Challenges Facing Arts Venues and Theatres as a result of Covid-19: Discussion

I welcome our guests to the meeting. I had hoped that at this stage in the year we might have been able to conduct the meeting in person but, unfortunately, it appears that we will continue to do things virtually for the foreseeable future. However, it is wonderful to have our guests here and we very much appreciate their attendance. They are all very busy people. This is a good opportunity to discuss the difficulties for the arts sector through these turbulent times. I welcome Ms Anna Walsh, director of Theatre Forum; Professor Kevin Rafter, chair of the Arts Council, Ms Maureen Kennelly, director of the Arts Council, and the joint delegation consisting of Mr. Ollie Kenny, vice chairperson of the Drama League of Ireland, Mr. Brendan McGowan, national executive committee member of the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland, and Mr. Robert Donnelly, national president of the Association of Irish Musical Societies. We have everybody with us today and that is wonderful. I thank our guests.

The format of the meeting is that I will invite witnesses to make their opening statements, which will be followed by questions from members of the committee. As the witnesses will be aware, the committee may publish the opening statements on its website following the meeting.

Before I invite them to deliver their opening statements, which are limited to three minutes each, I wish to advise them about parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply. As the witnesses are attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, I ask them to note that there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present does.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present in the confines of Leinster House or the convention centre to participate in the public meeting. I cannot permit a member to attend if he or she is not adhering to the constitutional requirements. I also ask members to identify themselves when contributing for the benefit of the Debates Office staff who are preparing the Official Report. Microphones must be muted when not contributing to reduce background noise and feedback. I ask members and witnesses to use the raise-your-hand function on their screen if they want to contribute. I remind those participating in the meeting to ensure their mobile telephones are on silent mode or, better still, switched off.

Without further ado, I will call on the witnesses in the following order: Ms Anna Walsh; the joint delegation; and the Arts Council. I remind them that they have three minutes each for their opening statements. I will again advise them about parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. I apologise for being repetitive, but it is necessary for protocol in Leinster House.

I invite Ms Anna Walsh of the Theatre Forum to make her opening statement.

Ms Anna Walsh

The Theatre Forum thanks the committee for the opportunity to discuss how arts venues could be best supported to respond to the challenges they are facing as a result of Covid-19. As we emerge from this crisis, which has affected everyone and every sector, there is an opportunity not just to reopen the arts and culture sector, but to build it better and more sustainably. It is crucial to protect our arts sector and artists, and ensure that years of investment, experience and artist support infrastructure in arts venues are not lost. This committee has an opportunity to influence the alignment of arts and culture policy with the national development plan, NDP, to draw together a capital and programme investment plan to evolve arts venues as a key arts channel to contribute to Ireland’s societal recovery and enrich all our lives.

For the sector's survival, the commitment from the Government and the Revenue Commissioners that the employer wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, will remain in place until the year end, when, hopefully, audience capacities and box office income are restored, is very welcome. For its future viability, longer-term funding models with key funders, particularly local authorities and the Arts Council, would enable arts venues to better plan projects and programmes, deepen engagement with artists, audiences and their communities and foster collaborations with more communities of interest that would continue beyond the limitations of sporadic projects in a 12-month funding cycle. Arts venues could also take a lead in how climate and environmental issues can be addressed, through promoting sustainability by energy efficiency changes to their buildings, working more sustainably as well as being places and spaces from which artists and communities co-create their sustainable futures. Venues are also ideally positioned to offer quality work opportunities and pay artists and arts workers in their own locality. If arts venues move to longer-term financial planning cycles, this would enable them to make the working lives of artists and arts workers less precarious and more sustainable.

Arts venues work purposefully for, in and with their communities.

Arts venues work purposely for, in and with their communities. They can improve access, be inclusive and celebrate diversity in their programmes, activities and events. A systematic approach to support arts venues to broaden and deepen their remit as safe workplaces for artists to engage with audiences of all ages, abilities, orientation and ethnicity would create the much-needed energy and vibrancy to help rebuild our society. We ask the committee to lend and garner support for arts venues in a number of key areas. These are aligning policy, purpose and investment, securing support to ensure the survival and future financial viability of arts venues, and promoting sustainability through arts venues. We believe these supports will put and keep arts venues at the heart of their communities.

I thank Ms Walsh and very much appreciate her sticking to the time allotted to her.

Mr. Ollie Kenny

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic over the past 18 months on amateur theatre and amateur musical theatre has been devastating all over the island of Ireland. These activities are at the core of community cultural activity throughout the island. The absence of a platform for performers and the plethora of people involved in the creative element of theatre and musical theatre has created a huge void in towns and villages all over the country.

Putting on stage activities in the autumn and winter periods is to a community what sporting activities are in the summer period. These activities galvanise a community and not just local communities. Neighbouring communities support each other, creating a complex web of social and cultural interaction and networking that is unique to Irish society. All this has been put on hold and the numbers affected are staggering. The Drama League of Ireland estimates there are approximately 700 drama groups on the island of Ireland with approximately 25,000 people directly involved. These groups attract an audience, whether local or participating in amateur drama festivals of up to 1 million people every year. The Amateur Drama Council of Ireland is the governing body of affiliated drama festivals on this Island. In total there are more than 40 affiliated members between full length and one-act festivals. They offer the opportunity to more than 50 drama groups to perform all over the country with the added bonus of getting professional adjudication on their work.

There are approximately 120 musical societies on the island of Ireland, with 14,000 members. They offer an outlet to people of all ages to express themselves and participate in this very popular activity as they put on performances for local communities and participate in the very popular Association of Irish Musical Societies competitions. These shows attract an audience of 1.2 million annually and are a vital part of our communities. The impact of the loss of these activities in this sector cannot be overestimated. The impact on the mental health of those involved, and of those who look forward so much to attending these events, cannot be overestimated.

We need to look forward positively but we need some assistance to stimulate the amateur performance sector and to entice our practitioners back to doing these ever so important cultural activities. We would like a clear roadmap from the Government outlining exactly when we can get back to rehearsing and whether our theatres and community venues are to open up again with full houses and full casts. The huge number of people who attend amateur performances need to know when they can come back to our performance spaces again. They are the lifeline of our activities and the lifeblood of community support and involvement.

