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Staff at the Arts Council said they should have been consulted about a “misguided” and “disappointing” promotional campaign that resulted in an embarrassing public apology.

The organization was forced to withdraw the campaign after the publication of an “insensitive” advertisement, comparing the challenges faced by Irish artists during the pandemic with American singer Nina Simone and racial segregation in the United States.

Internal files detailing how the Art campaign is flourishing despite adversity also caused consternation among agency staff when it launched in late summer.

An email from Sarah Bannan, Literature Manager at the Arts Council, read: “I know that for my team and for the managers with whom I am in regular contact, this campaign has been disappointing and misguided.

She told the agency’s director, Maureen Kennelly, that it was “frustrating” that no consultation had taken place internally at any time.

Ms Bannan wrote: “I know the organization may sound negative, but I think some level of consultation around big campaigns like this might help avoid that kind of backlash.”

The email said the controversy had been “stressful”, with Ms Bannan saying she understood the director could “feel the tension” and that a public apology was welcome.

“I hope you don’t mind me telling you what has been a shared sense of frustration and disappointment on the part of many colleagues,” she wrote.

In response, Ms Kennelly said the consultation “definitely” would have helped and should have taken place.

“I understand how difficult and frustrating it can be for staff faced with this. And of course I don’t mind you sharing this, ”she wrote.

Documents posted under FoI also detail how Ms Kennelly wrote to members of the Arts Council, alerting them to issues surrounding the campaign.

She said they were probably already aware of “a lot of negative comments on social media” and that the initiative has been put on hold pending review.

One member, documentary filmmaker and former journalist Helen Shaw, wrote: “Well done Maureen, good answer. “

Another, dance artist Fearghus Ó Conchúir, replied: “I think it takes confidence to admit that something didn’t go as planned. Well done for responding quickly and directly.

Ms Kennelly responded to thank him, saying the apology appeared to have been “generally well received”.

“I just had a good conversation with Arts and Disability Ireland about this and they are very happy to know that we have pulled the campaign,” she wrote.

Arts and Disability Ireland had previously written to say that they were not happy with two disability-focused campaign ads, one relating to painter Frida Kahlo and the other to Beethoven.

Executive Director Pádraig Naughton wrote: “I was unlucky to hear the Beethoven commercial on RTÉ Radio 1.

“Unfortunately, it follows the same tragic tale as the Frida [Kahlo] advertisement, which I described in a Twitter thread this weekend as “plain and simple nonsense of misguided ableists and worse than disappointing.”

The promotional campaign was also criticized by the Arts Council’s festivals and events manager Karl Wallace, who said that if “the intention was honorable” it was a setback for their work.

A spokesperson for the Arts Council said: “We recognize that better and richer decisions are made by more diverse groups, and for any future such campaign a larger contribution will be secured. “

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