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International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival: an international success that is struggling for funding

Brian Merriman at IDGTF this year with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Brian Merriman at IDGTF this year with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
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International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival had its best year in 2019, but founder and artistic director Brian Merriman tells Nick Awde that reduced funding has left him concerned for the future

Determining who gets a grant and who doesn’t is more of a roulette wheel than ever, but a recent decision by the Arts Council of Ireland has left the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival deeply baffled.

After its most successful edition so far, this May the volunteer-run festival received confirmation that it had qualified for Arts Council Ireland’s band C funding range. However, this doesn’t mean it will receive the 20,000 to 35,000 this rating is supposed to provide.

“It’s the top band,” says founder and artistic director Brian Merriman, “but it’s modest for what we’re trying to do. Last year we were in band C and got 15,000, which is below the minimum level but an increase from previous years. However, now they’ve told us they’re not even granting us the reduced minimum of 15,000.”

But the festival will receive a ring-fenced grant of 7,500 for a different development of new Irish work.

“So they’re giving us zero to sustain the development of 2019, but are ring-fencing a reduced grant for an additional task to be achieved with cut resources,” says Merriman.

“They also want us to apply for a lower band next year, despite us twice meeting the higher bar, which implies they will be unwilling to fund us, no matter what we propose, even when we make that grade. We are seriously concerned.”

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IDGTF specialises in new work. Additionally, in 2018 the Arts Council asked the festival to develop partnerships as part of its funding. This resulted in six different international theatres, companies and festivals offering work to Irish artists.

“All funding for that task – our biggest ever international collaboration – has been withdrawn,” says Merriman. “Of course funding one year doesn’t mean ongoing funding, but IDGTF has been poorly funded ever since it kicked-off in 2004.

“Dublin City Council has a modest budget and it has always helped us out with about 4,000. It will go towards running a two-week event with 10 plays a night if they give us the same for 2020.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is gay, attended Velvet by Tom Ratcliffe at this year’s IDGTF and joined all the companies at the opening night party. The festival itself was launched by minister for culture Josepha Madigan, who offered praise for both its model and purpose.

“The minister noted that when Ireland fell off the economic cliff 10 years ago, dozens of huge festivals crashed but we kept going,” says Merriman.

Official endorsement can’t get any higher in Ireland, but that doesn’t help much to attract support or sponsorship, which is thin on the ground. And yet IDGTF has made Ireland a giant in the global field by mentoring new Irish writing and creating international partnerships.

This year, Merriman says, is the festival’s most successful outcome since the economic crash, with work going to theatres and festivals in the UK, USA, Sweden and South Africa.

“Arts Council Ireland’s 2020 budget is not being cut,” says Merriman. “Quite the contrary.”

He adds: “By promoting and developing this distinctive genre of identity theatre, I’ve been cast into the role of a permanent beggar.

“I am very conscious that the companies who stage their work at the festival are also investing in it. The Arts Council is perpetuating the notion that innovative artists must starve for their unique art. And I reject that.”

Go to gaytheatre.ie for more information

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