Opinion: Theatre and opera director and independent producer Tom Creed assesses the grim situation facing Irish arts, unless the government introduces some meaningful measures.

I was in Cork on the morning of 12 March, looking forward to our third and final performance of Watt with Beckett legend Barry McGovern at the beautiful Everyman Theatre.

We listened to the Taoiseach speak from Washington and ban public gatherings of over 100 people. As soon as we heard that, we knew the arts sector, built around people gathering for collective experiences, would have to close down with no sense of how long it might be before we could open again.

Barry McGovern in Tom Creed's production of Samuel Beckett's Watt

Before the shops, bars and restaurants were closed, long before we were told to stay indoors, the arts played their part and closed their doors.

We cancelled our performance right away, as our social media timelines filled up the same sad announcements from friends and colleagues. Every few minutes there was another shock, the St Patrick's Festival and Thisispopbaby’s Where We Live festival being some of the early casualties, as the list of cancellations grows and grows.

A new generation of artists wonders how they will pay their rent, let alone put their mind to creating new work

It's been four weeks since then, though it seems only yesterday and also a lifetime ago. While public gatherings are restricted,and festivals, exhibitions, concerts and performances continue to be cancelled, it’s been inspiring to see how people around the world have turned to the arts and culture for comfort, escapism and inspiration.

But the arts community runs the risk of being left behind in crisis. Many arts workers work from contract to contract and because they were not employed in the days before the lockdown, they haven’t been able to access the Covid-19 Emergency Payment.

Many of our community do their main work in the summer, when Ireland explodes with festivals across the island, but as these festivals are cancelled one by one, theatre work is drying up, and the Covid-19 Emergency Payment criteria do not appear to take this into account.

On 3 April, artists, arts workers and arts organisations across the country tuned in to hear what measures the government would put in place to support the cultural sector through the crisis. We were dispirited, to say the least, to hear a mish-mash of initiatives that included lighting up public buildings on Easter Saturday as well as an Arts Council scheme that requires artists to come up with new projects at short notice and distribute them online even if they don’t have experience in working online or the technology to do so.

While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar quotes our great poets during his addresses to the nation, a new generation of artists wonders how they will pay their rent, let alone put their mind to creating new work.

Tom Creed: 'The arts community runs the risk of being left behind in crisis'

Last week, almost 400 Irish artists and arts workers gathered for an online meeting brought together by the National Campaign for the Arts, to make our voices heard. We have called on the government to put in place seven concrete measures to ensure that the arts and cultural sector survives this crisis and emerges ready to lead in rebuilding our national spirit. You can read about it here.

Arts and culture are cornerstones of our society, creativity is vital to our health and well-being. Culture is helping people through this crisis; people are looking to the arts for inspiration and consolation.

So that the sector can remain viable, investment in artists, arts workers and arts organisations in Ireland must be safeguarded and not diminished in a way that devastates the sector;so the creativity, innovation and multifaceted skills of artists, arts workers and arts organisations can be utilised as a key component in the rebuilding of our country and economy.

Tom Creed is a theatre and opera director and independent producer. He is a member of the board of GAZE LGBT Film Festival and the Steering Committee of the National Campaign for the Arts. As a director, his recent productions include Barry McGovern in Watt by Samuel Beckett on tour in Ireland and internationally, Vivaldi's Griseldafor Irish National Opera on an Irish tour, and Donnacha Dennehy’s opera The Hunger at the Abbey Theatre.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