Arts chiefs face workshops on bullying, harassment

Board members and senior staff of arts and culture organisations are to be sent on workshops on bullying, abuse of power, and sexual harassment in the workplace in the wake of the allegations against former Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan, writes Stephen Rogers.

That was just one of the measures announced by Arts Minister Heather Humphreys last night to tackle any abuse in organisations under her remit.

“In recent times, there have been a number of alarming allegations and reports of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace relating to the arts community,” she said.

“While all workplaces are obliged to comply with employment legislation, I have identified a number of actions that I can take as minister in relation to the bodies reporting to my department.”

Heather Humphreys

She said she and the Arts Council are to meet next week with theatre organisations who last week co-signed a statement condemning sexual harassment and abuse of power.

“I believe that my department, the Arts Council, and the leading members of arts organisations should work together to encourage a safe and respectful environment free from abuse of power and sexual harassment,” she said.

Ms Humphreys said she would also be collaborating with the National Theatre to facilitate an “industry-wide consultation exercise” by the end of this month, held in partnership with the Arts Council.

Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council, said: “What we have heard over the last number of days is that organisations need to be supported to ensure that the right conditions are in place for all artists and those working in the arts sector.”

Separately, Ms Humphreys announced measures in relation to bodies reporting directly to her department, including national cultural institutions and state agencies.

Her department has been instructed to arrange separate dedicated workshops for board members and senior staff of bodies.

“The workshops will deal with governance in general, with a particular focus on the role of the board, the board’s relationship with the executive, and their respective legal responsibilities. There will be a particular emphasis on issues relating to bullying, abuse of power, and sexual harassment in the workplace,” said a spokesperson.

The department is also to highlight, “once again”, to the bodies reporting to it the nature of their legal obligations, by immediately writing to them to seek assurances of their compliance with obligations under employment legislation including the Employment Equality Acts; the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, and the Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order.

Furthermore the department is “accelerating” a planned review of compliance by the bodies with the code of practice for the governance of state bodies.

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