Writers turned out in force at the City of Culture offices in Guildhall Square this month to sign a petition against proposed funding cuts to the arts. The cuts will see a £4.2m shortfall in funding over a four-year period, and greatly affect the future of publishing houses in the city and beyond.
The move was a collaborative effort involving Derry publishing houses Guildhall Press and Yes! Publications, as well as Derry City of Culture. Jenny Doherty of Guildhall Press explained the reasoning behind the petition.
'The Arts Council of Northern Ireland wanted people to send in their support for the Fair Deal For the Arts campaign, but we thought, "Why can’t we do something in Derry?", so the petition was set in motion.
'This petition was only organised last week, so we were able to able to mobilise very quickly in response to the email we received from the Arts Council regarding potential cuts. The Arts Council has given us their full backing in this matter.'
When asked how the cuts would affect publishing houses and the city, Doherty painted a bleak picture before delivering a stinging rebuke to Northern Ireland's politicians.
'The cuts will have a massive effect on us in terms of how we operate and reach readers. Children are read to and read for themselves at a very young age, so if the cuts go ahead we would be publishing fewer books for the book-reading public.
'We would also be forced to reduce our print runs and it will be harder for young writers to get their voices heard. If the cuts go ahead it will be hard for any writer to find a publishing house to take them on, as they wont want to take the risk. Something has to be done now, we can’t wait.
'The politicians are to blame for this, it's all politics. All this is down to the bad decisions that they, not us the general public, have made.'
Doherty also fears for the plethora of arts festivals that take place annually in and around the city. '20% of tourists last year said that the thing they loved the most about their trip here was the festivals, the music, and the culture.
'I don’t know what festivals will be affected, but imagine if the Gasyard Feile, which has been going many years, couldn’t take place. The communities where this, and many other festivals take place, will be affected greatly.'
In light of the petition, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure issued a statement on the cuts.
'DCAL is currently working with the Arts Council and other stakeholders in an effort to ensure that the impact of any budget reductions is minimised. Once the Northern Ireland Executive has announced the final budget allocation for each department, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland, will confirm the allocations of funding to all spending areas falling within the Department’s remit.
'The minister is keen to ensure the continued sustainability of the overall arts sector and will take this into consideration in making a final decision about the level of funding for the Arts. It will be for the Arts Council to determine funding allocations in line with its Business Plan.'
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