‘Bureaucracy holding back diversity’ as Cork arts centre loses manager 

Frustration at ETB's 'awkward, cumbersome' process of paying artists for once-off gigs
‘Bureaucracy holding back diversity’ as Cork arts centre loses manager 

Aoife Granville has stepped down as manager of the Ionad Cultúrtha in Baile Mhúirne after less than three years in charge.

The “excruciating amount” of bureaucracy involved in paying artists for once-off gigs is hindering the emergence of new talent, jeopardising funding, and hampering diversity in the arts, it has been claimed.

Dr Aoife Granville cited an “awkward, cumbersome, intrusive process” of securing payment for artists as a primary reason behind her decision to resign last week as manager of an arts centre operated under the auspices of Cork Education and Training Board (ETB).

Musician and researcher Ms Granville is to take up a position as lecturer in the Folklore Department of University College Cork, having spent less than three years in charge of Baile Mhúirne arts centre Ionad Cultúrtha an Dochtúir Ó Loingsigh.

She described her recent dealings with Cork ETB, in which national funding organisations have become involved, as a “very stressful situation” and said she feared for the level of future financial support for the Gaeltacht cultural centre if the issues are not resolved.

The Ionad Cultúrtha receives annual funding in excess of €100,000 from organisations including the Arts Council and Ealaín na Gaeltachta, the money being paid into the account of Cork ETB as owners of the building, which is attached to the local secondary school.

Unsuitable for once-off events

Artists are either added to the ETB payroll – a system unsuitable for once-off events, according to Ms Granville – or must be self-employed, which can require them to complete lengthy Revenue forms.

She said artists were asked for F11 Revenue forms as proof of self-employment. This self-assessment form, which runs to 44 pages, includes questions on the applicant’s partner and children and their pension and medical insurance payments.

The issue is not confined to artists, nor to Cork ETB. 

“The same thing is happening everywhere,” said Ms Granville. “I know from people working in ETB schools that trying to get even a guest speaker in is not straightforward.” 

The result is that artists or others considering accepting work often take the view, “ETB school, forget it. It’s not worth the hassle,” she said.

“It’s fine if you’re teaching for a year with an organisation, but it’s an incredible amount of paperwork for just one gig.

“We have a system and a paper trail for every project. Protocols and procedures are important but it’s not a school, it’s an arts centre, and this is impacting greatly on it.

“Payments wouldn’t be as straightforward or as easy as they would be in other arts centres and that has had a big impact on the arts programme.”

The diversity of artists employed has been affected, she said, with young up-and-coming musicians, singers, or film-makers, for example, unlikely to be registered as self-employed.

It is “not easy to hire a mix, including local and young, early-career artists, alongside the professionals”, she said.

“It’s had an impact around the variety of different people I feel we can employ. People are in so many different working situations in the traditional arts and very few of them are completely professional, in that it’s their full-time job.

“We’ve had tremendous support, especially in the last year, from the funders, most notably Ealaín na Gaeltachta and the Arts Council, advising us on this and meeting with the ETB around what they see as the proper protocols on paying artists.

“The way we would have been working was drawing up a simple contract of employment where an artist signs for their one-off gig, and not having to submit all this extra documentation which is very bulky for the artist. We would have been adhering to Revenue and that was no problem. 

“It’s a general way arts centres and festivals would work – you have an invoice system, a contract of artistic employment,” said Mr Granville.

“That was what we were hoping for, what the funders were hoping for, and that hasn’t been listened to. It’s just not suitable for paying artists properly and promptly.

“I was hoping it would get resolved and there would be some bit of give on the side of the ETB. They have yielded on nothing."

“You would have hoped that Covid would have made people realise the importance of the arts in the community but a lot of them are ‘figures’ people.

“No one’s trying to avoid a paper trail, it’s just the structure of the ETB and what they want, for us to pay a musician. They’re looking for things that the artists don’t have.” 

While funding for the centre has been secured for next year, she said: “I don’t think that money will keep coming if things stay the way they are. It couldn’t keep coming if it’s hard to pay certain artists.” 

Discussions are under way regarding the Ionad Cultúrtha’s possible move to the nearby Coláiste Íosagáin building, now under renovation. 

Ms Granville warned: “I would have been very excited about the prospect but my worry is that [the Ionad] wouldn’t be able to develop properly under the current restrictions that are on it.

“Currently, it would be moving under the auspices of the ETB. I think that decision should be made at a local level. I don’t think it’s a decision that should be made in the city, whether the Ionad moves or not.” 

Cork ETB’s Enda McWeeney told The Echo: “The ETB, through its schools and colleges, engages with artists across the board for delivery of artistic elements within the schools programme.

“The same process applies for the schools and colleges, of engaging artists, as does within Ionad Cultúrtha. There are two processes of engaging. You can be self-employed. If an artist cannot provide proof of self-employment then they have to be paid through the payroll. Once someone can provide proof of self-employment - and that’s the Revenue’s F11 form - they get paid as self-employed.

“It’s the same as anyone engaging with anything on a self-employment basis – you have to provide proof of self-employment. Once the ETB or payee has got confirmation of that, you’re set up – you’re registered.” 

Mr McWeeney said the form-filling process was “not particularly” time consuming and there were no plans to change the payments system.

 “The system is what’s there. It’s no more onerous for the Ionad than it is for any other area of the ETB,” he said.

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