Because all activity in live performance ceased over the past 18 months, the income streams of our affiliated members and representative bodies have been severely depleted. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Arts Council’s recent grant allocations for a pilot scheme to enhance mentorship between amateur and professional drama and musical theatre. We require financial support to be made available to our organisations on an annual basis once this pilot scheme is completed. This would ensure the survival of a dynamic and thriving amateur performance sector, which is so important to people in every town and village throughout the island of Ireland. I thank the Chair and committee members for allowing us to make this presentation.

I thank Mr. Kenny.

Professor Kevin Rafter

This is my third appearance at the Oireachtas committee with responsibility for the arts in my two years as chair of the Arts Council. These engagements have been very useful and I welcome the opportunity to keep members updated and hear their feedback. Today, I am joined by Maureen Kennelly, the director of the Arts Council.

The arts sector was one of the first to be hit and will be one of the last to recover from the Covid-19 crisis. There was a 54% reduction in GDP in the arts sector in Ireland last year. New Arts Council research, which will be published shortly, shows four in ten artists saw their income decline by more than 50% last year, with the vast majority seeing no improvement in 2021. This is a sector where job security was already precarious and jobs are low paid. The huge negative impact, which first hit in March last year is continuing. We now know the situation will remain in crisis into 2022 for artists and arts organisations.

This time two years ago, the Arts Council's annual budget was €75 million. Today it is €130 million, which is an historic high. A political commitment to increase arts funding was made prior to the pandemic and the impact of this funding will be truly felt when the crisis has passed. For now, the money is the means by which the Arts Council is working to protect the jobs and livelihoods of artists and to assist arts organisations experiencing financial difficulties. The Arts Council used increased public funding to help the sector survive and adapt in 2020 and again in 2021. We will continue to do so in the months to come.

A more detailed report on how the Arts Council has spent its budget will be provided to members shortly. I will now go through some headline statistics. There was a 90% increase in funding applications in 2020 over 2019. Of these, 54% applicants were new to the Arts Council. Almost 3,100 funding applications were approved last year. This is an increase of 129% on 2019. We also provided emergency funding to 190 arts organisations, many of them facing imminent closure, in mid-2020.

Despite the crisis, the Arts Council remains committed to its current strategy and key policies. We continue to be guided by the principles outlined in Making Great Art Work, which is our strategy until 2025. This has a focus on the role of the artist and public engagement with the arts. Our key policies include equality, human rights and diversity. This policy has been incorporated into all of our programmes, schemes and awards. With regard to our pay the artist policy, new research will be published shortly on the experiences of artists dealing with pay and contractual arrangements. A new policy on people, places and spaces will also be published shortly. This builds on initiatives such as creative places and will provide further assistance to the 50 regional arts centres. It will also advance new proposals for flagship artist studio projects throughout the country.

Increased funding in 2022 will allow the Arts Council to assist the sector emerge from the Covid crisis and develop beyond the crisis. I hope 2022 will be a year of recovery. In the meantime, funding will continue to be targeted at jobs and livelihoods as well as at assisting arts organisations in trouble. Funding will assist in implementing our equality, human rights and diversity, pay the artist and spatial policies. Key priorities in 2022 will include expanding the creative places programme in new regions, further assistance to regional arts centres, developing new artists' workspaces throughout the country and promoting new initiatives including arts and well-being.

Many people have been helped through the lockdown by the work of artists. The arts have been the glorious light in the darkness of the Covid crisis. Our world is now slowly emerging from lockdown restrictions notwithstanding the ongoing uncertainties. Even with the capacity limits we are able to embrace the arts again in person. I encourage people to visit our galleries, arts centres, theatres and cinemas over the summer. Ms Kennelly and I will be available to answer any questions and queries committee members might have.

I thank Professor Rafter for the comprehensive overview of where the Arts Council is at and, more important, where our artists are at. As my colleagues are aware, they have three minutes each for questions and answers. This is not the long session we normally have and it is being cut a little short. I ask members to be mindful of this with regard to eliciting the answers they might want.

I thank all of our witnesses. It is important that the committee also extends its thanks to all of the groups represented here and the artists and venues throughout the country who have done some amazing and innovative things, as Professor Rafter said, to help us through this period.

I will put my first question to Professor Rafter and Ms Kennelly. This follows on from Mr. Kenny's point about drama groups, theatre festivals and musical societies in local communities that will be involved in the rebuilding of all our communities. What supports can the Arts Council make available to those groups to rebuild our communities?

I will put my second question to Ms Walsh, Mr. Donnelly, Mr. McGowan and Mr. Kenny. There have been many concerns whenever Government announcements have been made about reopening. There has, at times, been a lack of clarity for regulations around the arts and venues. We talk about the roadmap and plan for reopening. What kind of notice do our guests need to ensure we can get shows and performances up and running? I know some shows and performances are now starting.

Professor Kevin Rafter

The arts have helped us to get through the crisis and will be a part of the national recovery. I might ask Ms Kennelly to give a little more detail about where the Arts Council is positioned in response to the Senator's question.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

The Senator asked particularly about local groups. Arts centres, as we know, are a fantastic cradle for activity on the ground. Our support to arts centres totalled over €8 million this year. The committee will know that the complexion of activity in arts centres is a combination of local, regional, national and sometimes international activity. The Senator has also referenced the new pilot scheme which we were delighted to introduce. That scheme links the voluntary sector with professional artists. The support we can give is through those art centres and festivals which inject vibrancy into local communities. We also give support to individual artists through the many bursaries, the agility award and all the individual schemes we have and in which we have been able to multiply our investment. The support we can give is through the core infrastructure of the built environment where, of course, we work very closely with our partners in local authorities. Professor Kenny referenced the fact that more than 50 arts centres are supported by the Arts Council. That is achieved working closely in partnership with the local authority and reaching out to the community. I know that many committee members have been involved in the creation and establishment of those arts centres. They are powerful channels to audiences. Even with the restrictions during the pandemic, arts centres have managed to open and be truly civic community spaces for their population. We want to fund them to an even greater degree. Multi-annual funding has been referenced and that is very much on our radar because we need to strengthen the core infrastructure and make sure it is there and in rude health for future generations.

Mr. Robert Donnelly

The Association of Irish Musical Societies, AIMS, has lost all its productions and shows since March last year. I am sure the same is true of the drama organisations. We have lost approximately 170 shows in the past year. We obviously want to get back on stage. As Senator Malcolm Byrne said, there has been a lack of clarity from the Government regarding the roadmap to allow us back on stage. As a musical society, we have approximately 40 members on stage and up to 100 people working on each production. We obviously cannot get those numbers of people into theatres and venues around the country at the moment. We need clarity and a roadmap to address that issue.

