While there seems to be a buoyancy in Irish arts circles, the position in England is much different, with actual reductions across disciplines. The culture minister Margaret Hodge, at a recent TMA conference, said that the Arts Council England must be more outward looking and seek to engage and support organizations which it does not fund. If, such a position was to be considered here in Ireland, it might address the problems voluntary and amateur arts experience.

Hodge said that while she supported their Council, it must adhere to five key roles, if it is to be an effective and responsive organization in the future. She agreed that it must be robustly independent of government. It should be publicly accountable and responsive but not afraid to make difficult decisions and to take risk and challenge.

She expected a Council one hundred percent focused on artistic excellence and has the respect of the sector for its expertise and knowledge of the arts. She pointedly said that no one in England deserves second-rate arts and public money should not be spent on anything that is not, or does not, have the potential to be excellent.

Hodge stressed that ACE needed to play an enabling role to support well-run arts companies and that it needed to help the development of the entire sector, especially in areas of new technology. She added that she would like to see the Arts Council playing a stronger and more confident leadership role across the arts as a whole: – the only way to make real impact, for example, on arts participation, is to look beyond ACE’s regularly funded organizations and work in partnership with voluntary arts and other organizations around the country, which support participation in the arts.

She concluded by stressing: – I think we’re already beginning to see the experience of an Arts Council that is more outward looking, not just focused on its RFO’s but engaging with other stakeholders, such as local government, the Regional Development Agencies, broadcasters and other cultural institutions . . . we need an Arts Council that fulfils these roles now, more than ever before.

In England there is now a strong debate on arts and arts funding with a Tory taskforce advocating that the government replaces ACE in arts funding control. Labour want a Cultural Olympiad and arts placed at the heart of regeneration.

How will this impact on arts groups here in Ireland? Your guess could be as good as mine.