A workshop aimed at combatting rampant levels of bullying and intimidation in the arts sector took place in Galway this month.
“Safe to Create” was established following the 2021 “Speak Up: ACTiON” survey conducted by the Irish Theatre Institute (ITI) which invited workers across the arts sector to “provide information on workplace experiences of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, humiliation, victimisation, assault and sexual assault”.
Of the 1,300 workers surveyed, 70% said they had experienced harmful behaviour and 53% said they had witnessed it. Of those respondents, 37% said the behaviour was occasional and another 37% said it was repeated.
The alleged perpetrators were 67% male as identified by respondents.
Speaking after the workshop, Niamh O’Donnell, the director of ITI, said that “the power dynamic is problematic” between employees and employers in the sector and highlighted the vulnerability of individual artists who experience harmful behaviour from their superiors.
“It’s really difficult to raise concerns because of the fact you may not ever be rehired or you might not get another job. That’s the big fear”, she said.
A professional freelance ballet dancer in attendance said that issues she has had in the past have rarely been resolved because “the person you would need to bring it to is the person you would have the issue with”.
In her experience, this often results in the individual feeling “very, very isolated in the workplace” and occasionally leaving the job. She said that when she has experienced harmful behaviour in the past in jobs, she has “felt the want to leave in a few places and left in one”.
The workshop was part of the “Safe to Create” programme which is run by the Irish Theatre Institute and funded by the Arts Council through the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
The workshop took place in the Harbour Hotel and was facilitated by marketing and communication consultant Jane Daly with contributions from O’Donnell and ITI co-director Jane Daly.
Workshops also took place throughout the week in Dublin, Cork and Sligo.
Commenting on the difficulties in “getting the right people in the room”, O’Donnell said that “obviously the people who sign up first aren’t the problem but they are the people who can actually make change”.
O’Donnell emphasised that “Safe to Create” is not solely focused on targeting the most harmful behaviour but is also dedicated to making arts working environments generally more compassionate and respectful.
“Not everybody’s a predator”, she said. “We’re not just talking about the worst of the worst. We’re talking about sometimes very simple and easy changes being made to how we approach our work. Just making it better”.