Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star
GOD be with the days when you could stroll in to a theatre or parish hall and sit down and watch a good play. Sometimes it was a professional touring company and mostly the local amateur group, but either way live performance was alive and well; just one facet of the arts that was regularly enjoyed all over Ireland. At the present time we’re being made aware of the grave danger our arts industry is in. It’s looking very grim if something isn’t done to tackle the crisis.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a forlorn looking Mary Coughlan on national television and she was almost in tears talking about how Covid 19 has decimated the live music scene. With uncertainty prevailing with regards to getting back to performing in front of audiences, it’s a tough time for our actors, musicians and artists and many venues are feeling the pinch. Some may not survive as the shoestring they were already operating on is on its last thread.
‘The next Liam Neeson, Saoirse Ronan or Hozier will need a stage, an audience and an outlet to bring their wonderful talents to future generations.’
Having met a number of actors over the years, I’m familiar with the unique fabric of their profession and to say it’s a pretty precarious vocation to follow would seem an understatement from what I’ve learned. Whatever about the ones who hit the big time, the elite so to speak, many, many jobbing actors may go long periods without any paying work and only for their love of the stage and screen, the option to pack it in and get a “proper job” would be very enticing. I have no doubt this goes for the myriad of other genres within the arts; dancers, musicians, singers, circus skills people, visual artists, writers, poets and all the other strands that exist. Of course there is also a whole cohort of people who don’t perform, but are employed; lighting, sound, set designers, stage managers, venue managers, front of house people, publishers, administrators and so on, all working in the ‘arts’.
Many may consider that the arts is not real work and maybe it would serve us well to ponder for a moment just how important the arts are to the very soul of Irish life. We hear an outcry from the hospitality sector or the childcare sector currently for more Government initiatives and support to save those clearly vital sectors of our economy. No one disputes this and we all know that help is badly needed. The arts community might not be shouting as loudly or maybe they just aren’t being heard and whilst the State can’t save everyone and every individual case, there are surely schemes, grants and basically ways and means that need to be explored to ensure we don’t suffer irreparable loss to the cultural heartbeat of the nation, one so richly steeped in artistic heritage.
Britain, I believe has unrolled measures aimed at tackling the issues there and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already hinted at the country’s need for a more “Rooseveltian’ approach to the economy”. Apparently he was referring to the famed US leader Franklin D. Roosevelt who as President initiated the Federal Art Project and the Federal Writers Project between 1935 and 1943. It was established to provide employment for thousands of starving artists across America. They painted public murals to adorn the corridors of public buildings, created state guides, and also undertook the recording of the stories of African-Americans who survived slavery. These measures in fact helped develop America’s first state-funded public arts centres enabling art to be further enjoyed on a national scale by the masses. Indeed many renowned artists came from the Project and forged successful careers.
I’m sure the Arts Coucil here will be pleading their case with the relevant Government offices to see what is available and what may or may not work in this country. For those of us who maybe haven’t grasped the importance of the whole sector, it’s unimaginable to think that we don’t stand to lose big time if our theatres and venues are no longer viable. Even on a practical level, although all of us may not feel we have the financial capability to do so, hopefully we can at least consider the odd purchase of downloads, CDs or merchandise on the music front and possibly a donation to local theatre groups or children’s workshops. I’m talking about seeking out those that aren’t world famous, maybe a local young person that’s just starting out or a group that won’t survive without our help. If we all do something small it certainly helps.
No doubt, artists will come up with their own fundraising ideas and it would be great if we could all, again where possible, support them. Take the National Campaign for the Arts for example. It’s been in operation in Ireland since 2009. A voluntary organisation, they rely on supporters’ donations and participation in fundraising events and campaigns to cover costs. They accept donations according to the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 and if ever there was a time they would be glad of your assistance, it would be now. Check out their website on www.ncfa.ie
We are very much a country that loves our music, our theatre, our street performers, our visual artists, our writers, and all of us would be so much the poorer were we to lose such an integral part of our everyday lives. Much of the time we don’t even realise how much free art and entertainment we are exposed to every day and how much it enriches our lives without us even realising it.
The next Liam Neeson, Saoirse Ronan or Hozier will need a stage, an audience and an outlet to bring their wonderful talents to future generations. You may not be able to do as much as you would want to but please consider doing what you feel led to and together, with the continued backing of the powers that be, the outlook can be a lot healthier.
I like this quote from Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian millionaire businessman, who said, “Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics.” We can’t allow such a vital part of us to wilt and die.