Aosdana: Irish Artist Group


Established in 1981 by a group of Irish writers (eg. Anthony Cronin) supported by the Arts Council of Ireland, Aosdána is one of the most eminent Irish art organizations comprising a select group of Irish artists who have each produced a body of work that is original and creative. Its name derives from the Gaelic "aos dána" meaning, people of the arts. Although not untouched by controversy, this artist group has already made a marked contribution to the history of Irish art over the past two and a half decades.


Membership of Aosdána is set by the Arts Council of Ireland and currently is limited to 250 living artists, either born in Ireland or resident here for five years. The current membership is 228. The main types of art represented among its members are the visual arts (painting, drawing, sculpture etc.) literature and music. Recently, membership was opened to architects and choreographers.


Some members of Aosdána are allocated a stipend or annuity from the Arts Council of Ireland, called the Cnuas. This remuneration is designed to allow recipients to maintain their full-time occupation as an artist. In 2006, the value of the Cnuas was set at €12,180. The Arts Council reevaluates eligibility of the Cnuas every five years.


Up to seven living members may be honoured by their peers with the title of "Saoi" (derived from the Irish word meaning "wise one") for especially outstanding artistic achievements.

General Assembly

Once a year, Aosdána members meet together in a General Assembly, to propose and elect new members, to review the affairs of the group and to share views concerning the position of the artist, and the arts in society.

Discussion Point

Although Aosdána is a self-regulating group, in that membership is only offered or conferred by current members, not all artists are comfortable about accepting membership. Reasons given include discomfort at the idea of losing their independence as artists, and discomfort with the 'political' or 'establishmentarianism' nature of the organization. At present, these worries remain very much minority concerns, and Aosdána has become a thriving force in advancing the interests and artistic views of Ireland's top painters, sculptors, authors and musicians. Indeed, in March 2007, the Scottish Government announced the formation of an arts group modelled on Aosdána.

Becoming A Member Of Aosdana

No artist may apply to join Aosdána. Membership (set by the Arts Council of Ireland at a maximum of 250 living artists) is by a process of peer nomination and election, only. This process comprises three stages, but beforehand, in order to qualify as a potential member of Aosdána, the artist candidate must have produced a significant body of work, and be a native of, or five-years resident in Ireland. Current members have a duty to familiarise themselves with the work of such candidates and are expected to participate actively in all stages of the electoral process.

Another condition in electing new members to Aosdána concerns the overall size of the organization. Until the 250 limit is reached, no more than ten new members can be elected each year - although this figure does not include vacancies created by the death or resignation of members.

The Induction Process

Stage 1

All candidates must be proposed and seconded by current members. Any member can nominate an artist for membership of Aosdána. This nomination must be seconded by another member. These two recommendations are put in writing to the Registrar of Aosdána, and should include a personal critical response to the creative work of the candidate concerned.

After the Toscairí (members of the 10-member governing committee or Toscaireacht of Aosdána) have satisfied themselves that the terms of the nomination process have been properly complied with, and that the nominated candidate is willing to accept membership if offered, the Registrar researches information about the candidate in preparation for the next stage.

Stage 2

The lists of candidates are forwarded for ballot to the members of the respective artistic discipline (eg. Visual arts, Literature, Music, Architecture, Choreography), together with information about their creative accomplishments. The names of candidates who are assented to by a 55 percent majority of those voting in the discipline ballot are then forwarded to the General Assembly for election.

Stage 3

At the General Assembly, the nominator or seconder for each proposed candidate makes an address in support of their candidate. All members then vote to accept or reject the proposed candidates. Candidates receiving a simple majority of votes cast are then elected to membership of Aosdána in order of assenting votes, until all vacancies are filled. Thus, for example an artist who receives 89 assenting votes is elected before another artist who receives 87.

Due to the fact that the number of candidates for Aosdána membership typically exceeds the number of vacancies, candidates who have satisfactorily completed stages one and two are automatically re-nominated to stage three at two further General Assemblies.

Note: Once elected, artists remain members of Aosdána unless they submit their resignation in writing to the Toscairí.

Membership Of Aosdana

Membership of the Irish artist organization Aosdána is limited by the Arts Council of Ireland to a total of 250 living artists. At present the creative disciplines represented include: Visual arts, Literature, Music, Architecture and Choreography.

The Visual arts category includes artists involved in: Irish painting and Irish sculpture, printmaking, ceramics and stained glass, as well as more contemporary art forms such as installation, public, land or environmental art, and video. Here are the list of Visual Arts members of Aosdána.

Visual Arts Members of Aosdána (Jan 2008)

