The Irish Times View on arts venues re-opening: Encounters with joy

Cultural institutions hold works of art and national treaures, a source of joy for many

Annett Kolaska, gallery assistant, at the National Gallery of Ireland for the opening of landmark exhibition Mondrian. Photograph: Bryan O Brien

Annett Kolaska, gallery assistant, at the National Gallery of Ireland for the opening of landmark exhibition Mondrian. Photograph: Bryan O Brien

 

The reopening of museums and galleries is a welcome return to normality, or something resembling normality, in one sector of the country’s cultural life. The argument that these institutions provide a safe environment with scope for the necessary social distancing is a strong one. The buildings are mostly spacious and airy, giving a sense of safe passage through the exhibition rooms. The works of art and treasures of our national heritage that they hold are a source of joy to many, and at this time any encounter with joy is much needed.

Cinemas too are again open to the public, a decision that has raised understandable questions – and disquiet – about the failure to open the doors of theatres and live performance venues. The answer from Dr Tony Holohan that Nphet had not given consideration to the distinction between the “risk that applies “ in theatres compared to cinemas was an honest one, but again shows the extent to which the theatre community is bearing the brunt of the pandemic restrictions. The inconsistency in allowing film audiences into arts centres but not a theatre-goer is hard to fathom.

As we head into a Christmas without the seasonal pantomimes, families should look to the riches in our museums and galleries

It regrettable that Minister for Culture Catherine Martin, who to her credit has achieved much in the way of financial support for the arts, did not make a convincing case for theatres reopening. It is now time for a plan to bring about a managed end to the closures and allow socially-distanced audiences to experience live theatre. A pilot trial in the new year, as the National Campaign for the Arts suggests, would test the capacity of venues to show they can adhere to stringent guidelines.

The minister, who has been asked by the Oireachtas arts committee to reconsider the continuation of theatre closures, has made a worthwhile proposal to her fellow European culture ministers. Her idea that there be a simultaneous Europe-wide series of performances to mark the exit from Covid-19 and celebrate the return of live performance in 2021 is a cheery prospect. Meanwhile, as we head into a Christmas without the seasonal pantomimes, families should look to the riches in our museums and galleries.

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