Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI) has launched a public consultation on its new draft five-year strategic framework for developing the arts from 2019 to 2024.
The document’s objectives are grouped under three headings: “inspire”, “connect” and “lead”. They deal with issues including improving participation in the arts for those with disabilities and making the case for a better-resourced arts sector.
The arts in Northern Ireland is facing a barrage of difficulties, including reduced funding, uncertainty over the Irish border around Brexit, and the absence of a sitting executive and assembly. The framework is described by ACNI as “a more flexible way of managing uncertainty”.
Nóirín McKinney, ACNI’s director of arts development, says: “The framework reflects what we heard from the sector and other key stakeholders, and we have tried to reflect what they have said.”
Local authorities, the arts sector and government are among those that were consulted over the document last year. The deadline for submissions to the public consultation is 22 March.
ACNI has addressed uncertainty around funding applications, seeking to better prepare applicants and how to feed back to them, along with succession planning.
“Northern Ireland is a small place and a lot of organisations have been built up through the passion of an individual, and we need a proper system around succession,” says McKinney. “We also had a lot of feedback around health and mental health within the sector, given the strain that organisations have found themselves under.
“Because our funding has been depleted, it is hard to plan for a three-year horizon. But organisations are finding that crippling, in terms of forward planning, and not even having an indicative figure. That’s something we might look to reconsider.”
The absence of a working government in Northern Ireland is affecting many areas of life. Without an executive, there is no mechanism to enact any significant change in public spending decisions.
Stella Byrne, a Heritage Lottery Fund casework manager in Northern Ireland, says: “The absence of ministerial endorsement means that if the assembly does get back up and running, it could have an alternative view, which could have an impact.”
Other aims ACNI may seek to take forward, subject to consultation, include enhancing the quality of creative careers advice in schools; improving the rural and regional reach of funding by spearheading collaborative projects with local authorities, and to create a seed fund to support new ideas that use digital technology in the arts.