The Arts Council today announced the completion of an independent review of the Abbey Theatre. The review recommends a reprioritization of activity and a rebalancing of resources at the Abbey Theatre in order to deliver on its wide-ranging mission in the current environment of reduced funding.
The Arts Council and the Abbey Theatre welcome the review findings. A joint Working Group has been established to examine the implications of the report's recommendations. It is anticipated that this process will lead to a greater shared understanding and closer working relationship between the two organizations.
The Arts Council with the agreement of the Abbey Theatre commissioned an independent review of the current operating and business model of the Abbey Theatre on 24 January 2014. The decision to proceed with the review reflects the significant scale of the Arts Council's ongoing investment in the Abbey Theatre as Ireland’s national theatre, and the broader implications of a series of reductions in the level of the Arts Council's own resources.
Leading Edinburgh-based arts and cultural consultancy, Bonnar Keenlyside Ltd conducted the review. The purpose of the review was to examine the Abbey Theatre’s current operating and business model and to identify how the available public funding might secure the best outcomes now and into the future.
The review states the Abbey Theatre’s current operating model when combined with its commitment to a wide-range of activities and strands in pursuit of its mission, constrains it several areas. The key recommendation of the review is that the Abbey Theatre should prioritize a number of strategic objectives, over others, at this time, including:
- Irish writing and plays about Ireland, not only those commissioned and produced by the Abbey Theatre but also by visiting companies, including new adaptations;
- Research and Development, including use of the Peacock Theatre, artistic experimentation and engaging a wider range of artistic talent, using alternative aesthetics and models of production;
- Engaging the people of Ireland primarily through touring and also community and education work;
- Legacy and Leadership: the archive, talks and discourse and inviting other artists to work with the Abbey Theatre.
Key to these refocused priorities will be the need to operate the Peacock Stage as a flexible space with smaller production budgets, creative teams made up of Abbey Theatre in-house creative professionals or collaborating theatre artists and with reduced technical support.
The recommendations are now being worked through by a newly established Working Group made up both executive and board members of the Arts Council (Orlaith McBride, Director of the Arts Council, David Parnell, Head of Theatre, Sheila Pratschke, Chair, Ciaran Walsh, Board member) and the Abbey Theatre (Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre, Declan Cantwell, Director of Finance and Administration, Chairman Bryan Mc Mahon and Board member Paul Smith).
The Working Group will assess the feasibility of the recommendations and realistic timelines. The Working Group will prioritize a review of the current monitoring and evaluation procedures, a restructuring of how the Abbey Theatre reports on its finances to the Arts Council and providing a provision for funding for at least one national tour per annum in future funding arrangements.
Speaking today, Chair of the Arts Council, Sheila Pratschke said, ‘The Arts Council recognises and values the role of the Abbey Theatre as Ireland’s national theatre. We acknowledge the work and achievements of the Abbey Theatre in recent years in pursuit of a wide and ambitious mission. The key recommendation in this review is that the Abbey Theatre now needs to prioritize certain activities over others in the years to come. We conducted this review to examine how our continued support of the Abbey Theatre could deliver the best outcomes in light of a reduction in available funding and a challenging environment.
The review also recognises the changed environment in which the Abbey Theatre now operates – in particular the arrival into Ireland of new communities whose stories are now part of the story of our nation.’
She said, ‘I welcome this review. It is a thorough, evidenced based report which looked at a number of similar international theatres. It provides an important first step for a renewed and improved relationship between the Arts Council and the Abbey Theatre. The Arts Council looks forward to working closely with the Abbey Theatre as it continues the process of planning an artistic future of exciting, uplifting, challenging, and thoughtful theatre.’
Chairman of the Abbey Theatre, Bryan McMahon said, ‘We were happy to participate in the Arts Council’s recent review and we look forward to working closely with the Arts Council to work through the recommendations as set out in the Bonnar Keenlyside Review. This will enable the Abbey Theatre and the Arts Council to arrive at a new understanding of what is achievable in light of reduced funding levels.
The Board recognises the need for the Abbey Theatre to always embrace artistic and financial innovation particularly in the years ahead. The Abbey Theatre, with the financial support of the Arts Council, pledges to continue to serve and support artists and audiences into the future. Now, more than ever, we are confident that relations will continue to develop between our two national institutions.’
Download Abbey Theatre Review (3 MB, PDF)
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