On the week that Theatre Forum made headlines with their Review of Pay and Conditions in the Performing Arts, theatre and film artist Shaun Dunne writes for Culture about the realities of a life in the arts for many working practitioners. 

People don’t like to talk about money at the best of times. And artists are no different.

If anything, the precarious nature of our work from year to year can make admissions or disclosures of income feel impossible. Too private. Or too painful. 

But over the last few weeks, many of us have been trying to push ourselves away from that thinking. I’m Shaun Dunne. I’m a theatre and film artist from the inner-city. I make work about Ireland today and my projects blur the line between new writing and documentary.

Watch: Shaun Dunne discusses his work on TwoTube:

I have had some success in my career so far and I’m glad to say - I’m busy. Because my arts practice is steeped in community engagement, I believe that the work I make is important. 

I know its representative of Ireland. And therefore, I believe it’s urgent. Relevant. Necessary.

I don’t just work as an artist though. I’m a facilitator, a teacher, and a curator too. And I’m giving you that CV so that you might understand the realities of what it means to work full time in the arts generally. We wear ten hats in this industry. That’s what you have to do. 

We got up before the politicians and we did that thing that just about everybody hates doing. We talked money.

A career in the arts comes with a routine of juggling, grafting, over-working and essentially dividing yourself up into two. There’s a lot of working late, there’s a lot of free overtime, there’s a lot of borrowing, begging- and burn out is very common. Amongst my peers. Amongst my mentors. To keep it lit in this game, you keep saying yes. But there’s a tax on everything. Even if you are tax exempt. 

Listen: Anna Walsh, Director of Theatre Forum, discusses the challenges facing artists and what changes they want the Government to make, via Morning Ireland:


With the release of Theatre Forums findings on the personal circumstances of 144 artists living in Ireland today, several of us were pushed to communicate the severity of our situation before a group of public representatives in Leinster House last week. 

We got up before the politicians and we did that thing that just about everybody hates doing. We talked money. It was exposing and we felt vulnerable- but at the same time we knew it was something that needed to happen now. Theatre Forum’s findings- as well as our own lived experiences- are too damning to ignore. Many of us are living in poverty or on the precipice of leaving the arts or the country forever. In Ireland, we talk a lot about the value of the arts. And it seems often that we are a place that really cherishes our creative industry and history. But from the perspective of the artist, who’s working situation is often precarious, it’s nearly impossible to keep afloat in this country. The fact of the matter is, like many others, the artistic community are struggling to maintain rents and live comfortably. Not to mention the fact that our GDP investment in the arts pales significantly when compared to other European countries. So are we truly valued here? Or are we only useful when there’s a photo opportunity? 

There’s a lot of working late, there’s a lot of free overtime, there’s a lot of borrowing, begging- and burn out is very common. Amongst my peers. Amongst my mentors.

Over the past few weeks, members of our community have been coming together to have these conversations. We’re wondering how we can continue to cope here. We’re debating how we can continue to make art when our steps are side-lined by sleeping bags. We’re considering whether we can continue to juggle our own personal instability alongside the unbalanced priorities of our entire country. But we have questions for you too. At the end of the day, the bulk of our creative community can’t afford a career in our capital city. So who do we want living here? And how do we expect them to live?

Our action in Leinster House this week and Theatre Forum’s recent findings are just the beginnings of a conversation that is calling out for radical change and a renewed support of our cultural landscape. We need to consider what the knock on effect of a city that can’t accommodate a creative landscape is. Where does that lead and what does it mean? Without our creative lifeblood, who are we then internationally? What is this island without one of the outputs we seem to value most spiritually? And if we can’t afford to live here, in this country, does Ireland still get to claim our legacy?

Shaun Dunne is a theatre and film artist. Recent work includes short film The First was a Boy (The Ark) and Rapids which is currently touring Ireland. Shaun has presented work at the Abbey theatre and works closely with Project Arts Centre and The Ark.