In part three of our Save the Arts campaign, musicians describe how they innovated in lockdown, venue officials tell of new opportunities, and festival operators describe plans for the next big night out.
When it became clear that Covid-19 was an impending tsunami that was going to drench our small People’s Republic of Cork, I began to make tentative little promotional videos for The Butter Museum in Shandon, where I work part-time.
Closure, for the time being, was inevitable but there was still something I could do. I had an iPhone and a few accessories and I learned on the job as quickly as I could.
Lenny Abrahamson it wasn’t, but I was emboldened and gained confidence from the positive online reception.
I hadn’t intended this to go any further but soon, my puppet show clients and myself were talking about ways to present it.
Simply setting up a camera in front of the puppet booth and recording it wouldn’t do. I had seen recordings of plays, professional productions by professional companies, and wasn’t impressed.
My limited resources would only amplify the awfulness.
I wondered would it be possible to make little films based around the performing of a puppet show – having the show as the centrepiece but building little stories around it. I was given the go-ahead, and so it began.
My daily routine became ‘up at 6, down at midnight’, and as my mother would say, “working all the hours God gave me” in between.
My brief was: a series of trailers and a few longer films, the average length being 20 minutes long.
There were deadlines to be observed and I was working to professional standards.
I began to carefully step my way through the filming and editing but there was always something going seriously wrong.
The amount of visual data involved meant that I had placed a totally unrealistic expectation on my lovely little laptop, which soon started informing me about its problems in all kinds of different ways.
Editing software lags and ‘spinning disks’ that lasted forever became my personal ‘new normal’.
After a time I began to accept them and would simply get out of my chair, move away from the desk and feign an interest in what was happening outside the window, while I waited for my laptop to either take its feed or throw it back at me.
I took comfort in its old stone stubbornness, contrasting with the anxiety I felt in the technology overheating on the desk behind me.
Over the days, the anxiety took a physical form: vicious heartburn, some kind of odd vertigo that came and went at will, a perpetual tiredness behind the eyes.
Relief came in daily cycles across the empty city visiting a family member. I saw the meadow in UCC on the Western road blossom.
Regulars on my cycle route began to first shyly smile and then openly salute as the days passed.
A stranger called: “Jaysus, you’re fit out” as I cycled up O’ Donovan’s Road. I appreciated the joke.
I continued to work hard, problem solved with my clients almost every day, and daily schedules were met.
Each job was duly done by due date and was well received.
My physical ailments disappeared. I slept well again. All in all, I had a good lockdown.
But never again – please? I live in hope.
Like everyone else, I was taken by surprise by the speed and the spread of Covid-19 and the impact that it would have on our personal and professional lives.
On a trip to Athens in mid-February I saw a few people wearing masks in the airport and on the metro but I didn’t really think about it.
By the first week of March, I was a little more conscious of it on a night out in Cork city but I was still squashed around a table with a group of friends and happily handing a camera to a total stranger.
That was to be the last carefree photo of the way we were as things started to move very quickly.
At a West Cork Music board meeting on Wednesday 11 March we didn’t shake hands, we all availed of anti-bacterial gel and we discussed the possible but still unimaginable impacts on our summer festivals.
The following morning schools and theatres were closed and by Sunday pubs were shuttered.
Another week later almost all flights were grounded and the likelihood of a July festival was decreasing by the minute.
On 2 April, we began the heart-breaking task of notifying writers that the festival would not go ahead.
Everyone was incredibly understanding and kind despite the loss of paid work and the lost opportunity to meet audiences and fellow writers.
We were very lucky that the support of our funders meant that we can pay cancellation fees, often equal or very close to the original event fee, to our writers.
But of course we were just one event in an entire season of events that writers rely on for income and related sales.
And the financial impact goes so much wider as cancelled festivals mean lost work for technical crew, designers, publicists as well as the massive loss to a town like Bantry where hotels, restaurants, cafés, the bookshop and all businesses rely on the boost that festivals and the tourist season bring to the town.
It’s been an incredibly strange and sad time but it has been heartening to see how local businesses are finding imaginative ways to survive and to engage with customers.
We had to re-imagine the literary festival and keep the conversation going with writers and audiences.
So many other organisations were moving readings online so we focused on our professional development strand and have had great success with online writing workshops, a group session with a literary agent and one-to-one sessions with an editor.
It’s not the same as gathering in person but it had an unexpected positive in that the opportunity to attend from your own home coupled with half-price tickets thanks to Cork County Council sponsorship means that the festival became more accessible to people who previously couldn’t attend for financial reasons or the difficulty in spending a full week away from commitments such as family and work.
I have no idea what next summer will look like but we need to be prepared for every eventuality and I am trying to dream up a combination of in-person and online events.
I remain extremely lucky in that my family and friends are safe and well and the small few I know that caught Covid-19 seem to have made a complete recovery and didn’t suffer the worst of the symptoms.
This is far from over but we will weather the storm together. We have to!
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ - Hamlet, William Shakespeare
“Kimi you’ve got to get your kids out of playgroup now, it’s coming”.
Those were the words I heard my sister say on March 10. I had just dropped my kids to playgroup and was at the piano working on Rider’s to the Sea for The Everyman’s production of Sea Trilogy.
The next couple of weeks were filled with panic, taking the kids out of playgroup, stockpiling food and waiting for the inevitable calls to say that all my upcoming work was cancelled.
My life went quickly online and was struck by the collective consciousness of my colleagues all around the world coming to terms with a year of unanswered questions and for some potential financial ruin.
It was like sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and then watching the departure board destinations flip gradually one by one from scheduled to cancelled.
A deluge of compassionate artistic online offerings quickly followed and I wanted to be a part of this community.
I instantly began to record the album ‘All That Is Sound’ - a project I had been due to perform at the Cork Midsummer Festival in June and so with not-exactly-military precision of tag-team childcare in and out of the garden studio, myself and my husband Tom Hodge began to record vocals, mix and produce the album.
Then Lorraine Maye called to ask if I could put something together for #Midsummermoments as a reaction to lockdown and this suddenly became an amazing opportunity to perform from my own living room.
Another big shift for me was that I fell in love with exercise again when my friend Bex Fredericks set up a zoom class called The Hardcores for a group of mums.
We exercised for an hour every day, five days a week, anything from HIIT to weight training.
After having kids, I never really got my body and mind back on track to what it had been beforehand.
I began to remember that for me, physiology is the key to a strong focussed mind and physical longevity.
For me, lockdown feels truly like a shift in paradigm - a belief in the fulfilment of my career and a family balance with it, rather than just the mere dream of it.
And while there are still many unanswered and anxiety-fuelled financial questions for the mainstream world of opera and performance and my career with it, I do still feel excited by the unique position I find myself in and how I can take this opportunity to use a positive growth mindset to push my own boundaries of music-making and performance.
Everyone’s life has changed dramatically since lockdown and all our plans for 2020 certainly did not have a global pandemic in mind.
As Partnerships and Fundraising manager with The Everyman my job is to diversify the income streams of the organisation, now like many other arts organisations our main source of income has been lost, and this brings a whole new focus to our fundraising.
Art fundraising is always a challenge and over the last couple of years we have been working to develop a culture of philanthropy for and within the sector.
Arts fundraising through a crisis however has a different dimension, the thoughts of our sector genuinely not coming through this is a constant concern.
I have worked in the arts through lean times and a recession, but this feels somewhat different, previously there was always a physical audience and ways to engage and connect in person with those audiences, the placement of the uncertainty feels very different this time.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a very real gap between the arts and its audiences.
Unlike other crisis, we have faced on a global scale, this virus has the potential to affect everyone.
Which means our audiences and supporters are facing the same uncertainty and worry.
The arts as a sector in the past few months has sought out various ways to bridge this gap and have provided a sense of belonging, comfort, distraction and inspiration to people and now more than ever we need to strive to fulfill our mission as a community resource and to continue to raise funds to ensure our sustainability.
My role is very much relationship-based, up to March this year, working with friends and donors has involved enjoying a chat before or after a show.
Meeting with potential business partners or sponsors over a coffee and building up a relationship with our supporters.
Happily, a lot of those connections have continued through closure and there is huge love out there for the arts.
We’ve been very moved by the response of our patrons, it has been very encouraging for us as a group of people to receive both the donations and the sincere messages of support and encouragement.
It really is helping to sustain us, retain our staff and ensure the Everyman and its team remains here for the people of Cork.
It is heart-warming for us to hear how much the building and performances have meant to people over the years and how much they miss attending.
Of course we are also really missing the interactions with each other, performers, directors, and our audiences.
We are agile by nature and I hope this will help us to weather this storm.
On the road to recovery we will perhaps build a deeper connection with audiences and within our sector and the community as a whole.
Reopening on September 15 is a milestone we are all really looking forward to, and I am optimistic about how we as a sector will respond to the challenges ahead.
Like all arts organisations, we are facing huge challenges and for us recovery only really begins when we reopen, it will be a long road to full recovery.
The world will be different, the country will be different and the arts will be different but it will be a journey we take together.
Our resilience for this and ability to meet the challenge has and will be greatly strengthened by our supporters and for that we are enormously grateful.
In 2016, myself and my family moved from London to settle in Cork City and I started work as the CEO of Nano Nagle Place.
A significant motivation for the move was the cultural vibrancy of the city centre.
Cork punches above its weight for a city of its size and having the quality of the Everyman, Crawford, Opera House and so forth on our doorstep was a deciding factor in moving.
Working with a cultured Board at Nano Nagle Place led us to quickly articulating that becoming a cultural hub should be a core aim of the charity.
Our hosting Lisa Hannigan, the East Cork Early Music Festival, book-talks, lectures, debates, an annual Christmas theatrical season, all evidence of realised and future potential.
Then the full stop of Covid19. No cinema, exhibitions, live music or performances.
A broad and proper definition of culture includes the street life of a place, the passeggiata of an evening in town, the embedded culture of its built heritage – the modernist flourish of the Glucksman, the Georgian splendour of the Triskel.
Cork became a ghost town. Atmospheric but lonely. Thank goodness that life is beginning to breath again.
Work-wise Covid19 has been a mixed blessing. We have migrated online of course, but this is really but a starter without a main course.
More ambitiously we have been plotting the future.
Working (online) in partnership with Cork Printmakers, artist Kate O’Shea and DJ Stevie G our Cork Migrant Centre project has given ten young people from Direct Provision the opportunity to visually articulate a stunning Black Lives Matter artwork on the front of our main building.
A luxury of closing the door was to allow proper time for archival research and programming.
My colleague Dr Danielle O’Donovan has been putting together our second summer exhibition: “A Social History of 1920 Cork” based on the extensive school records held in our archive. We aim to open in time for Heritage Week in late August.
A serious challenge in relation to realising our cultural ambitions is that to deliver the highest quality, to properly pay artists and to coordinate complexity needs significant time and funds.
This is not just the case for the unfunded cultural programme at Nano Nagle Place.
In late June I chaired a Cork Chamber webinar with cultural institutions. The rhetoric at all levels of society is that culture marks Ireland out as exceptional.
The reality is that this is not matched by budgetary support in comparison to our European peers.
I am optimistic about an increasingly cultured Cork. Culture is at the heart of a life well lived and the mark of all civilised cities.
The networks of institutions and artists are strong.
We are starting to hear more progressive recognition of this within the business community and from government.
Cork needs to be a City of Culture every year, not just 2005.
Please support the brilliant work of Cork’s cultural community.
