Sm 0184 0524 Credit Ste Murray

December 2020 update
Working during COVID-19: A framework for Arts Centres and Performing Arts Venues

Reopening Arts Centres – Guidelines

The Government’s Phased Reopening plan provides a road map for organisations, including those supported by the Arts Council, to reopen their workplaces, cafés, galleries, artist studios, theatres, rehearsal and dance studios at various times in the coming months. Starting last week, many arts organisations faced the challenge of reopening after a few difficult months of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

The purpose of these guidelines is to bring the necessary public health and safety expertise to all of the country’s arts centres. Working with Theatre Forum, Peter Jordan and Joanne Moore of SLUA Event Safety Consultancy have prepared them so Arts Centres can reopen as workplaces as well as safe places of assembly. A Working Group, chaired by Patricia McBride of An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny and a director of Theatre Forum, provided feedback from the Arts Council as well as the sector. Please share the Reopening Arts Centre information freely with your colleagues and networks.

Note that the guidelines are living documents and subject to change as public health advice changes. Updates and additional resources will be published regularly.

New phase of COVID-19 response September 2020

As well as the welcome return to school and extracurricular activities, September has seen arts events bring our theatres, arts centres and streets alive. Undoubtedly there are still more challenges ahead to which everyone in the arts and culture sector will have to respond and evolve.

As we await the Government’s Living with Covid strategy with its five stage framework, due tomorrow, below is an overview of the public health measures currently in place for our sector. These are informed by the recently amended Health Act 1947 regulations and determine how arts centres, organisations and studios can be safe places of work and entertainment for artists, audiences and the public. We’ll alert you to any change or addition to the regulations once the Government strategy is published. Send your questions about the strategy and how it applies to your organisation or mail the Department for clarification.

Cultural, social and sport measures
Businesses/services such as museums, cinemas, theatres and art galleries are deemed to be controlled environments, with appropriate protective measures in place such as physical distancing between people.

These venues can continue to operate where appropriate physical distancing and all other protective measures can continue to be maintained. Individual groupings attending these venues must be limited to six people from no more than 3 households. Overall attendance must adhere to an overall limit of 50 people.

All remaining community, religious, cultural, social and sport facilities can remain open. Sporting events and matches can continue to take place behind closed doors. Gatherings, including social gatherings, before or after events must be avoided. Participants should practice 2 metre physical distancing before and after events, during breaks in play, on the sidelines and team huddles should be avoided.

All necessary measures to comply with child protection still apply.

Gyms/leisure centres/swimming pools/exercise and dance studios can remain open with strict distancing and other appropriate protective measures in place.

Exercise and dance classes should be limited to 6 people and observe physical distancing rules. Multiple pods may operate if sufficient space is available and strict public health protocols are in place.

Groups exercising outdoors should be limited to 15 people, including training sessions. There should be no mixing between groups.

It is recommended that those responsible for managing these facilities should have completed a risk assessment before reopening to manage the public health risk for their customers, attendees, participants, and staff.

The assessment should consider the risk factors for getting COVID-19.

Those are:

  • distance
  • activity
  • time
  • environment

The assessment should also include controls such as managed entry, improved hygiene facilities, and regular cleaning to limit these.

Facilities should observe physical distancing guidelines and apply the public health checklist to their operation. Guidance on mass gatherings should also be followed.

Facilities reopening with a return of staff should apply the Return to Work Safely Protocol. This has been designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Due to additional risks of spreading the virus linked to choir rehearsals and the playing of wind musical instruments (trumpets, trombones, flutes and so on), extra precautions are advised for groups involving these. Practice, teaching and performance should be outdoors if possible and with strict adherence to 2 metre physical distancing advice. Additional protective measures such as screens, instrument covers and face coverings may be used to help reduce the risk further for those taking part in these activities.

