Three State agencies have a role in promoting traditional music, so what do they do abroad? Culture Ireland says it has identified traditional arts and music as a priority area for “strategic, proactive promotion”. Besides providing grants to musicians, Culture Ireland connects musicians with programmers of Celtic music festivals and brings Irish performers to international arts events. But Madeline Boughton, Culture Ireland’s director of projects and promotions, agrees that there are gaps in the chain promoting traditional music. “One thing that’s missing, for instance, is an independent organisation to promote, develop and push the case for traditional arts, to galvanise and unite the community,” she says, citing Dance Ireland in comparison. “People probably feel they are on their own and have to sell themselves. If there was a more united front from the community we couldn’t but be pleased. They would make their case and Culture Ireland and the Arts Council would have to respond.”
Culture Ireland also publishes listings of upcoming events around the world that are happening with its support. It hopes to overhaul its website soon to make it more user-friendly.
Tourism Ireland in Germany says it wants to promote Irish music more as part of its marketing strategy. “In 2011 we’ll be putting traditional music in the foreground as research shows it is a trigger for German tourists,” says Barbara Wood, Tourism Ireland’s manager for central Europe.
And what about Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann? On its website it claims to “promote traditional Irish music and culture around the world”, but the reality is sobering. The organisation is dependent on the initiative of volunteers to set up local branches and do the promotion. In Europe the organisation has branches in France, Finland, Luxembourg and Italy. As for Germany, the organisation’s Bernard O’Sullivan says there was a Munich branch but it is no longer active. “We don’t have the resources to go on the ground,” he says. “The interest has to come from the region itself.”
That interest can be dampened when it becomes clear that Comhaltas is not able to provide financial assistance yet would like volunteers who set up branches to pay a €16 membership fee.
In addition to State agencies, Riverdance has acted as a useful surrogate for satisfying interest in traditional Irish music in recent years. And many Irish embassies have cultural attachés performing good work with limited resources. But, more often than not, long-term promotion abroad falls to Irish and non-Irish volunteers, driven by their passion for Ireland.
In Germany, Christian Ludwig makes the case for a website like Celtic Music Net, with user-generated content as a one-stop resource for all Irish traditional music bands and fans. Equally important, he argues, is a steering group in Ireland to co-ordinate the existing efforts of Culture Ireland, Comhaltas, Tourism Ireland and the Arts Council. “When you talk to people in these organisations individually they’re always very open to ideas, but you can never get them together.”
In Berlin, members of Cirrus, the band recently formed live on the TG4 series, Lorg Lunny , are enjoying a drink after their set. They are now dealing with the challenges that face all new bands: selling their first CD and getting bookings and attention. But they are getting little assistance. “People in Ireland think of traditional music in pubs as something that’s always there and always free, like tap water,” says fiddle player Tara Breen.
Moya Brennan, one of our best cultural ambassadors for the last 30 years, wants a change in official thinking: away from subsidies for companies that come and go and towards long-term financial support for young traditional bands such as Cirrus.
“We have a bank in Ireland called culture, so rich that other countries would dearly love to be able to draw on it,” says Brennan. “It’s a treasure chest that hasn’t been opened yet.” (Times) >>>