for tax breaks, he says that while the country’s famed artists’ exemption allows artistic income up to €50,000 to be tax free, many in the arts struggle to earn sufficient money from their work.
“There are lots of artists registered for tax exemption but most don’t survive on their sales and must do other non-tax-exempt jobs. But yes, it assists, as you get the full amount for sales, minus gallery commission, of course.”
Alongside directly promoting artists internationally through Culture Ireland, additional government engagements include the 2017-2022 Creative Ireland programme, a fund parallel to the Irish Arts Council. It’s administered directly by the arts ministry (and has come in for criticism due to its similarity to Australia’s controversial 2015 Catalyst funding body, since discontinued). In addition, in April 2018 the Irish government announced Project Ireland 2040, a €1.2 billion cultural investment scheme.
Wieczorek doubts the experience for the average creative will change much in the near future however;
“Yes, Ireland is always ready to extol the arts, but for the average artist we’re not talking huge financial support…It’s hard work, like anything else; nothing falls into your lap.”