We're all a bit fatigued after a full year of the Pandemic. There's been so much bad news everywhere we turn. The team here at Drogheda Chamber have supported and celebrated the resilience, creativity and courage of our entrepreneurs over the last year. And now it's time to celebrate those that have been nimble in adapting to the changing situation. Those that have pivoted. That have used the lockdowns as opportunities to future fit and develop their businesses further.
Over the last few months we have been interviewing some of these businesses and sharing some of the positivity and good news that we see.
This week we are talking with Collette Farrell from Droichead Arts Centre.
Tell us about Droichead Arts - pre pandemic
Established in 1989, Droichead Arts Centre is a multi-disciplinary centre in the heart of Drogheda Town that provides an extensive curated arts and cultural programme. The Centre is housed over two buildings: Stockwell Street, which hosts a modern 169-seater theatre and a bright contemporary visual arts gallery, and Barlow House, an 18th century Georgian style townhouse, which hosts artist’s spaces and print studios.
Droichead actively supports the work and development of artists, in particular those in or from the North East region. We do this through residencies, bursaries and other bespoke supports. Droichead is equally committed to its audiences, with people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and traditions engaging with us through a wide variety of schemes and initiatives. We also host and are a key resource for many local community, voluntary and amateur groups.
The Centre participates in numerous networks including NOMAD, Louth Creative Ireland Culture and The Live Network, and works with festivals such as Cruinniú na nÓg, Bealtaine, and Drogheda Arts Festival, as well as partnering with others such as Drogheda Classical Music and Drogheda Traditional Music Weekend. The Centre is supported by the Arts Council, Louth County Council and Creative Ireland, and by private donation and commercial sponsorship.
What was the initial impact of Covid on your business & how did you react?
We closed our doors on 12 March 2020, despite being in mid production of The Hag by St. Brigid’s Drama Group (which had sold out!). So firstly we had to look after artists and audiences alike.
Communication was key! From completing refunds, to having the conversation with artists around the forthcoming programme - all of this took a lot of time and resource. There was uncertainty about when we'd re-open, and we realised very quickly that it would be a while - so we had to look ahead, to our programme, and talk to artists about the possibility that events wouldn’t happen. We also had to communicate with the many local drama groups, dance and music schools and voluntary groups who perform in the centre annually. Our audiences were great, hugely supportive, even though it took a long time to contact many regarding refunds, as phone calls were missed and our staff were on reduced hours etc.
Financially, we had to consider that our box office & room rentals (over a 1/3 of our turnover) could disappear for the rest of the year, so cash flow was a big consideration. Suppliers were hugely supportive and many gave some discount as we were closed. Some audiences also donated the price of their tickets to the Centre, which was a lovely gesture.
At the same time, whilst many centres went online immediately, Droichead took a step back, to reflect and consider how to move forward. We wanted to continue supporting the work and development of artists in the North East Region, and curate a high quality arts programme, and we wanted to continue to engage with our local audiences.We explored different media, from online with our Solo@Home series, curated by SJ McArdle, our LIVE Literature programme by our Literature Development Officer, Dani Gill and our Slow Sessions; to print media, with our Droichead Diaries programme, supported by Drogheda Independent; and radio , where with LMFM we produced stories by actress/writer Grainne Rafferty; to the interactive programme from our company in residence, Tailtiu; and film, working with established film maker Darren Thornton on an intergenerational documentary funded by Creative Ireland; to posters and billboards with the Borrowed Ground Visual Arts Collective and to working offsite, which we had done before, but this time installing visual art in disused buildings in Drogheda. Our youth theatre was also incredible at this time, working online for most of the year with workshops and performances.
The result was that Droichead’s digital reach scored over 20,000 impressions in 2020 plus 33 press articles with 122,000+ views.
What changes did you make in order to cope or pivot / and to adapt to the situation?
Programme wise, we will have a hybrid approach to programmes, for example with our Slow Sessions, we will continue to provide online and live, so that audiences who tuned in from abroad can still attend. We want to produce more work in different media, so through film, and for our new podcast platform, and offsite.
We received funding from Creative Ireland to build a temporary outdoor stage at the back of Barlow House, and we hope to launch Backstage at Barlow later this year, which will host small scale short events at weekends, and early evenings.
We will continue to support the work and development of artists. We launched an artist bursary scheme this year, and we had more time to explore the development of new works in progress and we plan to do both annually going forward. A challenge going forward is finding a way to continue to be a resource for the many local drama groups, and dance and music schools, as limited capacity will restrict their audience numbers, so that is a conversation that we need to have..
We had time to collaborate more, working with Drogheda BIDS (Business Improvement District Scheme) on projects, and engaging with DkIT on projects and events. We also took the year to fully develop our strategy from 2021 – 2025, which has been approved by our board, and will be available in the Autumn. So we took time to reflect, to see where we are going, and how we get there. We have embedded training and development in our new strategy, and in the last 12 months over 50% of our management team have undertook additional training and online courses, in supervisory management, accounting, and business. People are key, and you realise that more so in a pandemic, from our brilliant staff to our amazing artists, people are your biggest asset.
What supports, grants, aids helped the most?
We are funded by the Arts Council, and Louth County Council, and both have been hugely supportive. With increased funding to allow for capacity building around filming/going online with our programme from the Arts Council, to organised information sessions; to continued support from the Arts Office and the Director of Services in Louth County Council. Our Nomad and LIVE Networks, made up of other arts centres, Theatre Forum, Visual Arts Ireland, Louth Culture Team, and of course Drogheda Chamber were also extremely supportive networks, combined with our sponsors, in Drogheda Port, Flogas, and Specsavers.
How are you feeling about business as we begin to plan to emerge from the lockdowns, and as vaccinations roll out?
We will proceed with caution. Our gallery is now open since the 10 July, and we hope to open our venue on the 31 August. We will have reduced numbers, and will be adhering to all Covid Protocols, with masks, social distancing etc. The max we can have in our venue will be 40, but it will great to have live events again.
Finally … What's your top piece of advice for other businesses?
Plan, consider and reflect, and remember that people are your biggest asset.
If you'd like to be featured in this series - We'd love to hear from you
@Drogheda & District Chamber.