Live Music Exchange Blog

‘To Arthur!’ Guinness, the Irish state and live music – Eileen Hogan


Today’s post is by Eileen Hogan, lecturer in Applied Social Sciences at University College Cork. She discusses the annual Arthur’s Day celebration, in honour of the Guinness founder, and the relationship of Guinness – and its parent company Diageo – to live music funding, along with the wider implications of corporate sponsorship for cultural activity and identity. 

250 years ago, a great Irish businessman signed a lease. Today, celebrations are being held around the world in honour of the global phenomenon that is Guinness… [A]s someone who started from small beginnings but thought big, Arthur Guinness himself is an excellent role model for today’s Irish entrepreneurs as we go about building our Smart Economy…

I would like to take the opportunity today to pay tribute to Diageo Ireland for staying true to Guinness’s progressive legacy through its Corporate Giving Programme…

I would like to congratulate everybody involved in organising these worldwide celebrations; to extend my best wishes to Diageo Ireland; and to wish Guinness afficionados around the world the very best in their search for the perfect pint!  Best wishes also to all the musicians and entertainers and to all the partygoers.

To Arthur!

This speech, presented by Ireland’s then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen at the launch of ‘Arthur’s Day’ on the 24th September 2009, offers useful insight into the ideological positioning of the event within Irish social, economic and cultural policy discourse.  Enshrined in his words is a celebration of creative entrepreneurialism in the new cultural economies of late capitalism, a salute to the global Guinness-drinking diaspora, a toast to alcohol consumption itself as a marker of national pride and identity, and a nod to the value of culture in contemporary Ireland (if only as an afterthought).

Arthur’s Day was launched in Ireland five years ago, first imagined as a once-off event to celebrate the legacy of Arthur Guinness and the 250th anniversary of his signing a 9,000-year lease on his brewery at St James’s Gate, Dublin.  The event was a resounding success based on a genius marketing ploy and Diageo decided to host the event every year, thereby establishing a new pseudo national holiday, a secular version of St Patrick’s Day (conveniently held six months apart) and equally zealous in its glorification of a different ubiquitous tag of Irish identity – the pint of the black stuff.

The state (which shares a harp logo with Guinness) has been largely complicit with Diageo’s promotion of the stout-soaked Irish Paddy national image both at home and abroad.  This is perhaps unsurprising given the significance of the drinks industry to tourism and to the Irish economy.  The popularity of Guinness-related activities for tourists is testament to its success as a global brand.  Visiting dignitaries are urged to try it (Obama loved it, the Queen declined) and in 2011, Guinness was one of the most mentioned terms on Twitter, making it a contender for the Guinness World Records.  The Guinness Brewery is Ireland’s most popular tourism destination with almost 1.1 million visitors in 2012 and the Guinness Storehouse generates 180 million global media impressions annually. ‘Going to the pub’ is listed by the 2012 Lonely Planet guide as the greatest experience a tourist can have in Ireland. Guinness is consumed in 120 countries worldwide.  Apart from sports sponsorship and Arthur’s Day, Guinness also sponsors numerous music festivals throughout Ireland including the Rory Gallagher Festival in Donegal, Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, the Jazz Festival in Cork and the Singing and Swinging Festival in Wexford (Foley 2013).

With particular reference to the live music industry, Guinness is undoubtedly a significant benefactor.  On Arthur’s Day 2012, Diageo enumerated 1,350 hours (or 81,000 minutes) of live music performance provided by paid musicians.  Also, a 5 euro donation was made for every Facebook ‘check-in’ by people attending Arthur’s Day events to the Arthur Guinness Fund for community-based social and creative entrepreneurs.  This year, Arthur’s Day features 500 free live music events and over 1,000 music acts across Ireland and promotional events in 55 countries.  Headline acts included Bobby Womack, Biffy Clyro, Emile Sandé, Iggy Azalea and proceeds from ticketed events at Arthur’s Day 2013 go to the ‘Arthur Guinness Projects’,  new initiative which awards bursaries to arts, music, sports and food projects through a competitive mechanism based on a public voting system (  In the context of the current Irish recession and swingeing cuts across all sectors, those in the arts are desperate for funding, as testified by the 700 applications made to this year’s Arthur Guinness Fund.  As Mullaly (2013) notes, there is little sympathy for those victims of ever-decreasing arts budgets because next to cuts in education, health, housing, welfare, soaring unemployment and emigration, and crippling debt, the arts seems a relatively trivial concern.  Corporate philanthropy initiatives, such as the Arthur Guinness Projects, are valuable for filling the gap.

As Bakhshi (2012: 1)  observes, ‘There is perhaps no other relationship that is more fraught with tension, more hotly contested, in cultural policy than economic and cultural value’.  Culture, in the functional sense of ‘artistic pursuits’, is valued in Ireland.  Our social imaginary is based on the assumption that we are an inherently creative people; our tourism and city branding literature is replete with references to our culture – our literature, art, music, story-telling, song, dance and poetry.  ‘Creativity’ and ‘innovation’ are discursively cherished in Ireland through the rhetoric of the ‘smart economy’ and viewed as drivers of economic and social development.  Yet the value of culture in Ireland is clearly articulated and examined within a neoliberal hegemony; legitimising cultural policy in this context is more likely congruent with the commodification of culture, which compromises rather than enshrines its worth from the perspective of those cultural producers in the grassroots arts.  Our low tax regime makes it difficult, if not impossible, to adequately or meaningfully resource necessary social services.  Within such a stricture, cultural funding in Ireland will inevitably remain an impoverished afterthought to be exploited by multinational corporate interests.

