Since 2014, there are thirty one local authorities with a total of 949 members known as councilors. Thirty local authorities have an arts office managed by an arts officer. The majority of arts offices operate at a county council level with some at metropolitan level in larger urban centres. The exception to this rule is Dublin County, which is split into four local authority areas, each with its own arts office. Most arts officers are supported by a small staff ranging from one full time staff member to up to eight for the larger local authority areas. This represents the total local authority arts level structure in Ireland.
Support for local arts began to develop from the late 1980s. The Arts Act (1973) enabled local authorities for the first time to support the arts as part of their services, stating that they “may support” the arts. Although this legislative support was in place from 1973, local authorities were slow to recognise the potential benefit or value of adding the arts to their brief. The Arts Council intervened to try and incentivise local authorities by partly funding the arts officer positions. The first local authority arts officer was appointed in 1985, but in the first years of local arts offices there was little funding going directly to the arts. The Arts Council now contributes funding to programming only and the local authorities fund both programming and the arts office personnel.
During the 1990s, cultural development was given a more central role in arts and cultural planning at local level. Since the Arts Bill of 2003, each of Ireland’s local authorities is required by government to produce a plan for the arts. As more local authorities began to actively engage in local arts planning, their contribution to cultural policy and cultural funding increased, and this connected cultural planning at a local level with a range of other policy areas. Local authorities’ arts office programmes have helped increase access and participation in the arts in Ireland through removing many of the geographic barriers to participation. There is an arts centre within circa twenty miles of most people in Ireland. Local arts programmes tend to focus on the local impact as a highest policy priority of their strategic plans, which has helped to remove many barriers created by elitist perceptions of the arts. The role of local authority arts officers has more recently been evolving to include a broader cultural remit including such areas as cultural tourism, urban regeneration and creative industries.
The local government authorities rely on a combination of income from both central government via the Department of Housing and Local Government and locally raised income. Local income is raised through rates on commercial and industrial buildings; income from goods and services (housing rents, planning fees etc); exchequer grants (e.g. NDP) etc.
The Creative Ireland programme, which is operated within the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, has attempted to tie a number of policy goals of different agencies together. The Creative Ireland agreements are made between local authorities and the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht. The programme is guided by a vision that every person in Ireland should have the opportunity to realise their full creative potential. It is a five-year all-of-Government initiative, from 2017 to 2022, to place creativity at the centre of public policy. Three years into the programme, it has achieved some success with the creative schools initiative encouraging primary schools to engage pupils in creativity. Another success is their partnerships together with local authorities and Music Generation (the national music education programme), which provides access to quality music tuition at a local level in many parts of Ireland.