Forty per cent of artists have seen their income decline by more than 50 per cent in the last year, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media heard on Wednesday of new research due to be published next month by the Arts Council that will show that four in 10 artists saw their income decline by more than 50 per cent in the last year, with three-quarters of artists seeing no improvement in income in 2021.
Speaking before the committee on Wednesday, Ollie Kenny, vice-president of the Drama League of Ireland, said that amateur theatre productions and musicals draw in crowds of more than 1 million people annually.
The amateur theatre sector has been very badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many local groups unable to rehearse and put on productions amid restrictions.
"The impact of the loss of these activities in this sector cannot be overestimated, and the impact on the mental health of those involved, and indeed those who look forward so much to attending these events, again, cannot be overestimated," Mr Kenny said.
Mr Kenny called for a clear roadmap from the Government outlining exactly when amateur groups can get back to rehearsing. “[We need to know] if our theatres and community venues are going to open up again with full houses, and if we can have full casts onstage for performance.”
Rob Donnelly, national president of the Association of Irish Musical Societies, said there was a fear that young people, who would traditionally begin engaging with theatre and musicals in Transition Year, have lost out.
Many such summer schools and local performances have been cancelled, leading to missed opportunities, he said.
Mr Donnelly added that local drama groups’ fundraising efforts have been effectively stopped by the pandemic.
Previously, local businesses would have supported local productions financially, but they too have been hit by Covid. “No one would feel comfortable asking them [local businesses] for money,” he said.
He added that most smaller productions would only break even if audience capacity was at 80 per cent.
Brendan McGowan, chairman of the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland, said smaller productions are an integral part of local communities, and are as important as GAA when it comes to combatting social isolation.
Other speakers voiced concerns that many arts workers will leave the sector entirely.
Figures provided to the committee by the Arts Council revealed that the sector has seen a 54 per cent reduction in GDP.
Prof Kevin Rafter, chair of the Arts Council, added that jobs in the sector were already low paid, and a more sustainable funding model is needed for it.
Anna Walsh, director of the Theatre Forum, said that the sector overall should use longer financial planning cycles, and local authorities should be given more money to invest in their local arts scene.