There are also limits on audience numbers. To stage a musical production in this country costs, on average, between €30,000 and €50,000. That means we would need up to 80% capacity in theatres and venues around the country to break even. We need a roadmap, guidelines and help so that we know when our societies can go back to rehearsals. It normally takes approximately 12 weeks or three months for us to put a show together. Our year starts in August and all our shows between August and Christmas have been cancelled because we cannot fit them within that timeline. We would like any help or guidance we can get to enable our shows to take off from January next year.

Ms Anna Walsh

In addition to Mr. Donnelly's comments, as of yesterday evening, we have been writing, rewriting and amending guidelines for capacities, the numbers of people that are allowed into arts centres and venues. Restrictions are, unfortunately, going to continue. There is a responsibility on all of us to try to map out the path ahead for reopening. I do not think it will be a particularly easy path back to 80% capacity and bigger audiences. Guidelines have been developed with the support of the Arts Council. They are available to all groups, theatre companies and production companies. We will continue to add to those in the months ahead.

I welcome the representatives of the arts and theatre sector before the committee. I will follow on from the points made by Senator Malcolm Byrne. What were our guests' initial responses to yesterday's announcement by the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET? What is the potential impact of that announcement on our guests' sectors in terms of what they had scheduled in the weeks ahead? What impact will that announcement have on our guests' plans for indoor activities in their workshops and classes, and on events? The implementation of systems for the verification of vaccines in the community is pending. How will this impact our guests' plans as they move through the summer? Are our guests' sectors running test pilot events in different arts venues, including concert halls and theatres? What is the starting point to ensure the sector can reopen safely? What are the Government and Department responsible for in the arts sector that might be able to assist our guests to run test pilot events?

My final questions relate to supports from the Government and the Arts Council for organisations and independent artists. Have the supports been helpful? Have concerns been raised with Departments? How can the committee support our guests with their concerns?

Who would the Deputy like to respond?

Professor Rafter and Mr. Kenny.

Professor Kevin Rafter

Ms Kennelly and I might deal with some of those questions. I was at the cinema last night and Ms Kennelly and I were at the Abbey Theatre last week. Both those indoor events were run safely and professionally but with very small audiences. That is the challenge in the current environment. It is obviously hugely frustrating for artists, arts workers and arts organisations but everything we have done has been minded by the national public health guidelines. We take those guidelines and work with the resource organisations and our funded organisations to adhere to those guidelines.

We would have hoped to be further along at this stage. I hope that as we move through the year, and notwithstanding the uncertainty of the past couple of days, we will see greater relaxation of restrictions and more audiences in auditoriums. It is challenging. Ms Kennelly and her staff have been working on this matter with the Department. Perhaps she could give the committee more detail of the specifics of those discussions.

I will interrupt at this point. I am conscious that we are going to run out of time again. If our guests do not mind, I will give another of our delegations an opportunity to respond to the question from the Deputy.

Mr. Brendan McGowan

I will not respond specifically to Deputy Dillon but will answer the question Senator Malcolm Byrne asked about how much notice we need. We need immediate notice although I know that is not possible. We have a one-night circuit scheduled to start in October and run through to December.

What have we been doing in the meantime? We have been doing reach-out programmes to our drama groups. The Amateur Dramatic Council of Ireland, ADCI, has had lockdown conversations online. We very much appreciate the funding and the pilot scheme that were announced last week. However, to put it into perspective, that €250,000 is approximately 0.25% or 0.3% of the total allocation the Arts Council might get. This is not any fault of the Arts Council and funding comes to the council from central Government. If that 0.25% or 0.3% became 5%, it would allow us ample scope to repair the damage that has been done by Covid-19. It would allow us to move along, open our festivals and get our drama groups meeting and rehearsing again.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

I will come back in on that point to talk about the pilot event we ran last week with the Irish Chamber Orchestra at the University Concert Hall. We had 33% capacity. It was a safe event and there was PCR testing for performers. I am told there was the most spontaneous standing ovation ever seen when the performers came out on stage. That indicates the great thirst and hunger for events.

Next week we will be running an event with the Irish National Opera in Cork Opera House. We want to go up to 50% there, with the usual precautions, and we are expecting a good result there. The health and safety standards met by our venues, festivals and everyone who works in the arts is exceptionally high. We are in good hands. These people have been accustomed to high standards of safety throughout their careers. It bodes well for an early and safe reopening.

Reference was made to the supports needed. The Government supports have been critical. As times edges on and as the uncertainty continues we believe the EWSS in particular should continue into the new year. As everyone has acknowledged the preparation time for reopening is critical. It cannot simply happen out of air overnight. As we go on later and later into the year, those supports will be absolutely necessary. That is why continued and increased investment is absolutely necessary. Our major concern is that we get people back safely and that we do not lose too many people from the industry.

Mr. Ollie Kenny

I wish to make a point on behalf of the amateur sector encompassing the drama and musical theatre. The types of issues that affect us relate to our rehearsal periods. The rehearsal period would normally be starting now for most amateur drama groups for one-night festivals and winter and spring productions. That has been scuppered yet again. This is the ongoing issue we have been facing during the past 18 months or two years. People have productions ready that they started rehearsing two years ago. They were ready to put them on in the spring and they were scuppered with the pandemic. People in the amateur sector in every town and village throughout the country still do not know. They have no idea when they will be able to go back into the halls and start the rehearsal period. That period is vital to the winter and spring productions.

I will now call on Deputy Mythen, who has three minutes.

I thank the witnesses. I have a couple of quick questions on amateur drama to follow on from what Mr. Kenny said. He said performing groups had eight to 12 weeks to rehearse and prepare. Are there measures we can take? Can we help in any way to get back to rehearsing? Have the groups looked at other countries beyond Ireland to see how they are operating? Some are ahead of the posse.

I wish to ask about the theatre forum. The opening statement referenced how arts venues are in a unique position to offer quality work opportunities for artists and art workers in the locality. Is there an anomaly or disparity between rural areas and urban areas in this regard?

My next question is for all three groups. We see there is great inequality in terms of bigger venues being able to host socially distant shows while smaller venues are being left out. What is the potential for the fallout of the arts in such a scenario?