"Hi guys, I'm just— I'm keeping an eye on how the whole... 'Pandemic' sitch is evolving, ehm, so just so ye know, just to be advised, I'm keeping an eye on it...
"I'm aware that I may have to make an executive call at some point about it, because I don't want to be putting you guys at any risk, and I don't want to be putting our audience at any risk, and I'm aware that cancellation may wind up as a breach of contract but the reality is... The reality.
"So, ehm, yeah. Just be advised, that is where my head is at."
On March 10, I sent that voice message to my bandmates Alec & Ray.
We were due to fly to Munich on the 16th for a month-long tour of Germany; we'd been working toward this — it would be the maiden voyage of Sowing Acorns; my second independent album set for release in September — a tough couple of years of writing, rehearsing, recording and producing had gone into it — not to mention the expense.
No sooner had I called our German booking agent Petra with the news that we'd be cancelling than the arse fell out of the live music world.
Everything was off for the foreseeable - somehow Cheltenham could still go ahead; but every gig, workshop, and wedding I’d booked up to September was off the table; I was gutted, this was a new low in the highs-and-lows nature of the music industry I’d come to know.
So we wouldn’t be excitedly navigating a country where we barely spoke the language, but we would find ourselves feeling just as lost, confused, and at times despondent. And we’d be doing it at least two meters apart.
In fairness, I didn’t take long picking myself up, dusting myself off, I’m lucky to have a decent platform and people rallied hard.
I saw support on Patreon rise by 50% — people who were still working and in a position to do so increased their monthly pledges, some came on board for the first time with small monthly amounts or one-off donations to help me keep afloat.
I’ll never forget the kindness and generosity of the music lovers during these weird-and-getting-weirder times.
In a short video for JOE encouraging musicians to look after themselves in lockdown, I noted that if we get sick we can’t continue to work, and how that was scary.
Oh boy was that met with vitriol — cries of “GET A REAL JOB” from the comment section trolls were rife.
I started doing regular live-streams, which were tough at first — no immediate audience feedback, no to-and-fro or audible laughter; plus the platforms were over-burdened and my newsfeed bulged with complaints about lines dropping on streams, sarcastic cries for less-than-brilliant streamers to just stop because we were wasting precious space.
Nevertheless she persisted.
Over 10 weeks, I would tell bedtime stories with puppets and props, play virtual festivals, host Jools Holland-esque sessions from my kitchen with guests like Niamh Farrell, Harry Hudson-Taylor, Leslie Dowdall, and Mike Hanrahan joining me to chat about their lockdown lives and share their favourite songs.
I saw the same names crop up in the comments, making friends and cracking jokes together.
In spite of any technological ineptitude, I became host, producer, researcher and engineer.
I was navigating a strange country where I didn’t speak the language — but eventually I found myself being able to ask where the toilet is.
I took over Poster Displays in Spring 2019 after my aunt Breda passed away.
She had run the company for 14 years and before that it had been my grandfather's so we’re a third-generation family business.
Poster Displays is an outdoor advertising company specialising in billboard displays across Cork City and suburbs.
When I took over the company, I would say 75-80% of our business came from the arts and entertainment industries.
Some of our clients would include venues such as Cork Opera House, The Everyman Theatre and Cyprus Avenue, as well as national promoters such as MCD Productions and Aiken Promotions.
Traditionally, this time of year would have been particularly busy for us with so many concerts, plays, gigs and festivals taking place around the city and county.
This would also have been a busy time for me with my theatre company ALSA Productions.
We have a residency in Corcadorca’s Theatre Development Centre in the Triskel and we were scheduled to begin development on a new play for young audiences this Spring, following on from the success of our last production Tall Tail, which had a sold-out run in the Cork Midsummer Festival last year.
When Covid-19 hit, both businesses came to a grinding halt.
Over the space of an afternoon Poster Displays lost countless bookings and all of the upcoming theatre work with ALSA Productions was either postponed or cancelled.
