Art debate served only to undermine council and town

Story by Tom Kelly

Thursday, 10th January, 2013 10:37am

Art debate served only to undermine council and town

Editorial comment:

Cllr Mark Cooney's motion tabled at Athlone Town Council's monthly meeting seeking the council to request that a piece of art on display be removed was well-meaning but misguided.

Cllr Cooney was clearly responding to public concerns regarding the content of the piece of art, which is based on written messages by some of the Hunger Strikers from the H-Block.

However, the overall impact of the motion was to give the impression that politicians can, or indeed, should decide what is - or what is not - art.

The argument has been made that the councillors have a duty to represent their constituents and to voice concerns expressed by members of the public. But this theory can only go so far.

And in bringing the views of members of the public over the merits of a piece of art into the council chamber, members of Athlone Town Council went too far.

The ensuing debate and media focus has served to undermine the arts in Athlone and the public perception of the level of civic debate in the town.

And at a time when politicians are under constant scrutiny and criticism, the very fact that members of the local town council, whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayer, spent valuable time discussing the merits of otherwise of a piece of art is counter-productive to politicians and to politics.

Athlone Town Council will be abolished next year if current plans come to fruition.

This paper has regularly, strongly, and at times, against the public mood, argued that the council has a key role to play in developing Athlone.

It is difficult to sustain such a point of view when the public perception of the council, after Monday night's debate, is now overwhelmingly negative.

We obviously empathise with those who have personal experience of the Troubles -but art is art and the fact that this installation has been in existence for almost 15 years and being exhibited around the world indicates that it has been accepted as a legitimate and constructive piece of art.

And, of course, in the midst of all of this, the fact that it was Athlone Town Council which developed the art gallery - often against strong public criticism from those who felt it should not spend money on such a facility - must not be lost sight of. Indeed, Cllr Cooney has been a strong supporter of the art gallery project.

It is unfortunate that the council's foresight and vision in both backing and securing wider funding for the art gallery has been sullied somewhat in the public mind by the unwise debate on Monday night last.

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