What do the representatives think of antigen testing? I believe it should be carried out on all venues. It gives data to the Government. We had a live show in Iveagh Park recently and it was an opportunity to do that. It is done in most other areas. It was done for the Eurovision Song Contest, for example.

The question was directed at Mr. Kenny first.

Mr. Ollie Kenny

The problems with rehearsing time will be difficult to address because we are not allowed to have indoor gathering as such. The committee asked a question about innovation and how we might deal with that. I know people are rehearsing outdoor and in big spaces. There was a situation last year where an amateur drama group in Wexford put on what was the only performance in the British Isles on the weekend in question. We are leading the way in that regard. People have taken that up. There has been considerable online activity and it has been innovative. That has been going on for the past two years but people are Zoomed out and fed up with the way things are being conducted.

What we really need is guidelines and a clear roadmap for when we can get back in and get people onstage again. Deputy Mythen mentioned antigen testing. I do not believe antigen testing will work for the amateur sector. It creates problems for groups based in the community hall in a back village. I mean no disrespect to villages because I come from a village myself. Not every little village will be able to provide antigen testing. The way it is conducted is complex for a small rural setting.

Perhaps Professor Rafter or Ms Kennelly would like to respond to that.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

The testing has applied to performers so far. The focus is on creating a safe environment. There is background work with vaccinations and so on as well.

A question was asked about the regional spread. We are focused on our spatial policy referred to earlier by Professor Rafter. Typically, there are two arts centres per country. We have a new programme called Creative Places. We are conscious that we need to serve the public throughout the country. It is not a city-based activity by any stretch. The work we do in the coming years will be critical in delivering the programme. Arts centres and festivals are a critical channel for that.

I want to take a moment to reflect. We have lost 18 months or almost two years out of the sector. I am often struck by the importance within the sector of being able to have people who enter it or start off early. That state of play - entering into it, getting to enjoy it and finding your feet in an interesting area - is important. This goes for amateur and professional people. Can the groups give an outline of what impact losing that will have on the sector? I am from a theatre background and I believe the early entry state of play is so important for people who decide to go down the professional route, to continue with amateur dramatics or simply to stay involved. The period of 18 months or two years has been a long time to lose that element. That is my only question.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

Senator Hoey is right and this is what Covid-19 has highlighted. It is a fragile profession at the best of times. The pandemic has shown the absolute fragility of it. It will have deterred many young people from entering the profession. They may think that information technology is a better option in considering where the futures lies. That is why we have to work hard to ensure a whole generation is not lost because of this pandemic. That is why the supports are critical at this time.

Professor Kevin Rafter

We have put a great deal of money into bursaries and different awards to protect artists at different stages of their careers over the past 16 or 17 months. The increased public money and investment from Government has been really important in protecting jobs and livelihoods. This has been a great challenge for the sector. As I said in my opening sentence, it was the sector first hit and it will be the sector that is last to recover. That is why the public funding is vital for the Arts Council to protect jobs, livelihoods and organisations.

Mr. Ollie Kenny

We have an extensive development programme lined up for the coming 12 months. We have the annual summer school coming up in the University of Limerick at the start of August. We have an outreach programme that will be countrywide. We will have local and regional workshops. We have a playwright mentoring and development following from our playwriting competition with our colleagues in the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland. We have a winter school planned for next spring in the Blue Raincoat Theatre building in Sligo. I hope all those initiatives will help to stimulate a return to amateur productions.

Does Mr. McGowan wish to respond?

Mr. Brendan McGowan

To answer Senator Hoey's query, continuity has been lost in the past 18 months or almost two years now. It is vitally important for our sector, as is bringing in new blood. When those aspects have been missing for as long as they have been now, it means that there will be an impact on the school and youth groups who attend our festivals and on those young people who are also members of our groups. Therefore, we need a roadmap to bring us back to a point where we can restart. The well-being of our communities and our youth are positively affected by such involvement.

Is Mr. Donnelly offering to contribute on this aspect?

Mr. Robert Donnelly

I will refer to the fallout in this regard. Our musical societies take in many members between transition year and when those young people undertake their leaving certificates. Therefore, many new members who would normally have joined our societies in the past year and a half have lost out on the opportunity. We also hold an annual week-long residential summer school in Thurles for those aged between 16 and 18 years old. Those young people and our members have lost out on that opportunity as well. However, we still issued some bursaries and many people are still very interested in pursuing this profession. It is a good time to do so, because many Irish people are now performing on the world stage, on television, in the West End and on Broadway. The profession will be revitalised and re-energised once people see performances returning to the West End, for example, and these stars back working in London. The important thing is to get a roadmap to enable people to get back performing. In addition, given our numbers, we normally have about 40 people on stage in our productions. When those productions restart, though, at least initially, they will be smaller and fewer people will be on stage. Unfortunately, that will reduce opportunities for many people. The sooner we get back into operation the better.

Ms Walsh also wishes to contribute to this discussion.

Ms Anna Walsh

Returning to a comment from Deputy Mythen, this crisis has highlighted how urban-rural divides can fall away and become less important. Access to conversations like this one, to production methods, to presentations or to new forms of streaming and video on demand can be assimilated into how the arts and cultural sector reforms, adapts and learns from this crisis to become broader, more inclusive and more available to everybody, no matter where they live. This is perhaps one of the few good outcomes to emerge from this crisis, but it is a good one.

I thank all our guests for their contributions. I call Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan.

This is the bit where I give a plug to all the local events and theatre groups in my constituency. It is important to do so, however, because 2019 was the last summer and year in which these great events took place. I was lucky enough to attend many of the events which were part of the Fit-Up theatre festival in west Cork then. We saw Mikel Murfi’s one-man show, which was incredible and that blew me away. It was mad because we were able to go to these little villages like Ballydehob and attend one of these incredible drama productions in the community hall. The same goes for other groups. I am thinking of the Kilmeen drama group, which is again based in a small village between Clonakilty and Dunmanway. It regularly put on these unbelievably well-produced and fantastically acted and written shows. For those of us without access to theatres in cities such as Dublin or Cork, these groups provide incredible outlets. We can go ten minutes over the road and experience these incredible shows. It is important that we protect these groups, therefore to ensure such productions can be experienced in the future.

