Longterm support needed for Cork arts sector's 'backstage army'

A long-term flexible supports package is needed to sustain the 'back-stage army' of people who work in Ireland’s arts, culture, and live events sector until they are cleared to get the show back on the road.
Longterm support needed for Cork arts sector's 'backstage army'

A long-term flexible supports package is needed to sustain the 'back-stage army' of people who work in Ireland’s arts, culture, and live events sector until they are cleared to get the show back on the road.

That was the message from some of the industry’s most respected figures as they united in Cork yesterday to launch a billboard campaign to amplify the National Campaign for the Arts’ (NCFA) Save the Arts initiative to highlight the challenges facing the sector following the Covid-19 crisis.

“We need people to rally behind us, to tell their public representatives just how much this sector means to them, that it is meaningful to peoples’ lives,” said Julie Kelleher, the artistic director of the city’s historic Everyman Theatre.

The group welcomed the government’s announcement on Tuesday of a €25m funding boost for the Arts Council. But they said many venues and workers won't qualify for that funding.

Edel Curtin, of the award-winning Coughlan’s Music Venue, and who also programmes Sea Church in Ballycotton, said smaller venues like these will need support to survive.

“We have some gigs pencilled in but we are holding off announcing anything until we have more guidelines. We’re basically treading water until then,” she said.

Coughlans has a capacity for about 80 standing, 65 seated. Physically distancing would slash that to around 40 standing and less than 30 seated.

“With those figures, putting on live music just wouldn’t be viable for the foreseeable future,” she said.

“It’s a labour of love for us, putting on gigs because we believe in the artist. It’s not always about making a profit but we can’t afford to lose money on every gig in the future if restrictions are still in place.

“Other industries will survive, but our concern would be that there will be no entertainment venues, no opera houses, no gigs, no concerts.” Ms Kelleher said current guidelines would slash the threatre’s capacity from 650 to just over 70.

“It would be impossible to operate under those circumstances - which is why ongoing support will be so important,” she said.

“Everything we do relies on gathering people, engaging and the experience. We have no cash-flow whatsoever at the moment and some of the questions we face is how do we open doors without cash-flow? How do we sustain a production with just 70 people?

“These are big questions, but we are not shrinking from them. We are determined to do what we can to get the show on the road again.” Sandra O’Mahony, an experienced sound engineer and production manager, who works every summer on Live at the Marquee, Indiependence, at the Galway Arts Festival, at the Cork Midsummer Festival, and at Sounds for a Safe Harbour, said her next work gig is pencilled in for St Patrick’s Day, 2021.

“There is massive uncertainty in our industry. We will be the last ones going back to work and we will need support until we get back full throttle,” she said.

“And we won’t all be going back at the same time. It’s going to be a soft, slow return to work and our sector will need ongoing and sustained support.

“The new government will have to look at giving some flexibility to those in the arts sector.”

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