Research News

IRC Dance and Theatre Report makes policy recommendations to strengthen cross-island ties

  • 01 February, 2023


The recently published Building Capacity for the Cultural Industries: Towards a Shared Island Approach for Dance and Theatre report lays out a substantial research agenda and policy recommendations to strengthen cross-island ties. The report is the result of an Irish Research Council (IRC) funded project that ran from December 2021-November 2022.

Led by Dr Victoria Durrer, Ad Astra Research Fellow at UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy and Dr Aoife McGrath, Queen’s University Belfast, the study is a unique collaboration between academic researchers, policymakers and dance and theatre practitioners across the island of Ireland. 

Funded by the IRC's New Foundations Scheme 2021, under the Shared Island Initiative Strand, supported by the Shared Island Unit in the Department of the Taoiseach, the project’s Core Research Group included representatives from Theatre & Dance Northern Ireland, Arts Council Northern Ireland, Dance Ireland, Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre, Cavan County Council Arts Office, British Council Ireland, and Arts Council Ireland / An Chomhairle Ealaíon, with Dr Emma McAlister supporting as Research Assistant. 

The group worked together to assemble new and existing academic and sector-based research and assess how all-island relations within the professional performing arts of dance and theatre may be nurtured for the future. 

Dr Durrer said: “While the performing arts of dance and theatre are an interconnected ‘cultural industry’ on the island of Ireland, very little information has been available regarding how this interconnection functions or what impact it has. This limits strategic development, especially in a post-Brexit and post pandemic context. Our report addresses this gap and highlights the need for ethical policy. This means moving beyond simply considering how the arts are useful for realising and supporting international and economic relations. It means considering the livelihoods on which these realisations are based.”

The study examined existing frameworks and gave priority to the lived experience and knowledge of those working in dance and theatre within the two jurisdictions, including those who work along and across the border region.

Kerry McCall Magan, British Council of Ireland, said: “This research makes a seminal contribution to understanding cross-island relationships, policies and practices in the performing arts on the island of Ireland. By comparing government arts spending in Ireland and Northern Ireland, classifying cross-jurisdictional relations, including financial relations, and providing an overview of existing frameworks, agencies and entities, it considers the key inter-related areas and cross-cutting policies that support cooperative, and competitive, relations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The research highlights the need for further discussion, continued collaborative research and ongoing support to enable and build the performing arts on the island of Ireland.”

The report argues that ‘spatial connectivity’ is needed, through consideration of political or territorial geographies, but also through acknowledgement and development of relationships and interdependencies. Dylan Quinn, Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre, said: “A particularly important and impactful focus of the research is the recognition of place-based solutions. It highlights the importance of understanding, appreciating and developing specific solutions to support people in place, not just people or place. The study calls attention to the specific challenges faced by rural artists and the creation, production and delivery of work in rural locations across the island. It is an important and valuable body of research into an area of cultural activity and policy development that has a significant amount to offer, but has to date received very limited detailed exploration.” 

This collaborative project saw data collection, gathering and analysis as a shared endeavour, and gave participants an opportunity to connect and work together. Catriona O’Reilly, Cavan County Council Arts Office, said: “The opportunity to meet and connect around shared concerns, expectations, and hopes for a Shared Island Approach for Dance and Theatre was a refreshing experience for me as a Local Authority Official. Quality research and reflection time with Artists, the Arts Councils, industry representatives and university researchers is not part of my everyday experience of local arts development, and I really valued this time for deeper thought and learning. 

It raised many questions about how and why we work the way we do. What I found interesting in the process is understanding and addressing the interrelated areas of capacity building and considering frameworks, access and inclusion, regional stability, equality and legacy, and the reliance on data and research from varied experiences." 

The report’s recommendations provide a path for further collaboration and policy development. Louise Costelloe, Dance Ireland, said: “This project has been vital in gaining a holistic understanding of dance practice across the island of Ireland, and exploring possibilities for our sector to flourish together.”

Since the study began, there has been significant policy development, with the new Arts Council Ireland (2022) Dance Policy including plans for an all-island dance company. As outlined in the report, continued support for research and practice in this area will be vital to building sustainable initiatives and actions.

Read the Report here: