Association of Irish Composers re Covid-19 Response

Response and recommendations from the Association of Irish Composers after the announcement by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan’s of a Covid-19 Arts stimulus package on 3 April 2020.

The Association of Irish Composers is the representative body for composers on the island of Ireland. We advocate for the interests of all Irish or Irish-based composers and of the performers, ensembles and support structures they rely on. After Minister Josepha Madigan’s announcements on April 3rd, we fear for the future of our community. The response from our Government’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is dwarfed by similar initiatives in other European countries. 

The Arts Council’s €1 million Crisis Response award for artists is an eighth (per capita) of Scottish funding streams announced for artists and organisations. Only a fraction of artists (334 across all artforms) will benefit, and each will receive €3000. As noted in the award’s guidelines, successful applicants will become ineligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, putting some awardees in even more financial danger, given that twelve weeks of PUP equates to €4200. 

The criteria for the award are poorly thought out, and communication from the Arts Council has lacked clarity. Artists with other applications currently in progress are ineligible. Most of these applications will be unsuccessful, and their exclusion from this award is senseless and damaging. Those affected are mainly freelance artists with little to fall back on. No information has been given about whether there will be more emergency awards, or of the impact of this award on eligibility for subsequent Arts Council funding. Artists are expected to make decisions about their futures based on rules which have not been published. In our view, this is unacceptable.

We are disappointed by Culture Ireland’s partnership with Facebook Ireland, a private company known for repeated controversy over its ethics. The minimal financial contribution from Facebook (match funding for a €100,000 scheme from a company facing a potential fine of $9 billion for tax avoidance in Ireland) compounds this. 'Sponsored by Facebook is a terrible look for any artist in 2020. Moreover, the sums on offer to individuals in this award are too small to support performances by more than three people, making it untenable for all contemporary music ensembles as well as for composers who do not perform.

The amount committed through these initiatives is not only far too small, it is also misdirected. In the UK, artist awards are being offered specifically to cover lost earnings and pay living expenses, as well as to produce work. In Ireland, both relevant funds are devoted to output which must be produced very quickly and then streamed online. This is neither what most artists want to do right now, nor a recipe for producing excellent results. It creates a deep bias against artists who are not already producing work suitable for streaming, which is inappropriate in the context of a crisis. Requiring artists to produce output in a format chosen by committee rather by individual artists themselves shows a lack of faith in and understanding of the artistic community which Ireland uses to sell itself as a land of culture. 

In summary, the initiatives aim to provide one-off entertainment (a quick fix to cheer the public in these horrendous times) rather than to sustain the practices and livelihoods of practitioners and the ecosystems they work in. The bureaucratic, neoliberal obsession with output, numerical reach and with uncritically riding the zeitgeist of online streaming takes a recurring pattern of treating art and artists as measurable commodities to a ruinous extreme, leading to an environment where great art cannot work.

It has been suggested by others that the arts sector should be able to make do with the government’s schemes for all workers, but this assessment fails to take account of the fact that the arts were already in a funding crisis, and that the entire sector has ground to a halt - with over 12,000 events cancelled so far. Without significant intervention, the aftermath of Covid-19 will be mass, long term unemployment in the sector.

Covid-19 has come at a time when many AIC members already felt an existential worry through the combined pressures of the current housing crisis, a lack of relevant infrastructure like venue and rehearsal space, and limited funding for individuals and organisations. Alongside its devastating human cost, the unfolding crisis will wreak havoc on all artists and all arts workers, as it will for every industry.

We recommend that:

  1. The Arts Council commits to a greater level of communication about its activities, following the lead of Arts Council England publishing significantly more information about its approach to dealing with the Covid-19 

  2. The Arts Council release information about the scope of further unannounced Covid-19 response awards (if any), so that artists and organisations are not forced to plan without a roadmap.

  3. The Arts Council widens the field of eligibility for its emergency award(s), differentiating between those who have received recent project funding and those have received large individual awards, and including postgraduate students who are professionally practicing artists

  4. The Arts Council immediately alters its guidelines to allow unsuccessful applicants to the Bursary and Markievicz Awards to apply for the Crisis Response Award, as well as those with applications still in progress by the deadline.

  5. The Arts Council immediately clarifies whether successful applicants to the Crisis Response Award will be eligible for subsequent awards in 2020, such as the Next Generation Award. We recommend that they should be eligible.

  6. The Arts Council and Culture Ireland create outlets to accommodate artists who cannot produce work designed to be presented online, or whose creative priorities lie in other types of work.

  7. The Arts Council and Culture Ireland allow the purchase of software and recording/video equipment with awarded money. 

  8. The Government, Arts Council and Culture Ireland consider the need for funding streams appropriate for covering lost income (particularly commission fees) and/or development of artistic practice.

  9. The Government, Arts Council and Culture Ireland consider the need for more flexible funding streams to assist small organisations and those who work in the arts but are not considered artists by the Arts Council.

  10. The Government recognises that the arts cannot flourish without significantly greater investment and recognises the need for medium and long-term shifts in funding and policy, as well as to the immediate response to the Covid-19 crisis.

  11. The Government, Arts Council and Culture Ireland engage in meaningful consultation with artists about alterations to their Covid-19 response, to the maximum extent possible without delaying implementation.

As the National Campaign for the Arts has said, “there will be no arts and culture sector left without a significant vision for how the sector will be supported through these difficult times.” Although we recognise that most artists, like many others, will be kept afloat in the short term by the Pandemic Unemployment Payment Scheme, we believe that many of the important voices in contemporary Irish music will be permanently silenced if the response to this crisis is not rethought. 

The Association of Irish Composers

For queries:

[email protected]