I am not sure who may be best placed to answer these questions, but how have these events been impacted? I refer to those shows produced and based in rural areas. What is the best way for us to ensure these types of shows can happen in the summer of 2022 and that we will be able to attend these events again? I ask this question because some people live for these productions. In addition, and taking the Fit-Up theatre festival as an example, a major part of that festival's funding was provided by the local authority. We are lucky that Cork County Council has a proactive arts department which funds, and in many instances part funds, these events. Must local authorities be better resourced to enable them to co-fund or provide supports in situations where the Arts Council may not be able to do so? I am not sure who may be best placed to address those questions, but all the witnesses should feel free to respond if they can.

I call Mr. McGowan, as he had his hand up first.

Mr. Brendan McGowan

Deputy O’Sullivan asked how we have been impacted. We have been severely impacted. All the festivals were ready to go in March 2020. Some had already occurred, some had started and then had to stop midstream and even more never got a chance to run at all. The opportunity for our local communities and groups to show their wares and continue with the production circuit was lost. Many of those festivals had massive funding and had already spent it. It has not been recovered. Support will be needed to get those groups and events back up and running.

Without doubt, outside the Gaelic Athletics Association, GAA, the amateur drama community is the largest amateur community on this island. It reaches into every community, every parish, every town and every city. The contribution which amateur drama makes to the well-being of not only those people involved in the groups and the festivals but to communities in general is immeasurable. The groups themselves derive excellent benefits from attending festivals and experiencing audiences and receiving mentoring from our professional adjudicators. All that has been lost and it will take a while to build it back up again.

Does Ms Kennelly wish to come in now?

Ms Maureen Kennelly

Mr. McGowan mentioned the contribution of the sector being "immeasurable". That has been the case. However, we now have new measures of social impact which will show us the absolute value of the arts. It has now been proven that the arts are second to none in helping to develop empathy and many other good qualities. Research has shown that 61% of people said the arts were critical for their well-being, and that speaks to the point made by Deputy O’Sullivan concerning these productions and activities making people feel good and explains why people need them.

We absolutely understand the priority of keeping those small rural organisations and events going. We recently presented Brightening Air, which was a season of events throughout the country. One of those events involved sending a boat with a light show down the Shannon and it was experienced by communities across nine counties. Turning to Cork, not that everything is about Cork, obviously, a fantastic scheme that was part of Cork Midsummer Festival gave arts gifts to more than 300 people. For example, the opera singer Majella Cullagh might have greeted people on their doorstep with a beautiful aria, or it could have been a performance from John Spillane or many other artists. Therefore, this question of access and inclusion is evident in events which get into the heart of communities. This aspect also speaks to the point made by Ms Walsh regarding one of the possible benefits of the last 16 months. It has been possible for people in Waterford, for example, to access the National Symphony Orchestra, NSO, on a Sunday morning. This last year, therefore, has shown us how much wider our reach and inclusivity can be. We can, of course, do so much more with continued investment.

I thank Ms Kennelly. I call Mr. Donnelly, who is also offering to contribute.

Mr. Robert Donnelly

To respond to Deputy O’Sullivan, all the musical societies and drama groups are vital to their local areas. Last March was the height of our season because the period between January and May is when most of our shows are on. As president of the organisation, I generally get invited to every show around the country. I had attended five shows, with another four to follow. All those shows which were in the middle of their runs last March lost out financially to a great degree because sets had been built, costumes hired, orchestras contracted and venues booked. We surveyed those societies which lost their shows last year.

Some have lost between €2,000 to €20,000 or €30,000. In the past year and half, they have been unable to fundraise to try to repay the debts. Plus, we rely on many local businesses to support our societies. How could you knock on the door of a local business after the year and a half people have had? It is going to be tough for groups to get support and get back up and running. The real emphasis of community theatre is going to come to the fore because people are going to have to pull together again to get our societies back up and running.

Mr. Ollie Kenny

To reiterate what we said in our opening statement, the impact has been devastating, not just on the practitioners, and there are many, but on the audiences that attend productions. Looking at the figures, up to 1 million people attend amateur drama productions and sightly more than 1 million attend musical theatre productions every year. Imagine the void left for people, not just in rural settings but North and South and in towns. These people have no events to go to. We talk about the pub being the only outlet to go to in Ireland. The people who go to amateur dramatic productions in the community halls and small villages are not a bit interested in going to the pub. They go to these events because they are a social outlet for them. The impact has been massive. We need to get back and to bring those people together again.

Ms Anna Walsh

There may also be an opportunity for arts centres to share and extend their resources and expertise to all of the amateur groups that would like to rehearse and perform in those spaces. The health and safety requirements for future productions and performance are also going to be quite onerous and are going to remain onerous for some time to come. There is a network of arts centres across the country that may well be a valuable resource and should be made widely available to all of the amateur groups that might want to work in those spaces.

The witnesses touched on a new aspect when they talked about the artists themselves, the audiences, and the buildings and physical spaces in which performances happen and how they have been affected. Perhaps we can discuss that further.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I propose, with the agreement of the committee, that we write to the Minister to express the view that the EWSS remain in place until box office capacity and income are restored to reasonable levels. I know theatres and arts centres throughout the State are making projections both with the EWSS and without it. The projections without it are grim and unsustainable. I would like the committee, with the agreement of members, to write to the Minister to express that view.

I wish to ask about capital investment. I know Professor Rafter and Ms Kennelly have talked about the spatial and regional policy that is going to be rolled out. Ms Walsh has also talked about spaces. In terms of workspaces and artist spaces, what is the demand across the State? What is the need that exists? Do the witnesses have any idea what kind of capital investment would be required to meet that need of artists for workspaces?

When the Minister appeared before the committee on 20 April, I asked her what the plan was for Creative Ireland post-2022. She admitted the current programme was due to end and stated that Department officials had been preparing plans for Cabinet. Has the Arts Council advised the Minister about the future plans for Creative Ireland?

