Has the arts industry been left behind?

Image Credit: Nurina Iman Nizam

With the focus of getting Ireland back and working, there has been a lot of attention on how we will reopen our pubs and recommence our sports safely. There’s been little to no mention of the arts industry. Elena Hanan Moran asks if they’ve been left behind.

It’s no secret that the Irish government cares more about making money than culture, but this has become all the more apparent in such a time of crisis. Throughout the pandemic, the Government has been unclear about guidelines, making broad rules and then allowing exceptions to these rules - but only for industries that they think will make them money. Industries they do not view as useful for money-making are cast aside. The arts sector covers everything from books, TV shows, and music, to theatre, festivals, and galleries. They represent culture and entertainment. Ireland is a country known for its rich artistic culture and cultural history. Our arts should be respected, encouraged, and supported, but now more than ever, we are seeing the Irish arts sector cast aside. While arts organisations and businesses are mindful of sticking to any given guidelines, the few guidelines they are given are often vague and contradictory. People in the arts feel devalued by the Irish government and left behind in the discussions of reopening the country. 

Since late June, pubs that serve food, restaurants, and cafes have been allowed to open, given their compliance with guidelines. Fáilte Ireland, alongside the government, has written up a 20-page booklet of guidelines for operating pubs as they reopen. While pubs that do not serve food have had their date of reopening postponed four times now, the hesitancy of reopening them comes from the concern that people who are intoxicated are less likely to uphold and be aware of social distancing rules and hygiene safety. Guidelines and reopening of various kinds of pubs have been one of the most talked-about parts of Irish pandemic life, sharing the platform occasionally with schools and specific outbreaks. Following closely behind is the sports industry. Both the pubs and sports industries provide jobs, social outlets, and entertainment. These are all qualities that are shared with the arts sector, yet it has received far less information regarding guidelines and reopening.

When updates are given, creatives check the updates desperate to hear any news about clearer guidelines for their organisations.

When updates are given, creatives check the updates, desperate to hear any news about clearer guidelines for their organisations. They are met with guidelines under the headings of home, sports, workplaces, travel/transport, and cultural/social activities. One might think that the last section would give the arts sector much-needed information on opening and restrictions when in reality, this section rarely mentions anything beyond restaurants, cafes, and pubs that serve food.  

The Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltact has said that venues like cinemas, galleries, and theatres that are able to maintain physical distancing should be able to continue with the current guidelines. However, this was contradicted by the guideline stating that indoor events should be limited to six people while for outdoor events the limit is 15. Later, a spokesperson for An Taoiseach said that the aforementioned venues are considered to be controlled environments, where the overall attendance limit is 50 people. Even considering this, businesses of this kind are unsure as to where they fall within these guidelines, especially smaller theatre spaces and music venues, where such distancing would be more difficult than larger and more established venues. On top of this, due to inadequate funding, most arts businesses cannot afford to be open and staging performances with the restrictions they have been given. Despite the exceptions made for pubs and sports, arts venues are expected to abide by rules which state that each group must consist of six or fewer people, from three or fewer households, and overall attendance at venues must be limited to 50 people. National Campaign for the Arts member Angela Dorgan said that the social distancing measures they have been given mean that events are not viable, and due to this, organisations are losing €2.9 million per month of the shutdown.

While there has been a shift to online theatre, concerts, etc., as well as tours of cultural sites such as museums and galleries; far less money comes in through these online events. Understandably, far fewer people are willing to pay for the online experience as it doesn’t compare to being there in person. Musicians would regularly rely on gigs providing a significant amount of their income. Now, as very few people will pay for online gigs, their only other income comes from streaming, which there is less of, due to the fact that their concerts aren’t there to increase their visibility.

While food-serving pubs have been tied to little-to-no cases via contact tracing, sport in Ireland has been tied to at least 55 cases in August alone. Irish Sports continue to be open and supported while proven to be tied to cases. Pubs serving food, initially considered risky, are managing to largely stick to guidelines, and pubs not serving food are set to be returning on the 21st of September in most counties. If these industries, both risky but considered highly important to the public, are open and supported, why not the arts?

In late July, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin tweeted about Normal People’s Emmy nominations. Only just before, the government had stated that those on COVID payments could lose them if they didn’t provide proof of seeking work. As Irish artists and creators quickly pointed out, those in the arts sector could not simply find jobs within their career as their entire sector was in jeopardy. It was not just their current job that COVID had stripped them of, but all opportunities within the sector their entire careers were based in. For the Irish government to tell them they would no longer receive compensation for losing these jobs if they didn’t seek other work elsewhere was disrespectful and ignorant. It is shameful to see the Irish Government commenting on Irish artists’ achievements, nearly within the same breath as stripping them of their livelihoods. This attitude goes to show that those in power are perfectly happy to use artists for national bragging rights, but will happily turn their back on them when they are in need.

They got us through some of the toughest parts of lockdown isolation with their work and tireless efforts to bring entertainment.

Despite all the challenges the arts sector has faced, they have pushed through and continued creating, adapting their work into live digital performances, pre-recorded stage show screenings, reimagined film versions, and more. They got us through some of the toughest parts of lockdown isolation with their work and tireless efforts to bring entertainment. They deserve to be rewarded for this: clear and concise guidelines, support and funding, pay to account for their work from home. With monetary support, clear guidelines, and promise of attendance at events, organisations like theatres, music venues, galleries, and museums will be able to pull through. If it is possible for pubs serving food to do so well since their reopening, the only thing preventing arts is the financial and community support. If you want to show your support, follow artists on social media, stream music, and spread the word about lesser-known Irish musicians, theatre-makers, and other creatives. If you can afford it, you can also donate to most venues, or add a donation to your ticket price when you purchase a ticket for a show or event.