Arts Funding Cuts Announced

In year cuts of 5% will affect 37 Arts Council clients in 2014/15, with wider cuts scheduled for next year

Following the June Monitoring Round reallocation of funds announced by the Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton, on July 31, 37 arts organisations in Northern Ireland have been asked to plan for an immediate cut to their budgets.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) last week met with representatives of its exchequer funded clients to inform them of a potential 5% in year cut.

The organisations – which include Young At Art, Ulster Orchestra, Lyric Theatre, The Mac, Audiences NI, Verbal Arts Centre, Nerve Centre, Millennium Forum and Community Arts Partnership, among others – have been asked to respond with impact reports on how the cuts are likely to affect their programming, staffing, services, audiences and participation.

In year cuts are unusual and particularly damaging for those organisations in the firing line, many of which will have allocated operational budgets months in advance.

Ali Fitzgibbon, director of Young At Art and the Belfast Children's Festival, said: 'It's hugely disappointing and destructive. By making these in year cuts, an administration that has created ministerial priorities to increase access to the arts are actually reducing access.

'As a consequence, we're having to cut most of our free programme for this year's festival, so the ability for families who are not financially independent to take part in free workshops and experiences is gone. For a number of years we've had a hardship fund that helps schools to access the arts in areas of deprivation – that's going to have to go, too.

'And the cuts will not only affect access to the arts, but the wider economy as well. For example, we're in the final stages of a massive bid for €300,000 international network collaboration that will attract European moneys into Northern Ireland – that's gone. It's a Jenga affect. Small cuts in the arts have huge implications.'

ACNI will decide in September if the cuts are to be applied across the board or applied disproportionately to individual clients, and is already warning of further cuts of 5-7% next year.

Margaret Henry, chief executive of Audiences NI, said: 'Every aspect of our service – training, research and audience development – are under threat. Initiatives like Test Drive the Arts, which introduces new demographics to the arts, and the Hitchhikers project, where we brought together people from different communities across Belfast who don't normally attend the arts, we want to save. But knowing that there are further cuts to come, we're going to have to think long and hard about all of our initiatives.

'It's even more important now, in such a financially challenging time for the arts, that our members are supported in terms of broadening and diversifying and increasing their audiences. We're here to help them with that, but the cuts will be painful.’

In recent years, the arts sector has repeatedly made the argument to Government of the benefits it has across key government priorities such as the economy, health, education and the creative industries.

Conor Shields, chief executive of the Community Arts Partnership, said: 'The arts greatly impact on the state of our health as a society, as a place. We desperately need new ways of how to engage with each other in order to become a more normal community. One of the great ways we can do that is through a vibrant creative sector, which can give creative opportunities that provide benefits to health, confidence, employability, and that raise the standards of living for us all.

'But there will be further cuts next year, and for the sector that I represent – community arts – we work with those who are most socially and economically marginalised, those least able to pay, those who get least and can afford the least in society, and they're being doubly penalised not only through welfare reforms, but now also because our services which support them are also under threat.'

Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK in terms of governmental funding for the arts, with Arts Council England distributing more than twice the amount of arts funding per capita in comparison. Despite a recent 35% retrenchment in arts funding in the Republic of Ireland, the levels of funding south of the border remain much higher also.

Regarding this discrepancy, Shields commented: 'We really punch way above our weight here in Northern Ireland in terms of music, poetry, theatre, visual arts, film and other artistic forms. People flock to Northern Ireland because of our tourist offer of culture, heritage and creativity. Imagine just what we could achieve if we were funded to the same level as other parts of the UK.'

In the meantime, ACNI has pledged ‘to work to protect our core clients as much as possible by mitigating the impact of these cuts in any way we can. We will continue to make the case to DCAL and to the Northern Ireland Government of the value of the arts to the economy and to society.

'It is not just about arts programming, as important as that is, but it is about the very valuable education and outreach work that these organisations undertake in order to help meet the NI Executive’s own Programme for Government priorities.'