Professor Kevin Rafter

I will speak to the issue of workspaces, following which Ms Kennelly will provide further detail. The issue of workspaces is a topic that has been discussed at recent meetings of our board. It is a significant and serious issue in terms of the absence of workspaces, particularly in urban centres and in big towns throughout the country. We have put some proposals to the Department for an ambitious pilot plan to have art workspaces in a number of regional centres. As the Senator is aware, the Arts Council has a current budget; it does not have a capital budget. We hope that, in partnership with the Department and working closely with local authorities, we will be able to see this proposal realised over the next few months. We are also engaged with the local authorities in the Dublin region in relation to a number of spaces. We are undertaking research to get to the hard statistics on the challenges and difficulties artists face in terms of workspaces. Perhaps Ms Kennelly will say more about the proposal we submitted to the Department.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

I just want to add that a number of significant studio groups went out of business after the previous crash. Therefore, there is a real need to develop strategic studio spaces, similar to the likes of the Fire Station Artists' Studios, which many members will be familiar with. That is the nature of the proposal that is with the Department. It would obviously not just be a Dublin thing. Four or five key centres have been identified. We want to work in partnership with the people on the ground. There is a need. Research has been done by Dublin City Council and by the Arts Council in terms of that need. There is a clear identified need there. Covid has thrown that into relief even more starkly.

On Creative Ireland, we work very closely with Creative Ireland. We deliver the creative schools programme. We are also working closely with Creative Ireland in terms of a new arrangement around health and arts and well-being. As we mentioned earlier, it is a very important area of work for us in the coming years. What Creative Ireland has done is to show the relevance of the arts across all areas of society. We look forward very much to that investment being continued. That is work we can continue. The Arts Council will be very well equipped to do so when the programme reaches a conclusion.

Mr. Brendan McGowan

The Senator mentioned capital investment. There is great need for such investment in the amateur theatre world. I realise there is no capital allocation for the Arts Council. We need to get that from elsewhere. Some of our festivals take place in professional theatres, which is good, but many of our festivals take place in community centres and parish halls. As I said, our festivals have lost a substantial amount of money in the past while. We need capital investment to upgrade our technical facilities and all the elements that go into making a theatre for the duration of the festival. It is a vital requirement.

Ms Anna Walsh

On arts centres, we believe that they are places of work for artists. It has not always been their primary role but it should be their primary role. It is an increasingly important one as we emerge from this crisis. That work can involve everything from doing their own work, making their own work, producing or directing the work of youth groups, local drama groups or work with groups of interest in the community. It is a mix. That mix is dependent on the locality and the communities in the area of the particular arts centre.

I thank the witnesses for their work and their presentations today. I direct my comments to Ms Walsh in respect of her opening statement. I note she spent much of her opening statement talking about the future. I know much of the discussion today has been about the present and the Covid pandemic, but I wish to focus on the fact Ms Walsh touched on the future and what is required for the sector in terms of the public spaces and the arts centres themselves. Without those public spaces, we do not have places for our artists and performers either to go on stage or to use for gallery purposes.

In her opening statement, Ms Walsh called for more long-term and strategic planning in terms of funding for arts spaces. I ask her about her current experience. She touched on how funding differs between local authorities. I ask her to outline her current experience and the model that she is calling for.

Many arts centres are companies in their own right. I must mention the Solstice Arts Centre in my home town of Navan, which I opened as mayor in 2006, and is one of the finest in the country. I pay tribute to Belinda Quirke, the director of the centre. The centre is lucky to have seen many home-grown artists such as Brian Byrne. His work resulted in the Irish film premiere of "Albert Nobbs" being performed in Navan. The RTÉ Concert Orchestra has also often performed at the centre.

I know it was a battle in the early days to make sure we got the proper funding strands from budgetary operations.

Now that it has been established, it is growing year on year. What are our guests' experiences in that respect nationwide? I would not necessary pull the model apart but what is the model they are potentially considering?

Ms Anna Walsh

The model, as the Senator said, does not necessarily have to be torn apart but it is characterised by being different for every arts centre in every part of the country. The ratios of funding from the local authority, the Arts Council or from box office income differ for each arts centre. It could be argued that is a good thing in that it is a reflection of the arts centre's role and position in its community but it is not a good thing when it comes to long-term financial planning and planning for the programme, the work with artists and the work within that community. What we would call for is not an amendment to the Arts Act of 2003 but an interpretation of it that makes local authority funding for arts centre mandatory rather than discretionary as it is currently, and to combine that with service level agreements that run for three to five years with longer term multi-annual funding agreements from their other main funder, the Arts Council. That combination, we believe, would provide a much more long-term considered and strategic platform for all the work arts centres do both with the artists in their communities and with those communities that want to participate and engage in whatever art form or practice they want to do ranging from musical societies to amateur performances to professional productions that go on to be performed at the festivals and events that Mr. McGowan spoke about.

I have a brief follow-up question. Local authorities nationwide have different budgets depending on their resources and income and some are more supportive than others depending on councillors or county managers who have a passion for the arts. If it was a case that such funding was to be mandatory not every local authority could reach the operational budgetary levels Ms Walsh would be calling for; in such instances is she saying the funding responsibility should be taken away from the local authorities and moved to national level?

Regarding strategic planning, I cited my arts centre which has launched a six-year strategic plan called A New Light 2020-2026. Are such strategic plans in operation across the country with the centres with which Ms Walsh deals?

Ms Anna Walsh

In some cases, yes, but more typically not. That is because the funding decisions tend to be taken on an annual basis at the beginning of the year and that has led to levels of uncertainty. Everybody would welcome more considered and longer-term planning cycles and financial cycles. I appreciate the resources available to local authorities are not necessarily equivalent at this stage but there would need to be an equaliser mechanism, which would be beyond my understanding of how local authorities might work. There would need to be an equaliser factor built in to how those funding decisions could be arrived at.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

I assert the primacy of the longer funding cycle for arts centres. It is something we are actively exploring right now. In terms of the local authority and its commitment, Ms Walsh was right in what she said. We had a recent good example of that with the Belltable in Limerick to which Limerick City Council has pledged support over a five-year period, which is terrific. That is how we will ensure the next generation of artists are funded when arts centres and other organisations have that certainty of funding.

Also, the fact that local authorities retained their commitment to the arts last year and this year has been critical to the ongoing success of the arts and to the fact that not a single arts centre closed its doors. No centre collapsed. That is important. Ongoing local authority support was very much part of the arts and culture recovery task force, which the Department set up. We very much hope that will continue. That underlines the partnership between ourselves in the Arts Council and local authorities and how they can work to the best ends.

Does Mr. McGowan wish to come in on this issue?

