Michael Colgan event given Arts Council funds despite warnings

Agency granted support to the World Actors Forum amid concerns it was not ‘prudent’

Former Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Former Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Arts Council agreed to support an event organised by former Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan despite warnings that such a move would not be “prudent”.

Mr Colgan and the Gate were the main organisers of the World Actors Forum (WAF) in 2013, which was billed by then tánaiste Eamon Gilmore as a “Davos for the arts”.

The two-day event brought dozens of actors, including Hollywood stars such as Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon, to Dublin for a series of seminars and talks about their trade.

The event was primarily funded and backed by the Department of Arts, with some additional funding coming from Fáilte Ireland and the Irish Film Board.

On May 28th, 2013 – 18 days before the event was to begin – Mr Colgan wrote to the Arts Council’s then chair Pat Moylan to tell her the WAF had a funding shortfall of €20,000 and to ask the council to consider contributing about €10,000 to the project.

“There is a chance that the World Actors Forum, although now inchoate, could develop into a very important event for this country – and if the Arts Council were to be involved it would not only be a huge encouragement, but would go a long way towards ensuring it becomes an annual event,” Mr Colgan told Ms Moylan.

He also mentioned that Arts Council director Orlaith McBride was a member of the forum’s organising committee. Ms McBride had previously been appointed to the working group set up by the Department of Arts to develop the idea for the event.

Ms Moylan responded that the event sounded “terrific” and that she would pass the request along.

The next day, according to correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act, the council’s arts director John O’Kane emailed Ms McBride outlining several concerns about the event and stating “it would not be prudent to offer funding”.

He noted that no budget had been provided for the event and therefore “it is impossible to know on what basis, if any, there is a need for additional public investment”.

Mr O’Kane also pointed out that it was “strange” the Gate had been planning this event for months but was only asking for funding shortly before its opening.

He said the purpose of the money was to promote Irish theatre actors and the arts in Ireland at an event which was expected to attract a large amount of public and media interest

“Further, to be short €20,000 with two weeks to go raises questions about how this project is being managed,” he said.

He added that “regardless of the merits or otherwise of the proposal/idea” there was no money in the council’s 2013 theatre budget for unplanned expenditure.

Neither Mr Colgan nor the Gate made a formal funding application to the Arts Council at any stage. However, according to the council, it later agreed to contribute €5,000 to the forum.

A spokesman for the Arts Council said the money was not a “grant” but rather “support” for the event. He said the purpose of the money was to promote Irish theatre actors and the arts in Ireland at an event which was expected to attract a large amount of public and media interest.

He said there was provision for the council to make small amounts of funding available outside the grant process for events such as the WAF.

Mr O’Kane’s concerns related to Mr Colgan’s failure to go through the official grant process rather than the management of the event, the spokesman said.

The Irish Times sought a comment from Mr Colgan on the matter but got no reply.

Harassment investigation

Separately, an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by Mr Colgan while he was director of the Gate is nearing completion.

Gaye Cunningham, an adjudication officer with the Workplace Relations Commission, was commissioned by the theatre last November to carry out an independent inquiry following allegations by seven female former employees of Mr Colgan.

On Wednesday, Ms Cunningham told The Irish Times she was currently writing up the report but “can’t confirm exactly when it will be delivered”.

Several former Gate employees told The Irish Times in November that they were told they had to work extra hours and weekends during the WAF for no extra pay.

One woman said that when staff later wrote an email asking for time-off in lieu, “Michael hit the roof. He called us in one by one. He roared and shouted at us for well over an hour.

“He said to me, how dare I write that. He said I was off the project. I was in there for an hour-and-a-half. All we did was ask a question.

“I said we just wanted some transparency. He said: ‘If you ever use the word transparency again around me, you can start looking for a new job.’”

Mr Colgan has declined to comment on the issue except for an article he wrote for the Sunday Independent in which he took “serious issue” with some of the coverage of him and said what he did shouldn’t be equated with “sexual crimes”.

He apologised to employees to whom he had caused distress and said he had failed to see the difference between friends and colleagues.