- 22 Jun 20
EPIC member and Indiependence managing director Shane Dunne discusses the unprecedented impact the ongoing Covid-19 crisis is having on the live entertainment sector – and what the Government must do to help.
Just over three months ago, live entertainment as we know it came to a grinding halt – with concerts, festival and theatre events all forced to shut down immediately, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although Ireland is gradually beginning to reopen, the impact of social distancing restrictions on the live event sector remains devastating.
"For me personally, it’s been difficult," Shane Dunne, the managing director of Indiependence Music & Arts Festival, tells us. "I'm looking at my first August Bank Holiday weekend off in 15 years. I work on lots of other events with MCD, and other Irish acts, and this was going to be the busiest summer of my career in the industry. That was wiped away in a very short period of time."
Dunne is one of several highly-respected industry professionals involved in the formation of EPIC (Event Production Industry Covid-19 Group) – a working group that represents the interests and concerns of the 3,500 individuals and business involved full-time, and the 15,000 people involved part-time, in producing live events.
"Never, in the history of staging live performance and events, has there been such a sudden and total stop to work, as happened on the 12th of March 2020," says EPIC's Chair, Sophie Ridley. "Live events continue through wars, they raise money for famine, they raise the spirits of a nation in times of need, and provide a focus in times of celebration. But now the stages are dark and the festival fields are empty and we as an industry need help to get through to the time, when once again, we will raise the curtain, light up the stage and turn on the sound to entertain Ireland and the world."
EPIC are calling on the Government to invest in the live events industry, to ensure that the sectoral knowledge and skills can be retained during this uncertain time. Among the key actions they're proposing is an extension of the Covid Payment and Wage Subsidy Scheme for live events and arts workers, until the mass gathering band and social distancing restrictions are lifted.
"There are 1000s of highly skilled people working in this industry," Dunne explains. "A lot of these people were the first ones to shut down, and will be the last ones back to work. Over the next period of time, we need supports at a government level to retain those skills. We need to keep that skill set, so that when the time comes to go back to theatres, venues, outdoor concerts and festivals, we’ll have the staff to do it.
"By the start of August, most industries will be back to work – but we could be looking at eight months," he continues. "We might have some small things in meantime, but that will only last for a couple of weeks, and then you’re into the winter. People are going to be facing months without any income. To retain the skills, and keep those people within this industry, the wage subsidy scheme and the Covid payment are going to be hugely important."
EPIC's other key proposals include an extension of bank loan and lease payment breaks until mass gatherings return; the development of a business grant support of 20% of 2018 turnover for SMEs in the events sector; for insurance companies to re-evaluate insurance policies to reflect reduced risk in public liability, event liability and vehicle insurance; a reduction of the VAT rate of 9% for the event sector for three years; and the removal of commercial rates for empty places of entertainment and the warehousing of event equipment.
During this stressful time, EPIC have also secured access for live events and arts workers to the health and wellbeing resources recently made available to artists and performers through the Minding Creative Minds initiative. They're also calling on the Government to invest in an Industry Assistance Programme, that will cater to the mental health and wellbeing of live events workers.
Although Dunne acknowledges that the popular image of those who work in the live entertainment industry is often that of "hairy techies who throw stuff together", he stresses that, in reality, "you're dealing with highly skilled individuals – engineers, and people with degrees and masters."
He also argues that the phenomenal contribution of the live events industry to the Irish economy is often overlooked.
"In 2017, the ‘Let’s Celebrate’ report showed that, for every €1 spent on a ticket to a concert or a theatre show, another €6 was generated for the economy," Dunne says. "So, supporting the live entertainment sector isn’t giving money away – it’s investing. You’re going to get it back in a multiple. It’s not like you’re taking money away from the Department of Health or the Department of Education by investing in the live entertainment sector. In fact, by investing in it, you can fund the health sector and the education sector.
"The big thing that always jumps out for me in that report is that, in 2017, there were 3.2 million bed nights associated with live entertainment," he continues. "Live entertainment is feeding these sectors – the hotels, the restaurants and the pubs. If the live entertainment sector disappeared, it would be a huge drop in their turnover."
For more information on EPIC, visit their website here.