Support the 13p For The Arts Campaign
Culture NI urges users to back Arts Council of Northern Ireland's 'No More Cuts to the Arts' campaign
In good times, as in bad, we turn to the arts.
During times of celebration, art is the essential ingredient, without which any kind of celebration is no kind of celebration. After all, as Shakespeare has it, a party without music – a world without art – is 'dull as night'.
Conversely, in times of sorrow, art provides a balm, an essential aid in our journey towards recovery and closure. We invariably turn to the poets for consolation, or play songs by our favourite artists to recall moments of joy and togetherness. To do so is entirely natural, fundamentally human, a generational inheritance.
Unfortunately, our generation is in danger of breaking the chain.
Patronage in the arts goes back centuries, with most societies valuing and supporting their Da Vincis, happy to reap the obvious aesthetic, spiritual and economic rewards of their resulting artistic practices. The Northern Irish arts sector, in turn, relies on public funding.
The per capita spend on arts provision in Northern Ireland, however, is lower than any other country within the UK, or Ireland – almost one-third of that distributed by the Arts Council of Wales, for example. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland must divvy out a paltry £12.3m annually.
Rarely have so many benefited from so little.
That money goes towards funding large-scale arts events like the transformative UK City of Culture celebrations in Derry~Londonderry, festivals like the Belfast Festival at Queen's, institutions like the Ulster Orchestra, promoters of ethnic arts such as ArtsEkta, supportive umbrella agencies like Craft NI, world-class visitor attractions like The MAC, venues like the Black Box, digital platforms like Culture Northern Ireland, grass roots education programmes, grants for young artists and much more besides, spread across all six counties.
The creative industries employ 40,000 passionate, highly skilled people in Northern Ireland, more than the agricultural sector. Despite this fact, the arts sector is allocated a minute 0.1% of the overall Northern Ireland budget – enough money to sustain the health service for only one day, or the education system for 2.3 days.
Yet an already financially constrained sector – which nevertheless managed to contribute an impressive and much-needed £714m Gross Value Added to the Northern Ireland economy in the past year – will be squeezed further still if the Draft Budget for Northern Ireland 2015/16 is ratified.
Then, the Arts Council will be forced to make a devastating cut of 11.2% to its budget, or £1.38 million, meaning that entire arts organisations will disappear overnight – and thousands of Northern Irish residents, and tourists coming into the country, will miss out on the exponential benefits of their work.
If further cuts go through, arts funding in 2015/16 will equal that provided by government a decade ago, in 2005/6. I can recall covering the sector then, and not with much affection.
It was a time before increased arts funding helped to reawaken our stagnant music scene, rejuvenate our embarrassingly outdated arts venues, enable our craftspeople to set up businesses and promote Northern Irish products to a global market, replace old murals with new, foster cross-community partnerships, develop an enviable portfolio of targeted arts festivals, and give our growing numbers of inward tourists something to spend their money on.
Government built it and they came. What will happen when there is nothing for them to see?
Many believe that the arts sector should make do and mend, but it must be understood that it is already operating on the bare minimum. If we cannot convince the Stormont Executive to reverse projected cuts in 2015/16, then our dark times will be darker still, our times of celebration few and far between.
But there is hope. In 2011, for instance, proposed cuts to the Arts Council budget were overturned due to an overwhelming show of support from the Northern Irish public for the Fair Deal for the Arts campaign. At the time, you wrote to the Stormont Executive in your thousands to demand continued financial support for the arts sector.
We have the opportunity to do the same thing now – and CNI asks you to write to the Executive by utilising the Arts Council's 13pForTheArts campaign toolkit, and to share it with as many of your friends and family as possible before the December 29 deadline. The emotional wellbeing of our wee country – not to mention its economic recovery and ultimate growth – depends upon your support.