An Open Letter to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Arts Council
This is a public call for acceptable standards of ethics and governance in the Irish arts sector.
In the aftermath of #WakeUpIrishPoetry and various other events which have highlighted the lack of a workable channel for complaints and redress in the literature sector, we demand:
An independent process to enquire into codes of practice regarding conflict of interest, harassment, discrimination and complaints procedures etc in the arts, including those of the Arts Council. This to include a public consultation to invite and document input from people within the arts sector who have had grounds for complaint in the past. Anonymous and public input into this process should be facilitated, and contributors’ safety should be explicitly guaranteed;
That the Arts Council and those in receipt of Arts Council funding be answerable regarding ethical funding decisions in relation to diversity and equal representation;
Evidence on an ongoing basis that the Arts Council are implementing their own Equality, Human Rights and Diversity Policy;
That structures be implemented to promptly, transparently investigate and challenge unethical funding decisions and cases of workplace harassment, and that funding is consequent to adherence to codes of conduct of the funding body - this to be overseen, reviewed and publicly reported on, as with other state funded bodies;
A Workable Code of Conduct
That a code of conduct be implemented for Arts Council-funded organisations with clear guidelines on proper conduct towards other artists and arts workers;
That the Arts Council require all funded bodies to subscribe to the aforementioned code of conduct and agreed practices regarding harassment and complaints. If funded organisations refuse to sign up to, or are seen to have broken this code of conduct, funding to be withheld and those in receipt of funding to be publicly answerable to an independent complaints body regarding ethical funding decisions in relation to diversity, equal representation, and funding of those engaged in unjust practices etc;
A Clear Complaints Procedure
That a clear channel of complaint to the Arts Council be implemented in order to address complaints of workplace harassment against Arts Council funded bodies and individuals;
Protected routes for whistleblowers who risk their wellbeing and livelihoods to highlight unjust practices, which recognise that the person at risk may need to complain directly to the Arts Council or to another regulatory body if they feel complaining directly to the organisation/ individual in question will compromise their confidentiality, livelihoods, or personal safety. We recognise that some mechanisms exist, but also maintain that they are not fit for purpose;
Investigation into ways to overcome the issue of informal complaints remaining unrecorded, and the barriers encountered by those wishing to make formal complaints, both of which result in ongoing silencing of mistreated and concerned individuals.
Who we are:
This letter was prepared by a working group comprising arts practitioners, publishers and academics, and signed by supporters throughout the arts and academic sectors.
We are cross-sectoral and intersectional, and consider all areas of the arts and academia, including courses and events run by related agencies or independent outfits who operate within the arts.
All forms of oppression in arts sector conduct, funding and accountability are of concern to us.
We are mindful that everyone’s story is their own to tell, that we take into account the trauma suffered by those who are affected by the issues in question and how they wish to participate, and that we respect the confidentiality of anyone wishing to tell a story as it is theirs to tell.
This movement will be a public one and will not be silenced. It will also be a political movement, and we will expect and seek support from our public representatives, including those on the Public Accounts Committee. These issues involve State and taxpayer finances, potentially including in the silencing of injured parties.
We are committed to upholding the principle of democratic control and accountability over State funds as a tenet of natural justice. Workers in the arts sector deserve to enjoy the same protections as those in other sectors.
We will continue to spread awareness of MEAS (Measuring Equality in the Arts Sector) and similar reports and investigations, and to bring these reports to the attention of the Arts Council and other relevant funding and policy-making bodies.
We will not accept knee-jerk or simplistic, text-only solutions to these issues.
Neither will we be satisfied with being told to ‘have faith’ that change will somehow come when we see repeated evidence that this is not the case. We demand real, working, actionable solutions which will be visibly put into practice, enforced, reviewed and reported.
We will not accept the simple removal of individuals when the systems which enabled them to act remain in place.
We note the intentions which have been announced in recent days to create new codes of conduct, and assert that without thorough public consultation such codes will be meaningless.
We are hopeful that organisations within the arts sector recognise the issues we have raised here, and will work with us to resolve them.