Mr. Brendan McGowan

Yes, briefly. Senator Cassells mentioned the funding we got last week and the future. In the past the words "amateur" and "competition" have been a major barrier to our sector receiving funding. Hopefully, the awards from the Arts Council last year given to us by the then Minister, Deputy Madigan, and put under the remit of the Arts Council by the current Minister, Deputy Martin, is the beginning of those two words never being used again as a barrier to our funding. If we consider the GAA, at its core are the words "amateur" and "competition". I am delighted that hopefully we have crossed that barrier and can look to the future without having to be fearful of those two words.

I thank Mr. McGowan for that response and Senator Cassells for his contribution. It now falls to myself to contribute. I thank all our guests for their presentations. I have my own hobby horse, as does everybody involved in the Arts, which is arts in education and it could apply to both the amateur sector and the professionals.

The Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, made a big announcement of 400 arts in education residencies for schools across the country at the beginning of June. I am passionate about the arts in education charter; it is a significant avenue that has not been fully explored yet. There is much work to do in providing artists with that opportunity and, more important, providing our young people with the opportunity to engage in the arts in a school setting where we are growing our audiences. That is the direction in which we need to be thinking ahead. I am digressing a little from the topic under discussion. I will first bring in our guests from the Arts Council. That was a second tranche of arts in education residencies for schools, following the first such scheme having been a success. Has the Arts Council had any feedback on this in terms of providing a glimmer of hope for artists in the sense of schools engaging in this and hopefully the take-up of this from schools will be good? It is one avenue artists can look forward to and hopefully it will provide them with an opportunity to go into our schools. Have our guests from the Arts Council any thoughts on that and how we can progress it? That feeds into what the future of the Creative Ireland programme will be after 2022. I also want to get the views of our other guests on that.

As a former staff member of the Garage Theatre in Monaghan I am mindful of all these beautiful arts buildings having been empty for almost the past two years. The arts come alive with people. I dread to think of those beautiful buildings across the country lying empty not having had performances or audiences. The same applies to our community centres or halls in rural parts of the country, the first of which comes to mind is Mullagh in County Cavan. It is a community centre that is used for myriad events. The drama group that use it is one aspect of the life of that community centre. It is not a state-of-the-art theatre but it has a specific purpose. I have attended countless performances at that centre and it would have been packed to the rafters in a previous life. It is a specific attribute to a community in terms of the arts and what that brings, which is in a different light from what the Garage Theatre would bring. Those are my rambling thoughts. Will Ms Kennelly and Professor Rafter give their reflections on that announcement for arts in education residencies for artists and then I will get a response from the amateur sector?

Professor Kevin Rafter

I will saw a few words before Ms Kennelly deals with the specifics. Young people and children are central to our strategy and policies. We have the Laureate na nÓg programme and we bring a young person onto the adjudicating panel for the Laureate na nÓg. The creative schools programme has expanded year on year. We run that and we want it to continue to be funded beyond 2022. We support The Ark and while it is based in Dublin it has a national reach. In terms of young people and children, they have engaged with the arts during the past 16 to 17 months in this digital space and it has extremely important to their health and well-being. We will continue to support that.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

I am glad this is the Chairman's hobby horse because it is ours too. None of us would be here if we did not think of young people and children from zero upwards. Senator Cassells mentioned Brían O'Bryne. I am sure if he had not encountered teen theatre he would not be that world-leading actor we have today.

What we must do is make sure that we populate communities, villages, towns and cities with dozens, hundreds, tonnes of artists who are all equipped with the resourcing to produce the highest quality of art.

The Ark was part of our Brightening Air season of events. It streamed a fantastic show, mainly geared towards children in sixth class. Some 16,000 children saw the show, all on the one day, sitting in the their classrooms with their teachers. A huge part of what we are doing for children and young people is considering how we can equip primary schoolteachers and secondary schoolteachers in the arts. That is where it must start. With the extra investment this year, we have been thrilled to be able to invest more in the likes of The Ark, Helium Arts, Baboró in Galway, and many dozens of organisations that provide the highest quality artistic experience for children and young people because that is where we are going to see the results in years to come.

I thank Ms Kennelly. Does Mr. Kenny wish to respond?

Mr. Ollie Kenny

In the Drama League Of Ireland's summer schools we attract quite a number of teachers from both national and secondary schools. Our tutors are top people from the top level of directors and performers in the country in the professional sector. The teachers bring back a lot to the schools. We have a week-long residential summer school and that is disseminated into the classrooms in national and secondary schools. We know that because we get positive feedback about it. As well as the outreach programme I mentioned earlier, we did an outreach programme last year because we could not have a summer school. It was in Ballina, Corofin, Christchurch, Navan and in little towns and villages all over the country. The courses were well attended by local communities and they attracted a large number of young people. We are glad to be able to do that. We employ top professionals to do the work for us.

I thank Mr. Kenny. As somebody who in a former life worked in arts education for Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board, CMETB, and was involved in courses for teachers through the education centres I know that those courses were always the first to fill up. Teachers love the opportunity to get involved. A lot is expected of teachers both in primary and secondary schools. They are expected to be masters of everything. It is a nice opportunity for them to engage with professionals in their field. I call Senator Carrigy.

I welcome the witnesses. I apologise as I got called out of Leinster House so I was unable to be on the call until I returned. I compliment the organisations on the work they have done, not just in the past 12 months but over the years, and the entertainment they provide for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country.

I am a frequent visitor to the Backstage Theatre in Longford, which is an excellent facility, not just for Longford but for the entire midlands. The theatre is excellently run by Mona Considine. I am a lover of musicals in particular and I am in St. Mel's Musical Society. The standard of the shows that are put on by the Backstage Theatre, the musical society or the Evolution Stage School is top class. It rivals or is even better than the West End or Broadway. I have seen shows in both of those places and I have seen shows at home and I have enjoyed the ones I saw at home in my local area far more.

A significant increase in funding was provided to the Arts Council this year. Have the witnesses made any overtures to the Minister regarding the budget for 2022 to maintain that level of the funding?

I agree with the comments on getting arts into schools. We run summer camps and after-school programmes locally. Arts form part of the summer camp to give children an opportunity to get involved at a younger age.

There are significant challenges ahead for all organisations within the arts sector. I have a couple of questions. I apologise if they have been answered. Could the witnesses narrow down the specific areas and services they provide individually? Going forward, what is the number one challenge? If the witnesses had the ear of departmental officials and the Minister today, individually and collectively, what is their one ask that must be supported by the Government and all parties to ensure that we have a thriving arts sector in the future?

