ONE of Tyrone’s best loved community theatres is urging the public to come forward and sponsor their seats which look set to remain empty for some time to come.
The Craic Theatre in Coalisland has remained dormant for almost four months and with the need to maintain social distancing, any future shows would only be able to accommodate a fraction of the audience.
Along with the Bardic Theatre in neighbouring Donaghmore, the Craic Theatre has grown to become a focal point of community life in south Tyrone, giving hundreds of young people the opportunity to perform on a professional stage, while attracting thousands to their normally busy schedule of shows throughout the year.
Last week, the Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín announced £4million funding for the arts sector, with the message that, “when arts and culture organisations suffer, so too does our economy”.
Oliver Corr who is the Arts Development Officer at the Craic Theatre, said the £4million figure was nowhere close to the amount needed to support the many facilities, organisations and hundreds of people employed in the arts sector across the North.
Last month a group from the Arts Collaboration Network sent a paper to Stormont Executive ministers outlining the comprehensive action needed, which included funding of around £24million.
“When you look to the South, you can see that the government has given 25 million euro to the arts sector, but up here we’re getting £4million. It is nowhere near enough,” said Mr Corr.
“We don’t know what way this money will be split up, but here in Mid Ulster we would be a bit concerned that a lot of the money will go to Belfast and Derry first and the rural areas like Mid Ulster will come second.”
He believes that the curtain on the Craic Theatre stage may not be lifted until March next year.
“With social distancing, we would only be able to have a quarter of the audience for each show and it’s the same for all venues. You need to fill 60 to 70 per-cent of seats just to break even.
“At the start of this, we thought we may be open by the end of June, but theatres have only been briefly mentioned on this road map out of lockdown and we’re on the very final phase of the lockdown reopening.
“So the financial pressure facing everyone in the arts sector is massive.” Mr Corr said they were hoping for public support to help sustain them through the tough months ahead.
“We do the sponsored seat every year, but this year there is an added need. So far we have already had some people come forward to sponsor a seat and we are also planning to organise a crowdfunding appeal in the weeks ahead, when we will be asking people to give a donation of the price of ticket to a show.”
Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said she would start speaking to arts sector organisation about how best to allocate the £4million funding.
“This pandemic has exposed the financial vulnerability of our arts and cultural organisations, many of whom are household names,” said the minister.
“As an immediate next step, I intend to engage directly with organisations to agree the detail of how the funds might best be put to swift use.
“The huge part the arts play in all our lives has come into sharp focus through the closure of theatres, concert halls and other venues during this terrible pandemic and the cancellation of so many shows and arts programmes.
“And when arts and culture organisations suffer, so too does our economy. These organisations employ thousands of staff directly and indirectly, they attract tourists and help support our hospitality industry.”
The Minister said in the coming weeks she intended to widen the conversation about the future of the creative sector and was urging performers, audiences, businesses and political parties to participate.