Jessica O’Brien shines a light on Ireland’s arts sector and its need for protection as we continue to emerge from the post-Covid era.
The Arts have always been a vital part of our lives, but during Lockdown it became even more evident that life without music, film, literature and live events lacked colour. This was felt more than ever as we all desperately watched pirated movies together on Zoom and re-listened to podcasts and albums back to back. Filmmaking was for the most part put on hold, and new television was tricky to film, so we all rewatched… ‘Friends,’ for some reason.
I finally got to be in a theatre for the first time in three years on October 16th, and it was like all the waiting and isolating I had done up to that moment was suddenly worth it; This grand finale that could only be compared to an epic movie ending. The lights, booming music, a live band – all of these now foreign concepts were just freely happening before us, and it was glorious. The actors at times looked close to tears, which I understood. After all, it was they who worked twice as hard as most people to get back to their jobs.
It is undeniable that the arts and those who work in the sector have always been treated with a certain amount of derision. Acting and performing, for example, are often not seen as ‘proper’ jobs. Over lockdown, a particular ad campaign in Britain for Cyber First went viral for its hypocrisy in suggesting that those employed in the arts take the time to retrain in something more ‘concrete’ or ‘sensible’ whilst simultaneously awarding £275 million in funding to struggling arts venues and organisations. The image of a ballet dancer called Fatima (whose next job “could be in cyber and she just didn’t know it yet’’) perpetrated the idea that the arts were being unreasonable in expecting to get back to work, and those involved should simply up and retrain.
Consequently, the ad campaign went viral in an infamous way, causing social media uproar and many passionate tweets from influencers professing their newly unwavering support for the arts, which lasted for about a month until the topic was once again deemed irrelevant.
It is not the first time the arts has been portrayed as a hobby rather than the livelihood of millions of people, and it is definitely not the first time the arts have been portrayed as something trivial compared to sport. On August 22nd the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final took place with a crowd of 50,000, with thousands travelling across counties to watch and stand maskless in close spaces as dance studios with social distancing measures remained closed. International professional sport continued, as did GAA matches and training while theatres with half capacity remained closed. My brother went back to basketball and football while I watched a noiseless and buffering dance class on Zoom.
I will never understand the blatant lack of respect the general public and the government treats the arts community with. When confined to your homes during lockdowns, our music soothed you to sleep, our books passed your endless days, our films became your nightly routine and writing became your lifeline during your darkest days of quarantine. Yet, how easily we were deemed as replaceable once restrictions were lifted.
The arts are irreplaceable. Everybody unintentionally consumes at least one aspect of the arts a day, whether it is music, simply viewing art or reading a newspaper. Everybody forgets that behind every article of clothing they wear, there is a designer. Everybody forgets that not every member of a theatre is a performer, but rather a backstage hand, a choreographer, a ticket booth operator and more.
I have yet to dance again and that fact remains every time I see an overcrowded pub. I spoke at the Glucksman about the importance of the arts when I was fifteen and I will continue to speak about it for as long as it needs to be said:
The world needs the arts, and you do too, even if you don’t realise it yet.