Emergency funding has been a critical lifeline to arts and culture in Northern Ireland but there are fears about the sector’s longer term sustainability, the Northern Ireland Assembly has heard.
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) appeared in front of the assembly’s communities committee earlier this month to discuss the ongoing impact of Covid on the arts sector.
ACNI chief executive Roisín McDonough and other senior staff discussed the pandemic’s impact on income, revenue generation and employment. They reported that the arts council had awarded an additional 3,370 grants to artists and arts organisations during the pandemic, totalling £26m.
They highlighted the findings of a recent evaluation survey on the impact of emergency funding on artists and organisations, which showed a “pressing need for ongoing additional funding for the sector if it is to survive the ongoing impacts of Covid”.
The research showed that 85% of artists agreed or strongly agreed that their immediate financial stress had been relieved by emergency grants, and 85% of organisations said they would have been forced to downscale without funding.
According to the research, 55% of arts organisations have been able to continue trading in 2021/22 but “there is uncertainty about [the sector's] longer term sustainability”. Ninety-five percent of organisations still need support to guarantee long-term financial sustainability, the committee heard.
ACNI is one of several arts and culture stakeholders represented on Northern Ireland’s Culture, Arts & Heritage Recovery Taskforce, which is delivering regular updates to the communities minister on the reopening and short-term recovery of the sector.
The taskforce is expected to deliver a report and recommendations this August that will inform a longer term strategy for recovery.
The committee's vice chair Kellie Armstrong said it would write to the minister seeking actions following the work of the taskforce, as well as outlining plans for the distribution of £13m for the arts and culture sector from the Barnet Consequentials.
Following the meeting, McDonough said: “It was encouraging to be able to attend the communities committee and to hear members voice their support for the arts sector and acknowledge the many benefits the arts bring to our lives.
“There was also great concern shown by members for the mental health and wellbeing of our artists and going forward we hope to work with a range of organisations to provide the additional help and support they need.
“Last year was an exceptional year, presenting greater challenges than any of us could have imagined and while there is hope for better days ahead there can be no doubt that our artists and cultural sector will need continued financial assistance in 2021 and beyond if they are to survive and be sustained.
“We remain hopeful that the minister and her department will continue to support the case to the NI Executive for the arts, given the value they bring to our society and to our economy, as they plan to reopen, make the most of outdoor spaces and welcome back audiences.”