Following a meeting of the Executive on (Thursday 6th August 2020) it was announced that Theatres and Concert Halls can re-open from 8th August 2020.
The Department for Communities has worked closely with other administrations, including the Arts Council NI (ACNI), to put forward proposals to the Department of Health and the Executive to bring forward these dates.
The Department recognises that theatre and concert hall staff will need time to prepare for the safe return of their audiences, therefore, they will initially re-open on a restricted basis. During August staff will be able to return to work to make preparations for the return of live audiences and performers can start rehearsals.
The Arts Council is also currently developing new funding programmes to support any adjustments required in making venues safe for reopening. These programmes are expected to be announced in mid-August.
It is hoped that audiences will be able to return to venues on 1 September, as long as the appropriate social distancing measures are in place.
Welcoming the announcement, Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said:
“Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on all those who work in the creative industries. Our theatres and concert halls are at the heart of our cultural life and the safe reopening of these venues is a welcome step towards a return to live performances.
“There is nothing quite like the buzz of live performance, over the past few months audiences have missed the opportunity to support our artists and enjoy the rich, eclectic and unique arts experiences they share with us.
“It is hoped that some venues can return to hosting live performances at the beginning of September, although we remain mindful of the ongoing challenges we face in dealing with the restrictions of Covid-19. The final decision to reopen will be dependent upon the safety of our theatre staff and the public”.
Also welcoming the announcement, Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, added:
“The Arts Council is delighted to welcome the news from the NI Executive that theatres and concert halls can re-open from tomorrow, 08 August.
This is the day everyone in the arts has been working steadily towards since the onset of the global pandemic closed the doors of arts venues across Northern Ireland. As part of the preparation for re-opening our venues safely to staff, artists and the public, the Arts Council published a comprehensive guide to re-opening which covers all the up-to-date recommendations for safe opening. It can be found here (pdf).
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland will soon be opening two new Capital programmes to support organisations in preparing for the safe reopening of their venues. We will inform the public when these programmes open on our website and social media.
Of course, there are major challenges still facing these venues – while social distancing remains, it will be very difficult for arts organisations to gather the vital box office revenue from paying customers which is necessary to keep them running properly. This will also have an impact on the very many freelance professionals these venues employ to bring the best of the arts to the public – hardship in that sector remains a serious problem for all of us to address.
But the good news is that the road ahead is at least now visible and the Arts Council will work with colleagues and partners in the arts and the wider society to safeguard both the public and the arts providers.”
In April, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey launched the £1.5m Creative Support Fund to support individuals and organisations in the Arts Sector in response to COVID-19. The fund reopened on 31 July with a further £4m support package for the arts, creative industries and cultural sector.