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For Art's Sake

'Why have music venues been left out?' - Arts campaign criticises government over new rules on crowd sizes

The campaign said that the latest Covid-19 restrictions will come at great cost for arts organisations.

THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN for the Arts (NCFA) has criticised the lack of clarity in the government’s messaging around how cultural events can run under new restrictions.

An initial statement on the issue on Wednesday from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht indicated 50 people would still be allowed at most indoor events, with 200 allowed at outside events.

However a later government statement said that outdoor gatherings would be capped at 15 people, but that venues “such as museums, cinemas and art galleries are deemed to be controlled environments” and therefore “can continue to operate where appropriate physical distancing and all other protective measures can continue to be maintained”.

It has been further clarified now that overall attendance of 50 people indoors is allowed at museums, cinemas, theatres and art galleries so long as they are deemed to be controlled environments, with appropriate protective measures in place. Individual groupings attending these venues must be limited to six people from no more than 3 households.

All outdoor events are subject to the new limits of 15 people. The government has said these events are deemed as mass gatherings where there is a concentration of people at a specific location for a specific purpose over a set period of time and therefore provide opportunities for the virus to spread.

The government yesterday confirmed it is “possible” that music performances could place in a theatre if the venue queried it beforehand with the department. However Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has said gigs at music venues should not go ahead at present.

Today the NCFA questioned why music venues were omitted from the exceptions for cultural venues.

“What is the difference between a professionally managed, controlled, socially distanced, fully compliant event in a theatre and one in a music venue?” the campaign said in a statement today.

“Music venues are the beating heart of arts and culture in Ireland, professionally run spaces who present a vast array of artistic and cultural experiences, in safe, socially distanced, compliant environments. Their omission from this list of permissible cultural spaces is bewildering and is a devastating blow to the sector. Venues can’t open, promoters can’t programme, crews can’t work, artists can’t perform. None can earn their living.

“What are the criteria that distinguish between a safe space and an unsafe space?”

The campaign also criticised the decision to limit the number of people allowed at an outdoor event to 15.

It said The Abbey, The Ark, Druid, Galway International Arts Festival, Dublin Fringe Festival, Dublin Theatre Festival and hundreds of arts organisations and groups across Ireland have, under immense pressure and at significant cost, created and announced outdoor programmes “which will all now presumably be cancelled or will need to be re-imagined for an indoor setting”.

The NCFA this would be at great time and cost and at a hugely reduced capacity.

“Additionally, when it comes to performances for children and young people, we believe that there is a contradiction within government guidelines which allows a class group (gathering) of 30 children indoors in school while not allowing that same class to see an outdoor, socially distant show in a controlled environment.”

The campaign said it is not realistic to imagine that any arts or live events will be able to take place outdoors with a limit of 15 people and so the restriction is essentially “a ban on outdoor events”.

It called for government supports for those working in the industry to ensure it “still exists” when restrictions are lifted.

“If artists, arts workers, art organisations and live events businesses and workers are being called upon to sacrifice their income and their businesses for the sake of the greater good, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, then we are absolutely ready to do so,” the NCFA said.

“In response, government must immediately confirm the investment and support that will be made available to those in the sector who are not allowed to return to work. Government must move without delay to ensure the continuation and restoration of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the extension of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme to those in the sector who are not allowed to return to work at this time.

“The government must urgently address issues around VAT, rates, insurance and other challenges being faced by businesses in the sector in order to ensure that the skilled industry still exists when restrictions are lifted.”

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