Arts in Northern Ireland suffer 4.7% loss in funding

Tough times ahead as decrease in Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Annual Funding Programme leads to seven organisations losing their support. Caroline Parry reports
Caroline Parry
The arts in Northern Ireland face a challenging future, admits the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) after a 4.7% cut in its Annual Funding Programme led to seven arts organisations losing all their support.

The ACNI allocated £13.1m in funding to 100 arts organisations. It received £8.57m from the government to maintain core costs, and £4.53m of National Lottery Funding to support programming costs.

New Lodge Arts, Arts for All and Bruiser Theatre Company lost funding but were offered 15% of their previous year’s support to help until alternative funding is sourced. Queens Street Studios & Gallery, the Dublin-based Contemporary Music Centre and the merged Craft & Design Collective and Craft Northern Ireland also lost funding.

The Queens Street Studios & Gallery is working with the ACNI to seek a reversal of the decision. “Having reviewed the documentation, the board is of the view that the decision to entirely cut our annual funding has been based on flawed information,” said a statement.

Meanwhile, Belfast’s Metropolitan Arts Centre, the Mac, and the Ulster Orchestra will share £600,000 in additional funds allocated by the Department for Communities after proving they were “structurally underfunded”.

John Edmund, the chair of the arts council, says: “Within the context of reducing public funding across government, the board had to make the difficult decision to reduce the number of annually funded organisations, while protecting the balance of art forms for the year ahead.

“It is with regret that we had to refuse funding to seven applicants. The organisations are eligible to apply to other National Lottery programmes in the future.”

Robust response

Conor Shields, the convener of arts advocacy group ArtsMatterNI, urges the sector to respond robustly to the ACNI and Department for Communities.

Peter Richards, the director of Belfast’s Golden Thread Gallery, which received a small reduction to its funding, says the ACNI failed to carry out a major portfolio review several years ago, despite knowing the cuts were coming.

“It is like being trapped in a slow car crash,” he says. “We knew it was coming, but we were not able to align ourselves in the best way.”

Richards adds that the lack of an overarching strategy at the ACNI and also of government scrutiny are now significant issues. “There doesn’t seem to be movement towards this [a strategy] in the future either, but action does need to be taken,” he says.

“We need a better understanding of the aims of the portfolio, of the value of art here and where the ACNI is investing, and how that relates to a longer-term strategy. At the moment, we are seeking to try to deliver the programmes we know we should be delivering. But it is the public that is being short-changed because we are being short-changed.”

The ACNI has said it will begin consulting on a new five-year strategy this year.

Richards points to the Republic of Ireland, where it was announced in April that almost €1.2bn is to be invested in culture, heritage and language projects as part of Project Ireland 2040, a government programme that emphasises social outcomes and values ahead of economic targets. The funding includes €460m for national cultural institutions, €265m for cultural and creativity investment, and €285m for natural and built heritage.

Capital projects include renovation work at the National Library; two sites run by the National Museum of Ireland; the National Concert Hall; and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. There will also be further redevelopment at the National Gallery of Ireland.

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