Music venues are voicing increased frustration at what they say is the slow pace of rolling out a post-Covid recovery support scheme for the sector.
The Live Venue Collective wrote to Minister for Culture Catherine Martin this week pleading for action: “We desperately need you to act upon your words.”
In December 2021, her department announced a support package of €50 million for the live performance sector but venue operators say applications for funding are taking too long to process and the qualification “goalposts keep changing”.
The collective of 28 independent Irish music venues, including Whelan’s Dublin, Spirit Store Dundalk, Róisín Dubh Galway, DeBarra’s Cork and Workman’s Club Dublin, wrote “pleading for this support to be delivered” nine weeks after a pledge of €14 million for the fourth round of Live Performance Support Scheme (LPSS). Designed to support performances from February to June 2022, it was due to open in January.
Edel Curtin, owner of Coughlan’s live venue in Cork and vice-chairwoman of Live Venue Collective, said this phase was “the one everybody is desperately waiting for, because everything is on hold till they announce it. We begged them to get the scheme up and running. The funding has to be spent by the end of June and we don’t even know the criteria yet. So it’s a complete waste.”
She said if the department had opened applications in January “there’d be activity now, there’d be employment. It takes at least six or seven weeks to plan a gig: booking artists, crews, advertising, selling tickets. I don’t think there’s time for that scheme to go ahead.”
Asked about the fourth round of the scheme, LPSS4, the department said it was “currently examining all options for the proposed scheme and the Minister expects to make an announcement shortly on this matter”.
The department also outlined how other schemes supporting live entertainment were progressing, with rolling applications, decisions and payments.
This week’s letter from the Live Music Collective says: “We are barely treading water, desperately trying to get back on our feet while battling eroded consumer confidence, cash flow pressures and desperate artists and crew [many of whom are still waiting for funding from LPSS3 (the third round of funding)]. The ticket-buying public has shattered confidence in attending events; past funding, although gratefully received by our industry, was used with diligence to sustain merely the fundamental vital signs” and was not enough to support a return to normality.
There is also concern that venues granted funding in the LPSS3 strand, to compensate for cancelled or reduced capacity December gigs, were then told they had to reapply.
“The goalposts keep changing,” said Ms Curtin. Her company was offered LPSS3 funding, then asked for more information and has heard nothing since.
Artists and crew whose gigs were cancelled or held at half-capacity understood they would be compensated through venues, and were still waiting, she said.
She thinks the department “created a scheme in a rush, and didn’t realise it doesn’t work, so they have to spend way more time on every application”.
The letter says “grass roots venues, artists, promoters and producers cannot survive”, and “undelivered promises of funding to get us through the tough months we knew we would have are now once again leaving us in limbo”.
It has given small and medium-sized venues “no ability to plan and get moving again, while larger promoters and huge events are back in business”. As the cut-off date for spending funding gets nearer, while the scheme itself has not opened, “the funding becomes less meaningful”.
Úna Molloy, chairwoman of the collective and programmer at Dublin’s Lost Lane, said: “The LPSS3 was supposed to compensate for shows cancelled in December-January, and most applicants haven’t been approved or received funding yet. Other schemes announced nine weeks ago including LPSS4 and CECGS [a capital supports scheme for ventilation and other works] have not even been launched yet. So there are lots of people who’ve had no shows since November and no support, when there are unspent funds allocated specifically to get people back on their feet.
“With a very low appetite for ticket buying and most people still nervous to go out, the funds are needed now more than ever to get independent venues and producers back on their feet.”
Ms Coughlan’s intimate venue on Douglas Street, Cork, hosts upcoming and established musicians, “rock, folk, pop, trad, jazz, blues, everything”, and “after being closed for two years, and no turnover over Christmas, we don’t have a buffer”.
“As an industry we abided by the Government guidelines, we did everything we were asked to do, we were the hardest hit. We did that with a promise from the Department of Culture and Catherine Martin that ‘we’ll be there for you, don’t worry’. They come up with this big package, everyone thinks this is great, we have something to hold onto. Then you try to apply for it and nobody comes back to you.
“Only a very small percentage were offered money under LPSS3 but when they try to access, they’re told you have to start your application again, because the department have realised there are too many holes in what they’re doing.”