Speak Up ACTiON: Addressing bullying and harassment in the arts sector

“It’s trying to achieve an Irish performance art industry that all artists, makers and employees feel safe and know their rights, and are kept informed of what they are entitled to and what their responsibilities are.”
“Lagrima negra / Black tear” by hernanpba is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Irish Theatre Institute’s (ITI) Speak Up ACTiON Survey has received over 900 responses in its first two weeks. 

According to Jane Daly, Co-Director of the ITI, they are currently ahead of their target responses for the survey which was launched on February 10th.

“With just over two weeks remaining we know we will exceed the original target which indicates the level of interest and the importance of this survey for the arts sector,” said Daly.

This survey is part of the second phase of the Speak Up programme organised by ITI. This programme is dedicated to “creating a safer work environment for everyone” by acknowledging and combating bullying and harassment in the arts.

The survey aims to identify the frequency and types of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment that artists across the entire arts sector are encountering in the workplace. 

Image by Irish Theatre Institute

“Initially the work the ITI was doing on the Speak Up Call it Out programme was theatre sector-specific,” said Daly, “but what we know is bullying and sexual harassment is prevalent throughout the arts industry.”

The ultimate goal of the programme is the development of new policies and tailored responses and supports for people who have or are currently experiencing bullying or harassment in the arts.

“The objective for this survey and other programmes of work that we’re doing around dignity in the workplace, is to improve the working conditions for artists and arts workers in an industry that sometimes is not exactly the best behaved,” explained Daly.

The first phase called Speak Up and Call it Out began in 2018 and this second phase was due to roll out in 2020 however Covid-19 delayed the project.

Dr Tanya Dean, Assistant Lecturer at the Conservatoire, Technological University Dublin believes that the Speak Up programme is so important because it allows “everyone working in the arts to know what their rights and responsibilities are.”

“It’s trying to achieve an Irish performance art industry that all artists, makers and employees feel safe and know their rights, and are kept informed of what they are entitled to and what their responsibilities are,” she said.

Employment in Irish theatre is so often based on “an employment model of precarity”, explains Dr Dean, and that may lead to people being afraid that if they call out mistreatment it will have negative consequences.

The publicly funded nature of Irish theatre makes it even more important that bullying and harassment are not tolerated within it, according to Dr Dean.

“Ours is a publicly funded theatre industry,” she said, “but with that, if there is an individual or an institution that is abusing that kind of wonderful gift and responsibility that is not just an offence against the person who is being bullied or harassed or put in an untenable position – it’s an offence against the industry as a whole and kind of the Irish taxpayer.”

Following the first phase of Speak Up in 2018, ITI developed a Code of Behavior for Irish theatre. This code should be given to employees on the commencement of their employment and it lays out their rights and responsibilities in the workplace. 

According to Dr Dean, however, this needed to be taken further, and she is glad to see ITI are doing so and looking at what policy changes are needed.

“What they’re doing with this survey is seeing what is the awareness in the industry after two years of this campaign,” Dr Dean said.

ITI are also developing training tools that other arts institutions can use to build awareness around these issues and learn how to respond effectively.

The survey is running until March 10th and can be accessed here.

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