Diageo posits its patronage of the arts as being based on an altruistic interest in supporting Irish cultural activities.  As Stephen O’Kelly, marketing director of Guinness, explains:

What Guinness is going to do for the next few years is to connect with Ireland. We’ve had a recession and there is a lot of creativity out there, but they all need a bit of a start – that’s the role we believe Guinness can play for them.  It was really deliberate to have not just the big international acts that people love, but to give a platform to emerging Irish talent – that’s very much the vision.  It’s all about people with new ideas, how we can help to transform them into reality with our help and mentorship and funding, so I think Arthur’s Day this year is very much in that context.  So we’re going to collaborate with publicans and we’re going to collaborate with Arthur Guinness applicants to turn local pubs into creative hubs. (Cited in Butler 2013)

The meaning and place of popular music funding through Arthur’s Day can be articulated as an example of ‘popular music as social policy’ (Scott, 2012).  It exemplifies the way in which the cultural economic discourse that celebrates ‘creativity’ is made neoliberal (Gibson & Klocker, 2005). Musicians are reimagined as creative entrepreneurs, needing ‘a bit of a start’, and supported by market mechanisms rather than the state.  Their role in the cultural economy is to shape the pub itself as a ‘creative hub’.  The pub, replacing the popularity of the ‘creative city’ in policy-making discourse, is thus framed as the space through which cultural capital is made and put to work.  The pub supplants the ‘creative city’ as a driver of economic prosperity and is reformed as the locus for the promotion of societal and economic health, sustainability and the quality of life of Irish people.  The state rolls back and Diageo rolls up.

Since its establishment, the Arthur’s Day event has become increasingly bacchanalian, and in advance of this year’s celebrations, concerns around public health and public disorder framed the growing criticism. Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, argued that ‘Arthur’s Day is neither an altruistic nor philanthropic initiative… The reality is that alcohol, and not music, takes centre stage on Arthur’s Day’.  A number of musicians also penned songs in protest at the reproduction of the Irish drunk caricature, including Christy Moore and The Waterboys.  In response to this year’s backlash, which cited a 30% increase in ambulance call-outs and additional pressures on Accident and Emergency beds during the 2012 celebration, Diageo contributed towards the costs of extra policing on Arthur’s Day and ‘co-operated closely’ with local and public authorities in staging the event (Duncan, 2013).  In a context where Gardaí (police) resourcing has been drastically and controversially cut in the past number of years, the sponsoring of Gardaí services by a drinks company raises some interesting questions.

The power relations between the brand, the artist and the ‘consumer’ are dynamic and the arguments outlined here in relation to the ideological positioning of corporate interests in the live music industry are ultimately centred within debates around ‘cultural value’ and the live music experience.  On the one hand, musicians have what the brand wants, and as long as musicians can realise their value, they can exploit the marketing budgets of brands to their own advantage (Mullally, 2013).  Musicians can also refute the advances of corporate branding strategists entirely in seeking to defend the arts from Big Alcohol’s Big Move into that domain.  Philanthropic and corporate funding is important to the arts, but the sustainability of the arts on that basis is shaky and subject to the whims of PR gurus. In an environment where culture is valued primarily for its economic functions, by the brands and by the state, we can only ever hope for a ‘Best wishes also’ style of appreciation of live music, its producers and its audiences.


Bakhshi, H. (2012). Measuring Cultural Value. Culture Count: Measuring Cultural Value Forum, Customs House, Sydney, Australia, Sydney. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 October 2013]

Butler, L. (2013) Arthur’s Day ‘about music and talent, not drinking’, Irish Independent, 13 August 2013.  Available at <> [Accessed 1 October 2013]

Duncan, P. (2013) A black and white issue, but Arthur’s Day continues to produce a stout performance, Irish Times, 27 September 2013.  Available at: <> [Accessed 1 October 2013]

Foley, A. (2013) The Contribution of the Drinks Industry to Tourism, Festivals and Sport Available at <> [Accessed 1 October 2013]

Gibson, C., & Klocker, N. (2005). The “ Cultural Turn ” in Australian Regional Economic Development Discourse: Neoliberalising Creativity ? Geographical Research, 43(March), 93–102.

Mullally, U. (2013) Keeping arts in the black can be a risky business, Irish Times, 9th September 2013.  Available at: <> [Accessed 1 October 2013]

Scott, M. (2012). Popular music as social policy: Hybrid-hierarchies and social inclusion through New Zealand’s pop renaissance. Journal of Sociology, 48(3), 304–322.

Twitter (2012) Year in Review 2011: Hot Topics Available at: <> [Accessed 1 October, 2013]




Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *