Special grant used to pay theater's $3.32 mil deficit

DUBLIN — To help alleviate its widely reported financial woes, Dublin’s Abbey Theater will receive a special grant of e2 million ($2.66 million) from Ireland’s minister of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

Grant is not intended as an unconditional bailout but instead will be used to help pay down the Abbey’s estimated $3.32 million deficit and to facilitate internal restructuring.

The beleaguered national theater has already begun an international search for a new artistic leader to replace Ben Barnes, whose contract expires at the end of 2005.

According to the Irish Times, the special grant will come from Arts Minister John O’Donoghue’s departmental savings for 2004, and it is being provided in response to a request from the Arts Council on the heels of an independent report by Scots arts consultant Anne Bonnar.

It is widely agreed that the Abbey’s current organizational structure — which includes a nine-person board of directors elected out of a larger 32-person advisory council, and a two-person executive — is outdated and inadequate to its current needs. Significantly, the theater has renamed its top position “director” rather than “artistic director,” which the board intends as an indication that it is interested in considering producers and managers as well as helmers for Barnes’ replacement.

The theater found itself at the center of a major controversy this past summer when it announced that, midway through its celebratory 100th anniversary season, it was going to lay off a third of its 91-person staff because of financial and managerial problems. The scale of protests and dissent at council and staff level led to a freeze on these plans pending an internal committee report, which recommended a reduced level of layoffs and a management restructure. Two artistic staffers whose contracts were rumored to be in jeopardy — commissioning manager Jocelyn Clarke and Ali Curran, director of the theater’s second stage, the Peacock — have since signed on to the theater for another year.

Like all Irish arts organizations, the Abbey is still waiting news of its 2005 revenue Arts Council grant, which for the current year was $6.05 million. The Council would not comment on the Irish Times report.

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