Clarification about Failte Ireland guidelines and arts centres
23 July 

Our Re-opening Arts Centres guidelines set out the public health and safety responsibilities of arts centres and their teams. They don’t specify the distances that should be applied or the numbers allowed to attend performances as these are subject to change on the advice of NPHET. Up to now, we’ve looked to the Government’s Roadmap and Failte Ireland guidelines especially the Re-opening Cafés and Restaurants and Visitor Attractions ones. Different interpretations of parts of their guidelines have resulted in confusion about safe distances in the front of house, café and auditorium spaces in arts centres and theatres.

Download the guidelines for re-opening restaurants and cafes (V2.3) [pdf, 4.8mb]Download the guidelines for re-opening visitor attractions (V1.1) [pdf, 5.7mb]

Yesterday, Failte Ireland’s Festivals and Events team was in touch to say that guidelines for events and festivals are being prepared. These guidelines will be informed by the Re-opening Arts Centres ones but will include advice and recommendations, including distances, for arts centres, theatres, festivals, venues, conferences and corporate events as well as concerts and outdoor events. The Re-opening Arts Centres Working Group will review these guidelines to ensure that they are in line with the standards expected of funded arts centres. Once they are available next week, we will circulate them widely and highlight the relevant distances, numbers of people and key dates.


The biggest areas of confusion are whether 1m or 2m distancing in required in the auditorium when seating is allocated and all other protocols have been adhered to and whether the 105 minutes slot applies to the performance running time whether audience members are seated at 1m or 2m distance.

Changes to pub reopening dates last week have created doubts around some assumptions that we were working to. We maintain that a theatre auditorium where seating is allocated, as it would be in a cinema, is very much a controlled environment. Before Tuesday’s meeting, we asked the Failte Ireland Customer Support team to the confirm that our interpretation of the Failte Ireland guidelines was correct. Here’s the interpretation discussed on Tuesday at our Open Forum.

1. Theatres are controlled environments
Please confirm that theatres (which we also describe as arts centres and venues) with allocated seating are considered controlled environments like cinemas.Page 20, Appendix 1, Controlled environments:Public and private venues or workplaces are considered ‘controlled’ environments. Examples are workplaces, schools, museums, swimming pools, galleries, cinemas, stadiums, conference facilities and casinos. Food businesses are considered ‘controlled’ environments, which includes restaurants and cafes.

2. Physical distances
Page 4.The physical distancing measures outlined in these guidelines are based on the HPSC COVID-19: Guidance for Food Service Businesses. Physical distancing of 2 metres* should be maintained. However if this is not possible, this can be reduced to 1 metre* in controlled environments if the risk mitigation requirements outlined in Appendix 1 have been met. As far as reasonably possible, a distance of 2 metres* and a minimum of 1 metre* should be maintained between employees. Where 2 metres* is not possible all other measures to protect employees should be in place.

So in theatres with allocated seating and all of the correct protocols in place, 1m distance applies in seated cafés and auditoria and in uncontrolled areas, such as foyers and circulation areas, 2m applies.

3. Bars in theatres and arts centres
Our interpretation of this week’s change to the reopening timeline for pubs is that while theatres/arts centres and their cafés can reopen, the bar should remain closed.

4. Maximum of 50 people
For the moment, the maximum number of people allowable in the theatre’s auditorium is 50, including staff, cast and crew.We had a response suggesting this interpretation was correct. But while we were presenting our interpretation of the guidelines above, some arts centres got what seemed to be contradictory advice. Given the difficulties of correctly interpreting so many different guidelines, we expect that the Failte Ireland Guidelines to be published next will offer definitive advice on distances and capacity in theatres and arts centres.

AIST and Technical Managers’ presentation & discussion on theatre seating options – Wednesday 24 June 10:00 – 11:30am

The presentation detailed the concepts and important questions to be dealt with by venues in the process of calculating their potential capacity under various social distancing options. The aim of the session was to provide a toolkit for venues to work through seating layout options, taking into account their size, capacity, programme, audience profile, and booking patterns.

Presentation available AIST & Venue TM Group Seating.Meetings note here (thanks to Saoirse Anton for compiling these).

Photo Credit ©Ste Murray