‘The people we deal with are people who are living daily in fear,’ says arts organiser

Oireachtas committee hears cuts to the PUP makes it harder for artists to survive

 Angela Dorgan . Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Angela Dorgan . Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) have generated fear and panic among artists, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The National Campaign for the Arts chairwoman Angela Dorgan said at times it has had 500 artists on zoom calls looking for advice on how to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The NCFA represents 54,000 artists, arts workers and arts organisations who receive some level of state funding.

At least 14,000 people who work in the arts and entertainment industry are claiming the PUP, the top rate of which was cut in September from €350 to €300.

“The people we deal with are people who are living daily in fear. We can’t just live through the pandemic, we have to have a life. Life can’t stop,” she said.

“It behoves us to support the artists so that they can continue to work. That €350 allowed people not to panic on a daily basis so I would say the PUP is the priority.

“If we don’t protect our artists and performers, the arts itself will constrict. We have no idea how much flight there will be out of the sector or if we will have an arts sector after this pandemic unless we react swiftly to support individuals.”

However, she did praise the Government’s decision to allow artists to earn up to €480 a month without affecting their Covid payments.

Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield said many artists were just getting on their feet after five years of austerity when the pandemic hit.

He asked Ms Dorgan if the record amount of funding allocated in the budget to the Arts Council of €130 million will need to be maintained into the future.

The allocation for 2021 is €50 million more than this year and takes into account the impact that Covid-19 has had on the sector.

She said it had been a “death by 1,000 cuts” prior to this year’s budget. “We can’t go back under €130 million”. Instead, she advocated that the Arts Council funding double by 2025.

She believed funding will have to stay at that level if the sector has any possibility of getting back on its feet.

She told the Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht the sector has been worse hit than any in the economy.

The recession in the sector will see output drop by 55 per cent in comparison with 11 per cent for the Irish economy overall.

At current levels it will take until 2025 for employment to return to 2019 levels in the sector, she pointed out referring to an EY report on behalf of the Arts Council.

Some 1,800 musicians have signed up to a stimulus package provided by the Government to allow them to record and release new music.

Ms Dorgan also said the €50 million allocated to the commercial live music sector is only a payment to help them get back on their feet again as venues have been closed since March.

When venues reopen, she anticipates that they will return to being a commercial sector again without Government support.

“They were a thriving sector. The only reason that they are not a thriving commercial sectornow is because they cannot sell tickets.”

Ms Dorgan said art galleries and museums were deemed safe venues, but it was the possibility of congregating afterwards that led to their closures as part of Level 3.

“Cinemas, galleries and theatres should be looked at again and again. We need to give each other permission to change our minds,” she said.