11,500 Signatures for the Arts

Deputy First Minister receives 13p For The Arts petition, while business leaders voice their support

Almost 11,500 people have backed the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's 13p For The Arts campaign, calling for no more cuts to the arts budget.

ACNI chief executive, Roisin McDonough, presented the preliminary results of the budget campaign to Deputy First Minister Martim McGuinness and the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, at Stormont on Thursday, December 18.

Speaking at Parliament Buildings, McDonough warned that after six consecutive budget cuts in the last three years, any further cuts to the arts sector in Northern Ireland would have a catastrophic impact on the future of arts provision here.

The Northern Ireland government currently invests just 13 pence per head of population per week in direct funding for the arts, representing 0.1% (1000th) of the total NI government budget. The money received by the Arts Council is used to award grants to support a diverse range of arts activities, from festivals and venues, to performances and community-based projects.

'While the budget consultation period will remain officially open until December 29, these initial results, gathered over just four weeks, reflect the value that we, as a society, place on the arts. We are delighted that OFMDFM, and the deputy First Minister in particular, alongside arts minister Carál Ní Chuilín, have taken the time out of their schedule to receive the petition and to listen to the case being made for continued public investment in the arts.'

The Deputy First Minister and DCAL Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín said: 'There needs to be an appreciation that the financial difficulties being faced by Departments are not of their making and have been imposed by the British Government. We have always tried to broaden the debate beyond the Arts Council’s publicly funded bodies as it ties in with our promoting equality and tackling poverty agenda.

'We were pleased to accept this petition from the Arts Council, and while we totally realise the impact of the current economic difficulties across the board, we will continue to argue for further investment in the arts sector. This not only includes the annually funded bodies but across the wider arts community and those groups and organisations who have never had the opportunity to avail of public funding.'

Since the Arts Council's 13p For The Arts campaign was launched in November, it has won the support of many high profile personalities including actors Stephen Rea, Adrian Dunbar, Jayne Wisener and Ian McElhinney; composer Barry Douglas; musicians Duke Special and Neil Martin; and writers Marie Jones, Owen McCafferty and Carlos Gebler.

Paul Terrington, Chairman of the Institute of Directors, also backed the campaign, leading the charge from the NI business community, by presenting the economic arguments around arts funding. In the open letter to the First and deputy First Ministers, Ms McDonough said:

'The proposed cut of 11.2% (£1.38m) would set spending on the arts back to a level last seen in 2005-06. Such savings would do little to relieve wider budget pressures but would tip an already precarious balance and cause disproportionate and potentially irreparable damage to this small but vital sector.

'Companies would be forced to close and much of the good work of the last decade would be undone, with organisations forced to retract important outreach and educational activities, thereby restricting access to the very people and communities we and the Executive want to reach out to.

'A small investment in the arts yields big returns for everyone. The arts work exceptionally hard for our economy and society. They have, on a minimal budget, developed as one of the major players in social development, bringing people and communities together; they are at the forefront of promoting reconciliation and building a strong and shared community.

'They actively support the work of a wide range of government departments; they feed the economic and job-creating strength of the creative industries and cultural tourism, helping to turn 0.1% of public investment into 4% of GDP; they distinguish us and lift our image as a forward-looking place that’s ready to compete and do business. More than ever before, the arts are enriching everyone’s lives.'

The Deputy First Minister also met with representatives from Stage Beyond, a theatre company funded by the Arts Council, for young adults with learning disabilities. Based in the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry, the company offers the opportunity to explore issues significant to the learning disabled community and present these as theatre pieces and open workshops to the general community.

Dee Conaghan from Stage Beyond commented: 'We believe and have seen first-hand the transformative power of the arts to deliver life-changing experiences. We believe everyone has the right to access the arts and we are proud that Stage Beyond provides opportunities for positive, creative expression for those with learning disabilities, an often marginalised section of the community, which they wouldn’t otherwise get.'

The public consultation on the draft budget continues until December 29, 2014. To contribute your views, visit the Arts Council website for further information and relevant links.