The Covid-19 crisis has brought the arts sector to its knees, despite keeping us entertained throughout lockdown. Now, with the launch of the National Campaign to Save the Arts, writers, dancers, designers, musicians, and other creatives tell how they were impacted by the shutdown and what needs to happen next
The arts are the books you are reading, the TV shows you’re watching, the music you’re listening to, the artworks you’re fascinated with. They are the festivals you are missing, the live events you dream of, the galleries and spaces you yearn to explore.
Before and during this pandemic, it is the arts that have kept us company, been an escape, a voice, a release, a hope. The arts are our endlessly entertaining companion, the music, books, poetry, films, stories, and more.
The arts provoke conversations, enrage radio show callers, provide heart-breaking reflection on our losses, and celebrate the unbridled joy of our successes.
The arts show us lives that reflect our own, making us feel safe, as well as lives that are different and new to us, challenging our thinking.
We use the arts to interpret and make sense of our place in the world. When words fail us, when understanding fails us, the arts articulate what we cannot. Musicians, writers, visual artists, dancers, actors, designers and filmmakers, and so many more - artists and arts workers tell our stories, they present us with the glories and failings of life in equal measure, providing us with choices to reflect on and giving us tools to help navigate our own unique journeys.
All the enriching artistic and cultural activities and experiences which are integral to our everyday lives are the result of work to create, work to make, work to manage, work to present.
The arts provide multiple benefits for the individual, and for society. Engaging with the arts contributes positively to education, health, and wellbeing.
These are emotional and societal benefits which cannot and should not be wholly measured through an economic lens. However, investment in the arts sector also makes economic sense.
The arts generate and create levels of revenue and ancillary work that far outweigh the investment.
Arts and culture bolster two indigenous sectors that are currently most challenged - tourism and hospitality. Ireland’s rich artistic and cultural landscape underscores our global offering as a great place to live, work, visit and do business.
This is why we talk about investing in the arts and not funding the arts because the exchequer and the country, business, society, communities, and the individual, including the artist, all benefit from that investment, everyone reaps the rewards.
A failure to invest equitably in the arts at this crucial juncture in recovery planning will seal the decimation of an industry that asks little and offers much.
There will be an irretrievable loss of wisdom and skills, and any recovery will be a journey that many, if not most, in the sector will be unable to undertake or sustain.
Artists will not be able to create, arts workers will be forced out and likely never return, arts organisations will close their doors, and Ireland’s artistic output will stagnate.
If we allow the arts to be left behind as we move to rebuild Ireland, attempts to restimulate the arts and culture sector down the line will be unachievable, there will be far too little left for any meaningful revival of the ecosystem that salves, sustains and sells our country.
We must #SAVETHEARTS
I had been waiting for the phone call for a while, and it came in mid-April.
The news that publication of my second book, Whatever It Takes, was to be postponed due to Covid-19. It wouldn’t be coming out on June 17 but on July 31.
To be honest, I was relieved to have a new date at all. Things were so uncertain in April – with bookshops closed for the foreseeable future and everybody in full lockdown – I’d been afraid the publication might be put on some kind of semi-permanent hold, or worse, dropped completely.
The two launches I had planned, in Cork and my home town Mallow, were cancelled.
I was able to put this into perspective – these were the miserable days of peak curve, peak ICU pressure, peak nursing home deaths and job losses, peak fear, with families watching the funerals of their loved ones on laptops, sitting around kitchen tables. At a time when we weren’t sure we could even beat this bloody curse, let alone when or how or at what cost. How do you weigh up the fate of a single book against such immensity?
Luckily for me, the book had been completed, whereas other writer friends were struggling to compose or edit in the midst of a crippling uncertainty, inside a darker place within which even writers normally work. Normal was one of the first casualties of the pandemic, let’s face it.
I was aware, too, that musicians, dramatists, performers, actors and festival organisers were completely shut down without any immediate hope of practicing their crafts or making a living.
In any case, writing is a solitary act, a bubble wherein we’re cocooned inside a text (an unreal world), cut off – in the moment – from the real world outside it. And somehow I was able to keep on writing, I had to – for my sanity, if nothing else.
Channelling my inner Beckett: ‘You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.’ Wouldn’t you love to know what he would have made of all this?
During lockdown I was able to work on the autobiography of the great Cork dual-player, Denis Coughlan.
The timing of that was serendipitous, since I had sat down with Denis in December and January and recorded his life story safely then. That became my ‘lockdown book’ and I was grateful for it.
One thing was brought vividly home to me during the strangeness: how much we need the arts, how vital they are to any kind of tolerable existence. Imagine your lockdown without anything to watch, listen to or read.
How fragile and precious our music, our art, our drama, film, TV and writing are and how badly they need to be protected and nurtured by the powers that be. Now, more than ever. That surely must be one of the main lessons we’ve learned from Covid-19.
Save the arts, save our artists, do it now.
- Tadhg Coakley lives in Cork city. His second book, Whatever It Takes – a crime novel – is due in bookshops on August 7. Everything, the autobiography of Denis Coughlan, will be published in September. tadhgcoakley.com
Judy Hegarty Lovett is joint Artistic Director for the Irish Theatre Company Gare St Lazare Ireland
Darragh Kane is a freelance press photographer