Robert Ballagh
John Behan
Pauline Bewick
Cathal Black
Basil Blackshaw
Veronica Bolay
Brian Bourke
Cecily Brennan
Vincent Browne
Michael Bulfin
Cathy Carman
James Coleman
Eamon Colman
Joe Comerford
Barrie Cooke
Maud Cotter
Dorothy Cross
William Crozier
Charles Cullen
Michael Cullen
Rosaleen Davey
John T. Davis
Edward Delaney
Diarmuid Delargy
Vivienne Dick
Micky Donnelly
Felim Egan
Sean Fingleton
Mary Fitzgerald
Tom Fitzgerald
Marie Foley
Martin Gale
Richard Gorman
Tim Goulding
Patrick Graham
Anita Groener
Patrick Hall
Alice Hanratty
Charles Harper
Pat Harris
Brian Henderson
Jaki Irvine
Eithne Jordan
Michael Kane
Bernadette Kiely
Brian King
Gene Lambert
Sonja Landweer
Louis le Brocquy
Melanie le Brocquy
Ciarán Lennon
Mary Lohan
Eileen MacDonagh
Anne Madden
Brian Maguire
Alice Maher
Louis Marcus
Fergus Martin
James McCreary
Stephen McKenna
Theo McNab
Seán McSweeney
Nick Miller
Helen Moloney
Alfonso Monreal Lopez
George Morrison
Paul Mosse
Michael Mulcahy
Carolyn Mulholland
Janet Mullarney
Pat Murphy
Eilis O'Connell
Mick O'Dea
Gwen O'Dowd
Alannah O'Kelly
Geraldine O'Reilly
Patrick O'Sullivan
Janet Pierce
Kathy Prendergast
Patrick Pye
Michael Quane
Bob Quinn
Vivienne Roche
Nigel Rolfe
James Scanlon
Patrick Scott
Sean Scully
Dermot Seymour
David Shaw-Smith
John Shinnors
Maria Simonds-Gooding
John Noel Smith
Camille Souter
Amelia Stein
Imogen Stuart
Donald Teskey
Rod Tuach
Charles Tyrrell
Samuel Walsh
Barbara Warren
Michael Warren
Grace Weir

Saoi Of Aosdana

In rare cases, in order to honour a member of Aosdána (the preeminent association of Irish artists) for especially outstanding work in the arts, other members may bestow the title of "Saoi" (wise one). This award is conferred by an election process involving all members of Aosdána, and the symbol of the office of Saoi - the gold Torc - is presented to the recipient by the President of Ireland. A maximum of seven members of Aosdána may hold this honour at any one time.

Election Of Saoi

To elect a Saoi, fifteen members (from any of the creative disciplines - visual arts, literature, music, architecture or choreography) must nominate a candidate of outstanding merit and distinction. Election proceeds by secret postal ballot of all the members. Approval is secured by a simple majority. Unlike the election of ordinary members of Aosdána, which takes place at the annual General Assembly, a Saoi may be elected at any time.

However, only one person may be elected per ballot. If two or more outstanding artists are proposed for Saoi at the same time, only the first proposal received is voted upon. The other proposal is held over until after the result of the first election is known, and there is a further vacancy.

The Registrar of Aosdána counts the ballots of the Saoi election, and releases only the outcome of the election, although all ballot papers remain available for scrutiny by the Arts Council Executive and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

Cnuas Annuity For Aosdana Members

Aosdána members who reside in Ireland are eligible to receive a Cnuas (a 5-year annuity or stipend) to help them focus on their artistic practice full-time, to the benefit of the literary, musical or visual arts of Ireland.

Paid by the Arts Council of Ireland, the value of the Cnuas (set in 2006) is €12,180. It also includes a special pension scheme.

A member of Aosdána may apply for a Cnuas annuity at any time, providing they submit an outline of the art work they intend to produce during the term of the annuity, and that their financial earnings are not more than one and a half times the value of the Cnuas. Members in non-artistic jobs who wish to devote themselves full-time to their art can apply for a Cnuas, by declaring that the grant will enable them to achieve this goal. In all cases, applications are vetted by the Arts Council.

Once the term of the Cnuas arts annuity has expired, the Aosdána member may reapply for a further annuity under the same conditions, providing he/she can demonstrate that a work of merit was produced during the previous term.

Recipients of the Cnuas grant receive payments quarterly in advance, on January 1st, April 1st and July 1st. The fourth payment is not made automatically and is only triggered by written confirmation that the artist remains resident in Ireland, and that the sponsored creative activity is ongoing.

The names of all Cnuas recipients are published on the Arts Council website, as well as in its Annual Report and other publications.

The Cnuas grant is only one of a number of financial supports offered to Irish painters, sculptors and other visual artists, by the Arts Council of Ireland, and reflects the positive contribution made by fine arts to the environmental quality of life.

Aosdana Governing Committee

The approximate 230 members of the Irish artists body known as Aosdána, regulate their own affairs through the Toscaireacht - a committee of ten Toscairí or members - whom they elect for a two-year term of office. Meeting several times a year, the Toscaireacht supervise the administration of Aosdána, network with external bodies, and set the agenda for the annual General Assembly meeting, taking due note of the general and specific concerns of the Aosdána rank and file membership.

Like the General Assembly, the annual meeting of all Aosdána members, the proceedings of the Toscairí are covered by Standing Orders and the minutes of its meetings are published regularly.

Any member of Aosdána - whether a writer, visual artist or musician - is eligible to serve on the Toscaireacht committee. Nominations are submitted in writing by three members. The two candidates who gain the highest number of votes from their discipline (visual arts, literature etc) are automatically elected, with the four remaining places filled by the highest pollers from any discipline.

Each year, the entire membership of Aosdána meets in General Assembly, to elect new members, to agree matters of policy, finance and procedure, and to undertake an analysis and review of the various activities of Aosdána. The Toscaireacht makes a report of its proceedings to every General Assembly.

Membership Of Toscaireacht

The current Toscairí are:

Anthony Cronin (Literature )
Seoirse Bodley (Music)
Brian Maguire (Visual Arts)
Dermot Healy (Literature )
Mary Fitzgerald (Visual Arts)
Mannix Flynn (Literature )
Alice Hanratty (Visual Arts)
Samuel Walsh (Visual Arts)
Macdara Woods (Literature )

Note: A second music discipline Toscaire will shortly be co-opted onto the committee.

• For facts about famous artists in Ireland, see: Homepage.
• For a personal view of the top 20 or so contemporary painters, see: Best Irish Artists.
• For a selected list of modern creative practitioners, see: Contemporary Irish Artists.

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