The Minister for Tourism, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport, and media reiterated her support for a reopening plan in the live entertainment sector. Minister Catherine Martin has allocated €61.5million to date for a number of measures designed at getting the entertainment sector through another difficult period.
But through the same difficult period, there is no clear roadmap, guideline, or tangible plan for the future of live entertainment in Ireland. In a statement that many expected would provide hope for a sector that remains closed over 500 days, some were left worried about what the rest of 2021 holds for live performers.
Recent research from the Arts Council revealed that almost half of artists surveyed considered abandoning their careers. 70% of those cited financial pressure and lack of income as the main reason for considering this.
The climate of uncertainty in the arts sector has only been worsened by the lack of urgency from the government to solve the evident problems in the sector. A sector that has been devoid of opportunity for over a year, and one that has been at the bottom of government engagement priorities. It’s a sector that, according to the National Campaign for the Arts(NCFA), is in danger of a future “irrevocably damaged.”
“What we really want is clarity and specific information about when the sector can open more,” said Cian O’Brien, Artistic Director at Project Arts Centre and a representative with the NCFA.
“We need to see a roadmap for when they will consider lifting restrictions further, what criteria they’ll use to do that, and what restrictions might be lifted whether it be capacity limits or social distancing requirements.”
The issues around a clear roadmap out of the pandemic are only slightly remedied by a number of schemes available that offer financial aid to performers. Yet, money issues remain at the fore for artists.
In the same Arts Council report, 48% of artists reported the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as ‘severe.’ With the upcoming cutbacks on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment also, combined with no sign of roadmap out, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Musician Niall Byrne (Nialler9) took to his illustrious blog over the weekend questioning a “ludicrous” situation and described that “the can has been kicked down the road, and into a landfill site. At the end of July, all we got from the Minister was more signalling.”
The endlessly moving goalposts are the real cause of uncertainty in the sector. As O’Brien mentions, “there are lots of professional development or career opportunities that are missed because of this ongoing delay.”
Jenny Traynor of Dance Limerick is one such performer that has been impacted by the pandemic. Their performance space, the refurbished St. John’s Church in Limerick, has its 50 person occupancy limited to 20. Live performances and teaching sessions haven’t been possible in a meaningful way.
“It’s confusing for everybody,” Traynor said. “I would hope that they bring out a series of steps to say that the social distancing could reduce and give a progress path between now and Christmas.
“We hold our dance classes at limited capacity, and we’ve now moved online. We are a resource organisation as well for artists, providing workshops and advice, but it’s been challenging in providing the service that we do for the public.”
On August 1, Bórd Gáis Energy Theatre opened its curtains to a crowd of 50 for West Side Story. This runs at a two per cent occupancy on its regular 2,100 seating. In Limerick, the case isn’t much different, but this month represents a stark milestone in an almost anti-climactic setting.
A statement from the office of Minister Martin read: “In launching The Path Ahead, the Government confirmed its commitment to developing a clear roadmap for a return of activities in the hardest-hit sectors, including culture and arts.
“The Minister will be working with Government colleagues throughout August to chart a clear roadmap for the reopening of the sector.”
On July 26, the government allowed for the reopening of indoor dining. With this, new rules came into place to ban indoor performances and specifically made dancing illegal. With the Dáil currently on its holidays for the rest of August, an industry is left without leadership and guidance. For musicians and live performers, September couldn’t come sooner. “The Path Ahead” looks daunting and uncertain.