Thursday, August 14, 2014

Demise of Red Kettle Theatre Company (Waterford and Arts Council Funding)

I had the very sad news confirmed today about the demise of Red Kettle Theatre Company. Now for those who don't know I was a founder member of Red Kettle - not in the artistic leadership kind of way, but rather in the I-was-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time having a blast kind of a way. But I was there at the beginning and I suppose because of that I've always felt a special affinity with the company with which I had such a lot of fun for so many years of my teens and early twenties.

So I heard the news of it's going into liquidation with no little sense of loss this morning on local radio.

And then I did a scary thing: I went onto the Arts Council website and carried out a little exercise. I picked a few locations around the country and I went through all the Arts Council funding streams and calculated how much funding was going from them to different areas of Ireland.

I chose Waterford (City & County) obviously. I chose Limerick (City & County); Galway City & Galway County and Wexford County. I decided not to go for Dublin or Cork as they aren't really comparable size wise (but any cursory glance would seem to indicate that Dublin gets way more of the national arts funding pie than their 25% of the population would merit but that's a discussion for another day). I also put all the funding for either City or County into the same pile so as to have comparisons to Limerick and Waterford in our new guises as merged City & County Councils with Galway City Council and Galway County Council. So I had four columns of funds received.

I trawled through every funding stream for just 2014 and included everything from all their lists. This included everything from bursaries for individual artists based in a council area right up to the Wexford Opera Festival (the largest single grant in any of my four lists).

CAVEAT: I may have skipped a few and I say now that these figures are crude and represent only my calculation and interpretation of the information available on the Arts Council website and so come with a health warning. But if anyone wants to do the job themselves they are welcome. Also if someone can show me that I am vastly incorrect in these figures then I will amend them.

Anyway, the results are startling!

Wexford County Council had, in total, 7 grant allocations totalling €1,531,200.
Limerick City & County had, in total, 13 grant allocations totalling €1,644,855 (not including City of Culture funding).
Waterford City & County had, in total, 7 grant allocations totalling €600,335.
Galway City & County had, in total, 46 grant allocations totalling €3,083,337.

I'm just going to let that hang there.....

Perhaps I am reading the figures wrong (I double checked and I have them all listed but it's too long to include here). Maybe my maths is suspect (so I used a calculator and did the sums twice!) Maybe I'm the only one who is startled. But startled I was - and am.

I find these figures hard to explain. I'd really like someone who has access to parliamentary questions ask if this can be so. That there can be such geographical discrepancies. Or maybe this is fair and I just don't *understand*. Perhaps some local media or journalist will take it up and do further research. I'd love to be proved wrong on this one.

Now I'm not expecting an exact allocation-to-population ratio but you might expect it to be a bit closer than this. On a level playing pitch. In a fair world. I know Galway is a centre for the arts. But Waterford has a huge theatrical, dramatic and musical history and heritage - and output(!) on a par with anywhere in Ireland - and far ahead of some I would say. But our festivals, theatre companies, artists, venues, arts centres and companies are in the ha'penny place when it comes to other cities. And what little we have is being hacked away at every year leading, as it eventually must, to the demise of great little companies like Red Kettle. (There was no grant allocation at all to Red Kettle from the Arts Council for 2014 incidentally.)

And I'm not saying that Red Kettle was perfect. But it was ours. And it was hard won. And much loved. And it contributed a huge amount to the cultural existence of Waterford City and surrounds and indeed further afield. It spawned generations of Waterfordians who are now having full creative careers, here in Waterford and abroad. We'll have loads of venues soon. With no artists. After all what is a theatre without actors, producers, directors, writers? Is it okay to say we'll pay you for 3 months for a production and after that you can free fall until the next production? Is it okay to say Galway people, and Dublin people shall have a generously funded, vibrant arts scene but those Waterford people can make do with less...MUCH less?!?!

It's a sad day indeed. Work will go on, no doubt, to try and salvage what can be salvaged to keep a professional theatre company in Waterford but without Arts Council support it will be difficult. Work is already underway to try and salvage the excellent work of Little Red Kettle which has a huge programme of events all year through with young people and whose work is largely funded through Waterford Youth Committee.

And just to end on a positive note I want to juxtapose this bad news with the good news of the GIY (Grow It Yourself) HQ which is due to commence building here in the City this year with a view to opening next year in 2015. What a positive, fresh, grown from within project that is. They have launched a Fundit campaign to raise €20,000. It's Waterford peoples chance to help (if they can) and to show our support for what will, no doubt, create many jobs and much positive publicity for us at a time when we really need it. If you have anything you can donate please do so on

It's not quite a theatrical Phoenix arising from the ashes but at least it's something we can do for ourselves if we get behind it.

Up the Deise.

Thanks all, Mary x.


Larry Stapleton said...

Nice piece of detective work Mary. Even if the figures are "crude", they present evidence of a distinct bias in the amounts distributed to each region. Is there any chance that there is a fault with the method of request or petition? I know that here, money may be available for projects but if not sought after in the correct fashion is not given.

Conor Nolan said...

Very interesting reading on a sad day for Theatre here.

Jim Walsh said...

Mary, I think this is an interesting issue but I think the bald figures can be misleading so maybe you need to dig further and ask how many applications were received from organizations in Waterford.

I don't know how much the Wexford Festival Opera grant was but if you remove that does the Wexford allocation come closer in line to Waterford.

The Arts Council won't come to organizations so it's up to the Waterford groups to put themselves foward for grants. If they do and get rejected then we have an issue that needs to be investigated further.

Cllr Mary Roche, Waterford said...

The Wexford Opera Festival grant is over €1,400,000 Jim so if you take that out Wexford performs extraordinarily poorly with just over €130,000 worth of grants received. So you could argue that the Opera Festival masks an extremely bleak situation for Wexford too. I wonder is this replicated across the entire South East? Although I suspect on my research that Kilkenny might buck the trend somewhat.