The government in the North must "step in" and support those in the music industry who are facing financial ruin due to the coronavirus pandemic, the singer and actor Bronagh Gallagher has warned.
“It is a matter of survival now,” Ms Gallagher said.
She was among 150 artists who wrote to the Northern Ireland Executive calling for "urgent financial support" if the music industry is to survive.
The signatories included many of the North's best-known musicians, including Van Morrison, Snow Patrol, Ash, Brian Kennedy and Neil Hannon.
It was sent to the then minister for communities, Deirdre Hargey – who has responsibility for arts and culture – on May 12th, but has only recently become public.
In the letter, which has been seen by The Irish Times, the signatories explained that as a result of coronavirus, “the work of many in the music sector has come to an end overnight” and this had a far-reaching impact on the income and quality of many in the North’s music community.
“We have never been more at risk; music – and the arts – must be protected and we need urgent financial support to survive in any recognisable form,” they wrote.
They appealed for "immediate help", saying "swift action must be taken to safeguard and invest in the future of an industry, which has significant economic, cultural and social benefits for Northern Ireland. "
In this, they cite research by the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) which, in 2017, found that music was worth €703m to the Irish economy and accounted for over 13,000 jobs.
In Northern Ireland, the music sector helped generate £90 million (€99.6 million) through music tourism, and was responsible for more than 1,000 full-time jobs.
On Monday it was announced that the Northern Executive is to receive £33m from the UK government to support arts and cultural venues affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However it is not yet clear how this money will be spent, or who will benefit from it.
The communities minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, said it would be for the Executive to decide, adding “the argument for a comprehensive package of support to local musicians, freelancers, theatres, artists, museums and the heritage sector at a time when they are struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be overstated.”
It follows the commitment by the Executive last week to provide an additional £4 million (€4.42 million) to help the arts sector rebuild following Covid-19.
Announcing the funding, Ms Ní Chuilín said “this pandemic has exposed the financial vulnerability of our arts and cultural organisations, many of whom are household names.
“As an immediate next step I intend to engage directly with organisations to agree the detail of how the funds might best be put to swift use.”
Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Gallagher said the coronavirus pandemic had “crippled a lot of young venues” and would have a “catastrophic effect” on small or family-run initiatives.
She said she was asked to sign by Charlotte Dryden, the chief executive of the Oh Yeah music hub in Belfast, who she described as "one of the invaluable strengths behind this campaign."
“Making art and being an artist for so many of us is synonymous with financial struggle,” said Ms Gallagher, “unless you hit the big time, as they say, and you become very successful.
“That’s not just north-south and east-west, this is a global problem, and I don’t know what way we’re going to be when we come out the other side of it but all we can do is try to support each other and try to raise awareness.”
Ms Gallagher, who had a number of gigs cancelled during lockdown, described the knock-on effect for not just herself but her band members and crew, as well as venues and their staff. “The live sector has been really affected by this, and it’s been really difficult.”
While the move to online performances was positive - “people used the brilliant side of technology and social media and created a lot of revenue for charity – concerns remain about the length of time it might take for live venues to reopen
“We don’t know what platforms really will remain after this, and I think we’re still very much in a precarious place right now,” says Ms Gallagher.
One practical way to support artists, she said, was to play Irish music on the radio. “That’s one way to generate revenue, for DJs to really utilise the music that’s available to them and play it because that’s revenue for all artists that are signed to IMRO and that is a vital lifeline for artists.”
There is no question, says Ms Gallagher, over what music and the arts contribute to Ireland, north and south, in terms of revenue and culture.
“A lot of the time the arts are forgotten and the cuts are there before they are anywhere,” she says.
“But these are hugely important parts of our culture and, as always, we are the ones who suffer.
“We have to take a very serious look at it now and try and salvage as much work and as much of their finances for people as possible.”