Before I begin with my opening statement, I thank the committee for its support. Yesterday's budget was a good day for the arts. I acknowledge that the NCFA did not do it alone. All committee members and their parties have been incredibly supportive of the NCFA in addressing the dire needs of the arts sector since the pandemic started. I wanted to put a big thank you from us and the 54,000 people we represent on the record.
The NCFA represents more than 54,000 artists, arts workers and arts organisations who make up Ireland’s internationally acclaimed innovative and intelligent arts ecosystem. We represent makers, organisations, theatre companies, producers, colleges, venues, arts centres, galleries and publishers. The NCFA speaks and plans for both the tip of the iceberg and the many crucial layers of ice that lift that tip out of the water.
The Covid-19 crisis has created profound challenges for the arts, culture and live events sector which have compounded years of underinvestment. Throughout 2020 the NCFA has engaged in cross-sectorial consultation with artists and arts workers, as well as the resource organisations which work with them. On 27 May, the NCFA published a national recovery plan for the arts containing 13 actions essential for survival and recovery.
According to a report by consultants, EY, completed on behalf of the Arts Council, published last weekend, the recession faced by the arts and culture sector will be -55% compared to -11% in the economy overall. Data currently available predict that employment levels in the arts and culture sector will not return to 2019 levels until 2025. Analysis by the ESRI shows how value added in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors collapsed by 72%, compared with an average decline of 29% across the rest of the EU.
The arts, culture and events sector is hardest hit because it is public facing, seasonal and composed mostly of SMEs and freelance workers. In June and July, the additional investments by the Government were vital in stemming the losses faced by many artists, arts workers and arts organisations. However, the sector remains in crisis. This investment represented a positive first step in recognising the value of our arts community. Yesterday's budget measures for the arts should also be included in those positive steps.
After positive moments of reopening and re-engagement with our audiences, however, the return to level 3 restrictions means all arts and culture organisations are now closed. Social distancing measures will continue to mean that events and gatherings are simply not viable. These restrictions remain regardless of which level of the living with Covid plan we are at. EY predicts that recovery will take two years or longer depending on the evolution of the virus.
The publication of the report Survive, Adapt, Renew by the Arts Council’s Covid-19 expert advisory group, of which the NCFA was a member, and the ongoing work of the arts and culture recovery task force are welcome.
The NCFA's pre-budget submission for 2021 called for the Government to ensure artists and arts workers are supported through the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, until mass gatherings are permitted again and cultural events can take place at full capacity; ensure that the rate of the PUP returns to €350 for the arts and events sector; increase funding to the Arts Council to €135 million in 2021 with a view to at least doubling investment in the Arts Council by 2025; prioritise and expedite the trial of universal basic income, outlined in the programme for Government, as well as to develop a universal basic income model for all citizens over the lifetime of the Government; and classify local authority arts spending as a mandatory requirement.
The NCFA supports the call to commission a review of taxation practice as it relates to the arts. We encourage total insurance reform and call for the transposition of the European Union’s directive on copyright for the digital Single Market into national law by June 2021.
We recognise that the Government is taking the appropriate steps to protect public health and it has acknowledged the significant challenges faced by the arts and culture sector as a result of these measures.
The arts have provided respite and solidarity for adults and children across the island during the past eight months of the crisis. Never has it been more evident that all our citizens lose out when artists can no longer produce their work.
We would like to end with a quote from the EY report on the arts:
The arts could act during the crisis as a civic force field enriching our cultural lives. It provides joy and inspiration; it helps to energise us; it is a gateway for people to experience our society and all it has to offer. Covid-19 has brought the importance and value of community into focus and in many ways the arts sector is synonymous with community as a place and an expression of positivity. For this reason ... it should be at the heart of our recovery strategy.