IRELAND has a long tradition of taking the arts seriously, particularly literature. ``Poets were always seen as tremendously powerful'' in earlier centuries, says Patricia Quinn, development director of the Arts Council. ``Chieftains kept bardic retainers on staff as a form of medieval public relations.'' In more recent years, despite its relative lack of affluence, Ireland has sought new ways of supporting creative artists. One of them is through the 10-year-old organization Aosdana, a conveniently untranslatable Irish term that means something like ``men of art.''
In ancient times, the term referred to those ``whose skill gave them status beyond their birth,'' explains Ms. Quinn, who is also registrar of Aosdana. It's a sort of academy but includes musicians and visual artists (and women, too). Members include novelists John Banville and John McGahern, poet Seamus Heaney, and playwright Brian Friel. Aosdana members who wish to devote themselves full time to their art can receive state stipends.
Irish law also allows creative artists - writers, painters, sculptors - to claim exemption from taxes on any earnings from their artistic endeavors. ``The state loses very little money that way. The arts aren't valued much anyway; we don't have many tax exiles,'' Ms. Quinn adds. ``I don't think it's ever an easy choice to be an artist.''