Expert author: Paraic Mc Quaid
Last update: May 22nd
Expert author: Paraic Mc Quaid
Last update: May 22nd
Analysis from the Department of Public Expenditure (April 2020) has identified ‘arts & entertainment’ as one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 shutdown.
The Arts Council established a short-term advisory group to identify ways for the arts community to deal with the COVID-19 emergency, with a first meeting on May 8th. Members include filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson; theatre and opera producer Anne Clarke; chairperson of the National Campaign for the Arts, Angela Dorgan; Director of NCAD, Sarah Glennie; musician Martin Hayes; Director of the Arts Council, Maureen Kennelly; journalist Fintan O’Toole; and public health specialist Dr. Gabriel Scally. The group will also obtain independent input from economist Alan Gray. The group will inform an upcoming report from the Arts Council to be published at the beginning of June.
Results Arts Council survey
“9 out of 10 artists hit by Covid-19 – Artists and arts organisations across the country are suffering enormous financial losses and facing an uncertain future as a direct result of the Covid-19 public health crisis, new data from the Arts Council shows.”
The Arts Council conducted two separate surveys on the impacts of COVID-19 on the arts: the first surveyed 265 arts organisations 23-27 March; the second surveyed 1853 individual artists 2-13 April. It is estimated that arts organisations will lose EUR 6.4 million in income per month of shutdown. Arts organisations estimate a loss of audience at 2.4 million people and growing. Over 12,000 events have had to be cancelled (3,700 performances and 195 exhibitions) with 269 staff members being laid off. 19,000 days of paid work have been lost to the end of April, with some 2.4 million members of the public losing out on artistic experiences. By the end of May, 55,000 people of all ages will have missed taking part in workshops and classes. Survey data suggest an economic impact on the sector of EUR 10.25 million, which is 18% higher than the Arts Council estimate on March 23rd.
9000 artist engagements have been either postponed or cancelled. Access to workspaces is a major issue for artists with an estimated 5000 artists being affected by closed workspaces or facilities. 44% of artists surveyed have been denied permission to access workspaces. Yet rent burdens for these unused work spaces continues for ¾ of artists surveyed. Payments that were due for commissioned work have been confirmed for only ¼ of artists. 20% have had payments withheld. Payments for online work is a major issue. The Departments initial statement on April 3rd actively encouraged artists to be creative and adjust operationally to working online. The survey showed that there is an increased demand for artists to produce work for online consumption, yet 57% report that they have not been offered any payment for this work.
In relation to the Government emergency COVID-19 unemployment payment, 45% of the artists surveyed have applied for the Government emergency. Half of those who have applied for the unemployment payment were satisfied with the process with less than ¼ dissatisfied.
New guidelines for reopening arts centres
Initiated by Theatre Forum (national lobby group for theatre in Ireland), SLUA event safety consultancy prepared guidelines for the reopening of arts centres. Published on May 15th, the Reopening Guidelines for Arts Centres offers support for arts centre managers and staff to implement best practice processes for a safe return to work in arts centres to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The guidelines propose a phased response to reopening arts centres, which is in line with Government and WHO guidelines.
Before the pandemic
In trying to understand the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on Irish arts and culture, we must start with an understanding that the arts were underfunded in Ireland before COVID-19. There were already artist campaigns attempting to draw a spotlight on the lack of support for artists. Ireland was also in the grip of a housing crisis, which affected the ability of artists and arts workers to source and retain stability of accommodation, as well as forcing artists away from their practice into other forms of work in order to make a living.
The Arts Council of Ireland conducted a survey among almost 300 arts organisations in Ireland on the impacts of COVID-19 on their organisations. It is estimated that arts organisations will lose EUR 2.9 million in income per month of shutdown. The economic impact to date is estimated at EUR 10 million. Over 12,000 events had to be cancelled with subsequent impact on audience engagement. This survey is relevant to the arts sector and arts organisations only. The impact on the 23,000 artists in Ireland remains unknown. NCFA have conducted a survey among artists, but the results have not been published as yet.
The cultural and creative industries (CCI) in Ireland have been greatly impacted. Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), the national public service broadcaster (PSB), had already been struggling financially in recent years due to changes in consumer behaviour and competition from digital platforms. COVID-19 has further impacted the organisation’s already difficult situation. It must be noted that the national PSB is the most reliable source of information during the time of crisis. It may be a time of opportunity for reflection on the role that a PSB should play in society. Screen Ireland, the national support agency for film, has announced support measures. However, with restrictions on movement most film productions are on hold.
The music industry has been decimated by the COVID-19 emergency. The music sector may be longest to return to economic normality with bans on mass gatherings being the last return. There is no government agency with a responsibility for music and its absence is notable now. Artists and performers are reliant on live performance for the majority of their income. There is currently a ban on all public gatherings of people, and there is a ban on future gatherings of 5000 people up to September 2020. This cancels all summer festivals this year. There remain many questions about the medium and long-term impacts: What will happen to the audiences in the absence of audience engagement through live performance? What will happen to the existing ecology of music promoters? The sector had already been encroached upon by major multinationals.
Governmental announcement to the cultural sector
On April 3th, the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan announced measures to support artistic and cultural life during the COVID-19 emergency. In her speech, she placed a “particular focus on wellbeing through personal and community creativity.” The Minister announced a well-meaning initiative called “Shine Your Light” (created by RTE), which was proposed to occur on Easter Saturday and invited “everyone, especially children … to get involved and to create their own way of shining a light from their homes.” Throughout the speech, the Minister repeated the sentiment that we as a nation could use this emergency time to tap into creativity to improve our wellbeing.
