As much graft as there is craft: Refusal, Value and the Affective Economy of the Irish Arts Sector

Miriam Haughton


This essay proposes that in 2020, Irish arts sector advocacy and activism operated as a form of kindness, affectively and materially, as demonstrated by its widespread challenge to the first wave of emergency COVID-19 funding announced by the state, which it criticized as unsatisfactory and inappropriate. In so doing, a chink emerged in the normative “cruel optimism” (Berlant, 2010) narrative that pervades working practices in the Irish arts sector, whereby the hope for better next year functions to cover the cracks of systemic devaluing of arts labour, experience and encounter. Such cruel optimism, or false hope, is often compounded by the underlying threat of further cuts should one upset the apple cart by criticising arts management and investment. A potential rationale to justify decades of reduced arts investment is that that the work of arts labour is not valued as “work” by the leading political establishment, but more aligned with a hobby or light entertainment. From this vantage point, the danger is that arts workers are valued as entertainers for social occasions, not vital workers fully participating in the nation’s economic and social fabric.


Arts labour; arts economics; COVID-19 funding; affect theory; Irish arts sector

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