Aosdána (//; from aos dána "people of the arts") is an Irish association of artists. It was created in 1981 on the initiative of a group of writers with support from the Arts Council of Ireland. Membership, which is by invitation from current members, is limited to 250 individuals; before 2005 it was limited to 200. Its governing body is called the Toscaireacht.
Aosdána was originally set up on the suggestion of writer Anthony Cronin, by Taoiseach Charles Haughey, well known for his support for the Arts, although Fintan O'Toole has argued that this also served to deflect criticism of Haughey's political actions.
The process of induction relies entirely on members proposing new members. Applications by artists themselves are not allowed.
Some members of Aosdána receive a stipend, called the Cnuas (Irish pronunciation: [kn̪uəsˠ] lit. "collect, store" – a gift of financial aid put aside for the purpose of support), from the Arts Council of Ireland. This stipend is intended to allow recipients to work full-time at their art. The value of the Cnuas in 2015 was €17,180.
The title of Saoi (lit. "wise one") is the highest honour that members of Aosdána can bestow upon a fellow member. No more than seven living members can be so honoured at one time. The honour is conferred by the President of Ireland in a ceremony during which a gold torc is placed around the neck of the recipient by the President.
The current living Saoithe are:
- Seóirse Bodley, composer
- Camille Souter, painter
- Imogen Stuart, sculptor
- George Morrison, film-maker
- Edna O'Brien, writer
Among the deceased holders of the title of Saoi are the Nobel Laureates Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, dramatists Brian Friel and Tom Murphy, and the artists Patrick Scott and Louis le Brocquy.
The poet Pearse Hutchinson, a member of Aosdána, described it as "a miracle and a godsend" that allowed him to continue writing at a time when he might have had to give up. Composer Roger Doyle has also spoken about the difference it made: "I was elected to Aosdána in 1986. This gave me a small stipend from the Government each year, which enabled me to devote all my time to composing. This changed my life for the better and I have composed non-stop since then."
The Toscaireacht is a committee of ten members, called Toscairí, of the Aosdána. It meets several times a year to deal with the administration and external relations of Aosdána, reports to every General Assembly, which meets once a year, and sets its Agenda. When new members of Aosdána are proposed, the Toscairí have the task of verifying that the nomination process has been complied with, and also that the candidate is willing to accept membership, before the next stage of election is begun.
Toscairí are elected to the Toscaireacht by the members of Aosdána for two years at a time. All members of Aosdána are eligible for election, and nominations must be made in writing by three members. The electoral process is in two stages. First, within each of Aosdána's three disciplines (Music, Literature, and Visual Arts), the two nominees with the highest number of votes are elected: this guarantees a minimum of two Toscairí from each of the disciplines. Next, the remaining four places are filled by the remaining nominees from any discipline who have the highest number of votes.
The procedure at meetings is laid down in the Toscaireacht's Standing Orders. Minutes of its meetings appear on Aosdána's web site.
As of 2016, the Toscaireacht included:
- "The Arts Council - Ireland's government agency for funding and developing the arts in Ireland | Arts Council of Ireland". Artscouncil.ie. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
- Stephen Prince, "Haughey's patronage of the arts sits perfectly with the image he craved:that of a Medici prince", The Sunday Times (London), 18 June 2006, p. 14
- Fintan O'Toole, "How Charlie came to be painted as a man of the arts", Irish Times, 10 February 2007, page 6.
- Electoral Procedures, on the Aosdána Website
- "Cnuas | Aosdana". Aosdana.artscouncil.ie. 1 July 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
- "Saoi | Aosdana". aosdana.artscouncil.ie. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
- "Brian Friel receives award from McAleese" Archived 3 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine. RTÉ. 22 February 2006.
- "Prestigious award for playwright Friel". Irish Examiner. 22 February 2006.
- John Boland, "A great man in a low time", Irish Times, 29 March 1997
- "Electric Destiny", Irish Times, 21 October 2005, p. 5
- Toscaireacht at aosdana.artscouncil.ie
- Row looms within Aosdána over Ó Searcaigh documentary Archived 11 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine from irishtimes.com, dated Wednesday, 7 May 2008: "...the Toscaireacht – a representative body of 10 Aosdána members who meet regularly, and who set the agenda for each year's assembly"
- Aosdána at visual-arts-cork.com
- "Toscaireacht". Aosdána. Retrieved 16 October 2018.