For the first time in my memory, all of Poster Displays’ billboard sites lay dormant.
I wasn’t happy seeing that amount of ‘negative space’ around the city and felt that maybe I could do something to help keep people’s spirits up and spread some positivity.
I decided to design and display a series of positive messages on the billboards to spread some kindness throughout the city.
As the long term effects of Covid became more apparent, I realised that I would have to seriously rethink the business in order for it to survive.
I had already been considering expanding Poster Displays’ services so now seemed like the perfect opportunity for a total reconfiguration.
With the help and guidance of Jackie Gowran (Business Weaving) and the Local Enterprise Office, I rebranded as Notes to Cork, expanding our services to include graphic design, brand development and content creation and marrying these with our poster display service.
One of the first campaigns that Notes to Cork was involved in was the National Campaign For the Arts who are doing a fantastic job of advocating for the arts sector.
We are also delighted to be supporting ‘Songs from an Empty Room’ a series of televised gigs organised by EPIC and RTÉ in support of backstage crews.
I felt it was really important to support these campaigns because, not only does the majority of my business come from the arts, but I also strongly believe that the arts are an integral ingredient in our daily lives.
As a creative agency, Notes to Cork will continue to support and promote the arts in Cork.
The first thing to say is that we (my partner, our luminous little girl, and I) have been extraordinarily lucky over the past few months.
We have weathered the Covid storm at home ‘twixt the ever-changing sea and majestic mountains of South Kerry.
Thus, our experience has been one largely free of great stress or discommodification.
Our families and friends are safe, and so in the grand, cinematic scheme of this whole convoluted affair, we have genuinely little to complain about.
However, that is not to suggest that our lives have not been impacted by it.
Having stumbled headlong, and certainly over my heels, into what I suppose could be classed as a “career” (or at least a persistent sense of occupation) in the music and events world, I find myself at a particular junction.
Our industry, perhaps above all, has suffered a most direct hit amidships, and with very little end or surety of solution in sight to the water pouring through the bow, it is somewhat unclear when we shall dance in full flow again.
We have, like so many other organisations, pivoted into the world of online streaming, and duly planted our hopeful flag in the summer season of 2021 amongst other varied and constant schemings.
However, when your game is essentially gathering people together, you must accept you face an uneven and treacherous footing as you sway to the shifting motions of the current beat.
In many ways, music industry people, as a breed, are uniquely and majestically suited to the challenging landscapes of a Covid world.
So in that sense, we are, more than most, relatively at ease here.
However, inbuilt in that statement is the profound acknowledgement of an accepted or normalised truth - that the people within the broad arts community in this country have worked in incredibly tenuous situations long before any pandemic showed up.
Situations which very few other professional industries would countenance.
Thus the Government and the arts community at large must now grasp the nettle of this incredibly difficult moment to forge a balanced, fair and sustainable infrastructure for the Irish Arts Industry - one which will allow the practitioners at all levels within it to have their talents, excellence, and outright grit duly noted and fairly rewarded.
The past few months have, of course, brought some great upheaval.
But, being of a slightly nomadic dint, and feeling strongly that we were, Before Covid, rushing towards the ungainly precipice of another era of brashness on this small, easily charmed island, has meant that our sudden departure from the increasingly claustrophobic capital back to the countryside, has been a lucky joy.
The time spent as a young family together in this beautifully still place is a lifetime’s memory made.
It is, in so many senses, an extraordinary time.
Even the way that the uncertain wrinkles of the current ‘second wave’ moment have largely been smoothed out into a kind of longing normality is, in its own right, well.. extraordinary.
But, the daily occurrence of the small kindness of a sideways step on a footpath, allowing each other the new necessity of safe space, is an act which fills my heart with no small amount of hope for a kinder future out of all of this.
I find myself muttering the phrase “things will find their level” to myself, or whoever is within a 2 metre earshot of me daily.