Unfortunately, while this speech demonstrated genuine concern about the wider community’s wellbeing by using the resources of arts and culture to keep creatively active, it demonstrated a lack of clear strategy to support the professional arts and cultural sector. While the whole nation including the arts community is concerned about the community welfare and wellbeing, in the absence of a clear robust strategy to help the professional arts and culture sectors, the sentiment came across as a white wash.
The Minister’s speech was met with widespread dismay from the arts community, as demonstrated in social forums. There was disappointment that the Minister offered no further clarity on the support for artists and arts workers through the Pandemic Unemployment Payment scheme. Artists had until then been met with confusion from social welfare officers on their eligibility. To the professional arts and culture communities the Minister’s speech came across as lacking in understanding of the cultural and economic significance of the sector, and of the workforce that had to that date had not been given specific focus by the government unlike the tourism sector. The Minister did announce funding to the cultural institutions and agencies, but much of the figures included previously allocated funds and did not represent additional funding to help in the crisis. This further confounded the situation.
There are two main worrying policy developments evident in the speech that riled the arts community. The first is the instrumental use of culture to achieve policy goals outside of the domain of culture. Instrumental policy use of culture has increased over the past ten years to the point now where it is almost assumed that culture can only be supported if it achieves a secondary aim in welfare, wellbeing, health, economy, tourism etc. The second policy shift evident in the speech is the commodification measures announced with a Facebook/Culture Ireland partnership to support online showcasing of artists’ work. Culture Ireland is an agency set up within the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht with a particular policy focus on citizen wellbeing. That the government would encourage the dependency of Culture Ireland upon a social media platform as a vehicle for wellbeing is problematic. The commercial exploitation of artists, artworks, performances and authors’ rights in the partnership was assumed in the speech to be a logical opportunity for the arts community. The proposed public private partnership is telling of a major lack of understanding by the Minister of the social and civic government policies that have informed the development of arts and culture in Ireland historically. As a nation, we have arrived at a particular cultural policy position today regarding the role of government in relation to arts and culture. The Department should not aimlessly drift towards such a fundamental policy turn. Such a shift in direction should require robust debate on the fundamental principles of cultural policy.
COVID-19 culture financial package
Overall, the financial crisis support measures introduced by the government do not compare well with neighbouring European counterparts. At EUR 1 million from government and EUR 100,000 in partnership with Facebook, it is very meagre in comparison to EUR 160 million in the UK and EUR 60 billion in Germany. The NCFA has called on the government to commit an additional EUR 20 million to the Arts Council for 2020. In relation to the film sector, Screen Ireland announced further support measures for the creative screen industry including a strategic slate development fund of EUR 3 million (increased by EUR 2 million); EUR 1 million to its enhanced development support with 90% funding upfront on all development loans to Irish screenwriters and production companies; a provision of EUR 100,000 for advanced investment in screenplay development; EUR 150,000 for financial planning support, additional marketing and distribution support for upcoming Irish film and TV releases during this period will also be provided.
Screen Producers Ireland is currently conducting a survey on the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the creative screen sector. In the music sector, IMRO (Irish Music Rights Organisation), IRMA (Irish Recorded Music Association) and FMC (First Music Contact) have joined forces to launch a COVID-19 emergency relief fund to support Irish musicians financially impacted by the crisis. It is also supported by the streaming service Spotify. The fund is a once off payment of EUR 750 per applicant. It isn’t clear how much the total fund amounts to at this stage.
National Campaign for the Arts
The NCFA hosted a number of online meetings in response to an outcry from the arts sector after the Minister’s speech. The online meetings were open to the whole arts community and focused mainly on social welfare payments and rent supports available during the crisis. After the first of these meetings (attended online by over 400 artists and arts workers), the NCFA engaged with the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht (DCHG) to improve the situation on the ground. This has yielded some success. Their demand for better clarity and openness with the sector has had some results. The DCHG has now a dedicated help desk for queries about income support. The Arts Council has developed clearer guidelines on their website also about social welfare. The social welfare offices are better informed that artists are also workers who are equally in need of support at this time of crisis. As mentioned earlier, the NCFA demanded an addition to the Arts Council’s 2020 budget allocation of EUR 20 million. As yet, this has not been responded to. Artist representative organisations have been providing information as well as online support for artists and arts workers such as Theatre Forum, Dance Ireland and Visual Artists Ireland.
Currently in Ireland, there is a survey being conducted by the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA, a voluntary independent organisation) on the impacts of COVID-19 on the arts. As soon as this survey has been completed and analysed, an update will follow.
Until then, it can be concluded the pandemic has hit the arts and culture sectors very hard. The Irish Government issued a limited emergency fiscal response last week, with a fund for the sectors they expected the pandemic to impact most. But the arts and culture sectors were not directly mentioned. Tourism, hotels, restaurants, bars and sports were included. There will be a second announcement soon on a further set of funds to be made available.
Many artists and workers within the sector work two to three jobs to make ends meet. A lot of arts workers would also work in service industry jobs and would therefore be impacted twice. Many teach in a part time hourly paid capacity to sustain their practices. This work is not clearly protected in the measures introduced by the Government.
The arts institutions in Ireland are dominated by publicly funded spaces that may be able to survive the impact. However, music industry venues in particular had already been under stress from pressure to sell to developers. This recent added pressure of loss of income may mean the loss of even more small to medium sized music performance spaces.
Festivals and events have had to be cancelled. Some festival and events organisations may be able to hibernate and return. But they could do with rent freezes on leaseholds for office spaces, storage spaces, etc.
St. Patrick’s Festival organisation had to cancel the annual festival events at short notice. This means that contracts were already paid out. However, this is funded through grant in aid from the state.