Minister Catherine Martin has thanked “those brave people five years ago who spoke out” about harmful workplace behaviour in the arts, saying they “were such advocates, with their heart-rending stories, for creating a safe space for all”.
The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media was speaking on Wednesday at Irish Theatre Institute’s (ITI) launch of Safe to Create, a programme of online resources, training, counselling and legal support, to combat harmful workplace behaviour in the arts.
Replying to a question about those who spoke out about their experiences at The Gate Theatre, Minister Martin said “I think those very brave victims” were critical in “bringing us on this journey to where we are today, in protecting our arts workers, not only with these supports, but it’s important for prevention. We want to eradicate” harmful behaviour. The issue “is not sector specific. The arts are leading the way today.”
Safe to Create, for Irish artists and arts workers, is co-ordinated by ITI, in partnership with the Arts Council, Screen Ireland and Minding Creative Minds, and funded by the Department of Arts to the tune of €400,000 this year, with a further €500,000 in Budget 2023. The programme emerged from ITI’s Speak Up: Dignity in the Workplace initiative in 2018, after revelations of abuses of power in the arts sector. The Speak Up: A Call for Change report followed in October 2021, finding 70% of artists and arts workers had experienced harmful workplace behaviour, said ITI director Niamh O’Donnell, adding “35% did not know about supports or their rights”. While sexual harassment was mostly by men, 42% of perpetrators of bullying, humiliation and intimidation were women. The report related multiple first-hand experiences, highlighting a culture of harmful workplace behaviour across the arts, and a lack of supports to tackle it.
Safe to Create acts on many recommendations of the report. O’Donnell said it was “the start of a huge body of work to be rolled out over three years. It will make a difference.” It includes practical information, guidance, tool kits and templates for artists and organisations on Dignity at Work rights and responsibilities, at safetocreate.ie. Minding Creative Minds’ wellbeing and support programme is expanded to include trauma and abuse counselling, a free 24/7 phone line, and confidential counselling and legal advice. There’s also training on tackling bullying and harassment, unconscious bias, bystander training, intimacy coordination; a code of behaviour; workshops, research; and a confidential system to report bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
Minding Creative Minds founder Dave Reid said since 2020 there have been 1,200 contacts with its service, which has provided 1,600 hours of direct support, 65% of it counselling but also legal, financial and mentoring advice.
Arts Council director Maureen Kennelly said it was “a red letter day” for transforming working conditions in the arts. Other sectors have better HR structures to tackle abusive workplace behaviour, and the cultural sector is particularly vulnerable to harassment and bullying because it is small, and because the work is often precarious and freelance. “This feels urgent right now.” The Arts Council sees Safe to Create as part of a wider drive “dignifying the arts”, alongside its Pay the Artist policy and the pilot Basic Income scheme.
The minister added “today we are saying, you have been heard. We’re on that road to change that is so badly needed. I hope this is a signal to everyone working in the arts, that you are valued, and that you will feel safe, and be safe.”
Thanking “every individual who responded to the initial Speak Up survey”, she said “Your voices and first-hand experiences set today in motion and will lead to a safer and more respectful working environment for all. Your courage has brought about positive change for the arts sector and I thank you most sincerely for that.”