Mr. Ollie Kenny

Speaking from the amateur theatre point of view, the challenges ahead are quite significant. The Drama League of Ireland is a resource organisation, which has charitable status. Most charitable organisations have an advice centre and helplines and they provide support. We provide advice on practice and policy for the sector. The biggest challenge facing us is that we will need backing and support for some of the work that we do. Our board comes up with ideas on how to disseminate the development programme. Our mission is development and training of the sector but we need administrative support and a back-up facility in the form of a properly staffed office. We have one administrator who works 22 hours a week and we need something a lot more sustainable in the future to look at the deployment and creation of professional workshops and getting professional practitioners to engage with them. We need to find venues for the workshops and the summer school and someone to look after the practicalities of all of the administration involved in that. That is the big challenge for us going forward.

Mr. Robert Donnelly

In terms of what we need, like all the organisations, we need everything. We need our members to get back on stage and we need audiences in the hall. The biggest ask we have today is to give us a roadmap or plan for going forward and let us work with the Government and all the Departments to try to get venues safely open, get members performing safely and put on shows to the required standard for the same audience numbers we have in the past. Some of our shows could be used as test events. I watched Christy Moore in the Gleneagle Hotel last weekend and it was fantastic. The venue holds 2,000 people and there were 200 people. That is still only 10% of the INEC capacity, but it was great to see it back. We must try to do the same in small community halls and see how things will work there. We know the road ahead is long, but hopefully by the last quarter or at the end of this year we will be in a lot better situation.

Ms Anna Walsh

Learning from the crisis we have been through and which we are perhaps still going through, interrogating and examining the policies and the financial structures that arts centres and venues have inherited would be a good thing at this point in time. There is no point in going back to a situation where short-term funding cycles or discordant or unconnected thinking or approaches are built back into the structures again. Much more consideration of how the sector should be rebuilt and how it could be built better for the benefit of everybody - artists and their communities - would be a useful outcome of this crisis.

Mr. Brendan McGowan

The ADCI carried out a survey of members in 2018 which highlighted strengths and weaknesses. We have spoken about many of our strengths. On weaknesses, most of our members came back with the problems regarding a lack of artistic and Government recognition and a lack of funding. I hope we are on the road to seeing this being resolved, and that is required.

This generation has been handed a wonderful asset that was built up over previous generations. It is our duty to hand this to the next generation in as good a shape as it is in now, if not better. We need to involve our youth and schools and promote this on the ground. The amateur drama movement has been a breeding ground and the bedrock of professional theatre for years. We have hundreds of examples, one of which is the Druid Theatre Company. Garry Hynes and Marie Mullen would say that they started their careers in drama festivals. There are hundreds more examples.

Professor Kevin Rafter

On funding, we have gone from €75 million two years ago to a historic €130 million this year. I would not have wanted the increase to come in the circumstances in which it did with the Covid-19 crisis, but the commitment to doubling the public funding for the arts was made before the crisis. I see this as a level from which we can push on. The arts has responded to the crisis and delivered for the Irish public over the past 16 months. Artists and their sector will contribute to the national recovery as well. This is a level of funding that allows us to make a significant impact. If we take the money to 2022 and beyond, moving beyond the crisis, we will be able to do much of what we have discussed today in our current strategy.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

Absolutely. Professor Rafter indicated earlier that we had a 90% increase in applications last year and we could fund just 51% of them. That illustrates for all of us the massive potential in the sector. The concern is to get artists back to work and audiences back to venues, festivals, etc., safely. Those are the concerns for the next six months. It will then be about ensuring that we can populate the map of Ireland with brilliant artistic activity and ensure we have this very healthy generation of artists to come.

We are very aware that many people have felt under-represented or perhaps marginalised from the arts in the past. Our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy is central to absolutely everything we do but it also requires investment.

I have a member who wants to ask a sneaky final question. I ask Senator Byrne to be as brief as possible as we have run out of time.

Mr. McGowan spoke about amateur theatre being the bedrock of professional theatre. I know even from speaking with some colleagues in Leinster House that a number of us have been involved in amateur theatre and musical productions over the years. Whether we could stage a full production with some Members, I do not know, but it could be a challenge in the rebuilding process. We must commit to supporting the Arts Council and looking at ways of rebuilding our communities. It is very important.

My first question was touched on earlier. In many ways, the people who run dance and drama classes are professionals, along with the often freelance theatre directors who operate in our local communities. They are the backbone of both the amateur and professional theatre sector so what extra support or clarity do they require?

A second question is perhaps more positive and leaves aside the funding issue. Could we speak about how theatre and the arts will help to rebuild our communities? I often like this period to having wrapped cotton wool around ourselves and there shall be scars when we pull it back. Everybody in this community has a very important role to play in rebuilding the places in which we live.

Ms Maureen Kennelly

I absolutely agree with the Senator about the place that the arts will have in national recovery. Over the past 16 months we have seen that the arts managed to maintain that sense of social solidarity, even as we were all told to keep away from each other and stay at home. The arts absolutely connected us, which is incredibly powerful. There is absolutely no doubt the arts will play a part in the recovery. Artists are very much up for that so if we can continue to invest in them, they will absolutely be primed and ready to play their part.

Mr. Ollie Kenny

If we get the go-ahead to rehearse and get our shows back on stage and into venues all over the country, it will certainly help to get the mental health of people sorted out. There is no doubt that getting people to express their creativity will help but we need a roadmap to get this done as soon as possible.

Ms Anna Walsh

Arts centres and venues all over the country operate to the highest of health and safety standards to be safe places where their communities meet. Whether people attend performances or are performing, it is about the people in the communities rather than the buildings. The buildings need investment and must be maintained but the much more important aspect is the people who meet there and how those people engage with, participate in and enjoy the productions and work of artists both within their communities and the visitors who tour to that arts venue or centre.

Mr. Robert Donnelly

As Senator Byrne said, this is all about rebuilding our communities and societies. The process will snowball. People want art and they appreciate the venues to go to and the shows to see. They want dramas and musicals. Once the ball starts rolling, society will come back. This promotes positivity and positive mental health. It is vital to the country to get this back up and running soon.

That concludes our engagement, although we could talk for hours. This meeting has been really useful and helpful for the committee's work so I very much appreciate the time and effort of the witnesses in making presentation and answering members' questions.

Sitting suspended at 1.58 p.m. and resumed at 2.05 p.m.