The Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts says future funding for the sector should be directed towards generating employment and creating work for all interests.
Funding for The Abbey Theatre was frozen over concerns it's been buying in more productions from abroad.
The move comes after 300 prominent members of Irish theatre wrote a letter expressing ‘deep concern’ over the future direction of the Abbey.
The Arts Council has told the national theatre its funding will be restored, once it improves employment opportunities for Irish-based artists.
"Until and unless Taoiseach Varadkar's promised double expenditure in the arts is actually implemented fully and until and unless that is directed towards work that is going to generate employment and is going to be really focussed on created really exciting work for audiences, we are just going to stay in this constant fulcrum of poor quality work and people having to leave the country and leave the sector," said Jo Mangan,chair of The National Campaign for the Arts and Director of the Carlow Arts Festival.
"It is not in a good place at the moment."
- Digital Desk
By Joe Leogue
The Arts Council has revealed it has withheld hundreds of thousands of euro in funding for the Abbey Theatre, amid concerns the venue’s direction has resulted in fewer opportunities for Irish artists.
The revelation comes following the submission of a letter to Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, in which some 300 people from the Irish theatre community levelled criticism at the Abbey Theatre’s direction since Neil Murray and Graham McLaren assumed the roles of directors in 2016.
The letter states that the reduction of in-house productions and an increase in presenting or co-presenting productions has caused “devastation” among the ranks of Irish theatre creatives.
"The National Theatre reducing its own production output means less diversity, and reduced employment, not more," the letter said.
It has been signed by well-known names including Sinéad Cusack, Aidan Gillen, Sarah Greene, Ciarán Hinds, Ruth Negga, and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
Following the letter’s publication, the Arts Council has announced that it has “sought assurances from the National Theatre as to the quality of employment opportunities it provides for Irish based artists,” and has called on the Abbey “to evidence the range and nature of these opportunities”.
“As with all Arts Council funding, support to the Abbey in 2019 will be based on a funding agreement. €300,000 has been withheld pending confirmation that these conditions have been met,” a statement from the Arts Council read.
The letter to Ms Madigan claims that the Abbey directly employed 123 actors in Abbey productions and 90 actors in readings and workshops in 2016, but directly employed only 56 actors in 2017.
It then estimated that 65 actors were directly employed by the National Theatre in 2018.
It further criticised the Abbey for hosting the travelling production ‘Come From Away’ as its Christmas offering this winter.
“This year’s Christmas offering on the national-theatre main stage has for so many become the final straw,” the letter said.
“This disingenuous accusation is beneath contempt, and we dismiss it with as much alacrity as the Abbey management dismisses the employment of its local workers over Christmas.
“Irish audiences deserve to have access to shows of this international reputation coming from and going to Broadway and the West End, but of course they already have, in our various No 1 receiving venues,” it said.
The Theatre has said it is taking the concerns raised in the letter ‘very seriously’.
Meanwhile, Ms Madigan said she acknowledges "the wealth of talent available among Irish theatre practitioners and the concerns they have raised, while at the same time recognising the need for The Abbey to strike a balance in terms of its programming".
"I understand that The Abbey will be engaging directly on the matters raised in the letter with representatives of the signatories," she said.
"I welcome that commitment to dialogue and engagement and look forward to a mutually satisfactory outcome. I will also be writing to both the theatre practitioners and the Abbey on these matters this week. It is in everyone’s interest to fully engage, find common ground and agree a resolution to these matters,” Ms Madigan said.