Gate theatre: a case to answer

The Arts Council should have insisted that Michael Colgan step down from the theatre’s board

Michael Colgan’s dual position as artistic director and board member at the Gate theatre led to a belief among his accusers that their complaints might not be listened to or acted upon. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Michael Colgan’s dual position as artistic director and board member at the Gate theatre led to a belief among his accusers that their complaints might not be listened to or acted upon. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

An as-yet-unpublished review into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by the former artistic director of the Gate theatre, Michael Colgan, says he has “a case to answer”, according to the Gate’s board. In its apology to the women who gave testimonies to workplace relations expert Gaye Cunningham, the board also acknowledges that answers are due on “dignity-at-work issues” and “abuse of power”.

These are serious matters that raise fundamental questions on governance for the board but also the Gate’s main funder, the Arts Council. It seems rather late in the day for a board to say “too much power was vested in one individual”. That is a situation every board, but particularly one with responsibilities for a publicly-funded organisation, has a duty to guard against.

An Arts Council report in 2016 found that the theatre was “run like a family business” and expressed concern about “lack of refreshment” on the long-serving board.

Prior to that evaluation and over a lengthy period both the board and the Arts Council accepted Colgan’s role as a board member. This was contrary to the norm in most arts organisations and clearly breached good corporate governance as well as the need to distinguish between the functions of executive and board. His dual position as artistic director and board member led to a belief among his accusers that their complaints might not be listened to or acted upon.

The council could have – and should have – insisted on its financing of the theatre being contingent on his removal from the board. It had opportunities over the years to do so. Withholding the grant would have been reasonable in the circumstances but it appears to have been over-tolerant on the matter.

The current Gate board and Colgan’s successor, Selina Cartmel, now have to decide what course of action they take. They also face a challenge in restoring trust, not only between management and staff but within the wider theatre community.

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