Will Music Venues Open in August? – 'This is trial with no room for error'

The Triskel Christchurch venue in Cork

Will Music Venues Open in August? – 'This is trial with no room for error'

The Government's roadmap for opening up the Irish economy says cultural venues can open from 10 August, but will they be able to run events and comply with social distancing? The Journal of Music spoke to three venues about the challenges they face.

The Government’s plan for opening up the Irish economy was published on Friday (1 May) and includes specific reference to cultural venues and events.

According to the document, ‘theatres and cinemas’ can open from 10 August ‘where social distancing can be maintained’, and festivals and other mass gatherings can take place in accordance with restricted numbers and with social distancing also.

For music and arts venues, however, these restrictions present a range of challenges. Is it possible to put on cultural events with social distancing and still make it economically viable?

Change to survive
The Black Gate bar and venue in Galway city, which opened three years ago and was just beginning to hit a ‘sweet spot’ in terms of turnover, will not open in August, says co-owner Peadar King. The venue has been closed since 13 March and is too small to present gigs with social distancing and make it financially viable, he says.

We wouldn’t be able to meet our overheads… the margins are tight enough even if we have a full house. We don’t imagine we’ll be able to run a gig until possibly much later in the year. … In terms of our [venue] business model we’re going to have to change completely if we want to survive.

The Black Gate has offices upstairs however, and a recording studio, and is planning to reopen both of these facilities this summer. King is also planning on using the venue space as a set for closed performances and engage in digital broadcasting. They have several projects in the pipeline. ‘We’re fairly optimistic about what we can do. I think we’re pretty innovative. … That said, in terms of the Black Gate as a live venue… it’s hard to see it coming back before Christmas’.

No room for error
The Triskel venue in Cork is planning to open for events in August. ‘We fully intend to… absolutely,’ says Artistic Director Tony Sheehan, and the staff are working through proposed plans for making it work, but it comes with a lot of questions. Triskel presents live music and art-house cinema, it has a gallery, and also has other arts spaces. ‘If you take a rough correlation, two metres social distancing in certain venues means you are down to 10% of your capacity. Your full house would be 10% of what it was.’

We’re modelling the building in a couple of ways. How do we make the building as safe as possible? What if the building becomes a one-way system? … This is trial with no room for error. We’re going to have to inch our way along, and it’s only with practice that we’ll build up confidence and knowledge as to how it actually works in the real world…. The venue sector is going to need support, in the form of money certainly, but also expertise. 

Sheehan points out another challenge, which is that the music marketplace has collapsed. ‘Until we’re back to the “old normal”, we have to work in a different way with agents, promoters and artists so that we can keep it all going. If you are reduced to 10–20% … that’s going to fundamentally change what you can do.’

Dependent on box office
While the Hawk’s Well Theatre in Sligo will be open as a place of work, it does not plan to present events in August because it is meant to be replacing its seats that month, although the tender for that work has also been held up as a result of the pandemic. 

Marie O’Byrne, director of the venue, says that as things stand she does not know when they will present events as there are a range of factors to consider, including the feasibility of performances due to social distancing.

We’re trying to work out our capacity [with social distancing]… I’d dearly love to open, but our venue is very tightly packed … it’s one of the older venues… the seats are really close together in the Hawk’s Well. I can’t see how we can operate safely with social distancing. We’re very dependent on our box office … and the commerciality of our business…. 

Byrne is concerned too about the overall impact on the arts. There are fears in the sector that it will be the new year before the scene will be functioning properly again.

It’s very worrying. … It’s not looking great for the arts sector. I hope the government has a support package in mind, because it’s not just venues, it’s the artists that are in these venues as well. 


Download the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business below.

Published on 5 May 2020

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