Anti-harassment measures for arts sector announced

Humphreys aims to facilitate industry-wide consultation on abuse of power in arts

Theatre-maker Grace Dyas called on those who were on the Gate Theatre’s board at the same time as Michael Colgan to step down. Photograph: Alan Betson

Theatre-maker Grace Dyas called on those who were on the Gate Theatre’s board at the same time as Michael Colgan to step down. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys has announced a number of measures to address sexual harassment and abuse of power in the arts and culture sector.

The move follows allegations by several women of bullying and inappropriate behaviour by the former director of the Gate Theatre, Michael Colgan.

Ms Humphreys has invited eight leaders from Irish theatre organisations to meet her and the Arts Council next week to discuss ways creating a “safe culture and environment” for people working in theatre. The leaders, who include the directors of the Abbey, Gate and Druid, recently co-signed a statement condemning sexual harassment and abuse in the theatre in Ireland.

Following consultation with the chair of the Abbey Theatre this week, the Minister also hopes to facilitate an industry-wide consultation in partnership with the Arts Council by the end of the month.

Separately, Ms Humphreys will take a number of actions in relation to the national cultural institutions and to the State agencies which report directly to her department. These include workshops on governance for board members and senior staff, with a particular focus on the role of the board, the board’s relationship with the executive and their respective legal responsibilities, with an emphasis on issues relating to bullying, abuse of power and sexual harassment in the workplace. She will also invite all other cultural organisations and arts centres around the country to avail of similar training.

‘Alarming allegations’

“In recent times, there have been a number of alarming allegations and reports of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace relating to the arts community,” Ms Humphreys said. “While all workplaces are obliged to comply with employment legislation, I have identified a number of actions that I can take as Minister in relation to the bodies reporting to my department.”

Arts Council director Orlaith McBride said the council was committed to improving the living and working conditions of artists. “What we have heard over the last number of days is that organisations need to be supported to ensure that the right conditions are in place for all artists and those working in the arts sector,” she said.

Meanwhile, the woman who made the first public allegation of inappropriate behaviour against Mr Colgan has called on those who were on the theatre’s board at the same time as him to step down.

Grace Dyas, the theatre-maker who alleged Mr Colgan verbally abused and demeaned her in a Dublin public house last year, made the demand in an open letter to the Taoiseach which she published on her blog on Wednesday.

A number of other women have also published allegations on Ms Dyas’s blog and in The Irish Times of being bullied and sexually harassed by Mr Colgan. Mr Colgan did not respond to repeated attempts by The Irish Times to contact him last week, or to a detailed list of questions. He has yet to release a public statement on the allegations.

Last week, the Gate announced it would appoint an independent HR professional to deal with all allegations of misconduct, and asked anyone affected to contact them confidentially by email.

Oireachtas committee

Meanwhile, the Oireachtas committee on arts has declined to seek evidence from the Gate Theatre over allegations of sexual harassment.

The committee met in private to discuss a proposal from its chairman, Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín, to hear from the chair of the board in response to the allegations against Mr Colgan.

It is understood several members of the committee, including Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Ó Cuív, Fine Gael Senator Maura Hopkins and Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae raised concerns about holding an Oireachtas committee while there were live allegations.

However, it agreed to hear from the Arts Council, the Department of Arts and the actors’ union Equity. The meeting is scheduled to take place at the end of the month.