Ethics, Official Images, Artists Ego’s and the Funding Issue

Writers often make their living from festival readings, and sales of their books at events. To gain such access to earn such a living, it begs the question, should an artist compromise the format of their work, to appease the ideal of those who provide the funding?

To a purist such as me, no. But others must live in what they call reality.

Writers, and the festivals that they organize, are often with an ideal in mind, but when official funding either from councils, governments or sponsors, the issue of personalities, clash of ideals, a funding bodies desire to make the event more mainstream and less activist, can lead to clashes between the artists and the funders, often to a long running festering feud.

Two such events are Cúirt in Galway City which was started by Fred Johnstone, and the Fermoy International Poetry Festival.

The former was founded by the writer Fred Johnstone, who I understand is of mixed Irish and Ulster Scots ancestry, and in the tradition of the latter is not known for mincing his words, and has a piss-or-get-off-the-pot way of looking at things, a quality in folk that I admire, but one which often gets under peoples skins especially those who specialise in the “networking” that goes on at events here in Ireland, for which I have very little time.

Through a mixture of politics and personalities, Johnstone got shafted, the festival he founded went on to the present day – its twenty odd years now I think – and he wasn’t even mentioned in the literature as being the founder. Regardless of how the relationship ended, I think that would be the bare minimum recognition one should get.

Which has led to a long running feud between him and the powers that be in Galway, involving a certain Kevin Higgins, something of a satirist, married to the American writer Susan Millar du Mars. A separate issue dating back to when all three were in FÃS seems to have festered in that feud, leading to Higgins getting questions asked in the DÃIL of all places, about Johnston, by no less than “Clare Daly.

I have great time for Clare Daly, but I thought she would have had more cop on than to be used as a stooge for that spat, which at best is an industrial relations issue that should have been handled by the union at the time and sorted. Higgins denies his “Over the Edge” is a corruption of Johnstones “On the Edge” poetry nights,and so forth in a feud only artists can engage in or understand.

My statement on a sharing of a post by Johnstone on the issue with the comment “Quills at Dawn” led to Higgins organising of abortion rights activists against the AAA who locally had me (a pro life but left wing) as a candidate before the last election, leading to the collapse of the AAA in Offaly, no advantage for the left in the area, and no enhancement for him bar to massage his ego as I wouldn’t join in bullying of Johnstone. I blogged about it in my piece “Poets, Piques and Politics” to which he retaliated, and I retaliated, etc.

From Cuirt in Galway, to the International Poetry Festival in Fermoy, official funding and involving officials seems to court trouble, feuds and strife!
From Cuirt in Galway, to the International Poetry Festival in Fermoy, official funding and involving officials seems to court trouble, feuds and strife!

Now, something similar is happening in Fermoy, where the Fermoy International Poetry Festival was started by local writer and all round decent guy Gene Barry. A passionate advocate of the arts, he has no formidable reputation unlike Fred, but he too has run foul of the local powers that be.

His festival was up and running from his own efforts and that of those he built around him to get it going. I read there in the Elbow Lane pub – I think I read “Give to Me an Angry Sea” as one of my contributions – and when the council finally did get involved, they seem to have taken it over.

People who before this had no interest in the arts, all of a sudden were seeking to call the shots and started making all sorts of accusations about funding being misapplied as so forth,which Gene Barry is denying, and for one I believe him.

Such is the arts, when poetry and politics meet, the love child is rarely a pretty thing!

So what is to be learned from all this? As I see it, write or do your art for the love of it, and make your living another way, so you never have to compromise your art.

It leads to a lot less feuding too!

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