Message by President Michael D. Higgins for Songs from an Empty Room
Áras an Uachtaráin, Saturday, 25th July, 2020
I am so pleased to have this opportunity to send my warmest regards to all those involved in Songs from an Empty Room, an event that I hope will help to put the spotlight on the invaluable contribution of offstage talent in Ireland, those who enable the performance. It is so uplifting to witness acts coming together in solidarity to support their backstage crews who are in serious jeopardy owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. This special live music event this evening highlights the reach and the importance of the wider Irish event industry, its crew as well as musicians. It is a celebration of the best of Irish music.
As we emerge from the dark chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic and regain some of the aspects of our lives that we perhaps took for granted before the imposition of restrictions, necessary as they were, we should do so with a deeper appreciation for the value of arts and culture and its centrality in our lives as a people.
We must do so, I suggest, with a fuller appreciation for all those workers, including those at the frontline providing essential services, and those workers out of the spotlight whose livelihoods are now under threat, paused, until the danger of COVID-19 passes and the physical distancing measures can be relaxed in such a way as will allow for a restoration of cultural and social life that we all miss so dearly.
Trí mheáin cultúr agus na healaíona cuirfidh muid in iúl pian agus lúcháir agus muid ag teacht amach as an ngéarchéim sláinte poiblí seo. Is trí chomhroinnt chultúir, ár gcultúr féin agus cultúir daoine eile agus trí rannpháirteacht ina chruthú a fhaighimid athnuachan agus inspioráid.
[It is to culture and the arts that we will seek a means of expression of the pain and the joy as we emerge from this public health crisis. For it is through a sharing of culture, our own and that of others, that we receive renewal and inspiration, and from participation in its creation.]
Culture is sustaining as well as enriching. The arts have a rich capacity to connect people across boundaries and barriers, to create strong and durable connections and enrich the lives of our societies, during times both good and bad. While at home over the past number of months, many of us have benefitted from the power of the arts in helping us deal with the day-to-day challenges of COVID-19. We may have done this through immersing ourselves in music, film and literature.
The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all aspects of society, and particularly those who work in the performance of the arts and their institutions, has been little less than catastrophic. With our free movement curtailed over these past number of months, almost all museums, theatres, music venues, libraries and heritage sites have been closed to the public, decimating the cultural sector. Now is the time for supporting the sector and the many whose livelihoods depend on it with measures that recognise the nature of the work that it constitutes and the need to offer security to those who work in it.
As our lives resume with necessary commercial and retail transactions, hopefully in a manner that demonstrates a hard-won realisation of the need for a better fit between ecology, society and economics, we must recognise the importance of the public spaces, the venues for public performance, the basic needs of emerging and classical expressions of all the arts and commit to real, sustained support for our arts and culture which are the most enduring expression of our Irishness. We must seek to secure a society in which culture is made safe, protected for the future and for sharing with the world.
Artists and their crews of all ages and backgrounds, need our solidarity now. Together we can help them and fill the gap recognised by the founding father of the European Union, Jean Monnet, who is famously said to have declared, “If I were starting again, I would start with culture”.
Tonight’s event recognises the value of culture and the importance of cultural workers at all levels who make it possible, and the role culture has played over the past few difficult months in helping us all as we struggled with the newfound realities presented by the pandemic. Songs from an Empty Room demonstrates the unquestionable power of music, song and performance in overcoming distance during this time of isolation, thus bringing us together, while never forgetting that the effects of the pandemic are borne unevenly across society.
May I take this occasion to thank those involved in this evening’s event, the range of artists and cultural workers from different disciplines, and, most of all, those who worked ‘behind the scenes’ to deliver the programme. Your contributions to citizenship are contributions in the very best sense. What you do is so very important for renewal and sustenance of the life of our society, its best guarantee of the achievement for all of the imaginative possibilities of the citizens of the future.