Arts Matter NI – Letter to Minister Carál Ní Chuilín – Department for Communities regarding Chancellor’s £1.57 billion funding for the arts

Minister Carál Ní Chuilín
Department for Communities
Causeway Exchange
via email

7th of July 2020

RE: Retention of Emergency Funds

Dear Minister Ní Chuilín

On behalf of the steering group of Arts Matter NI may we congratulate you on taking up your new post and indeed renewing your role in the stewardship of the art sector portfolio. In the past Arts Matter NI has enjoyed a productive and collegiate relationship with you and your officials and we would hope to see that continue during the current crisis.

We write to you today in light of the recent announcement of £1.57 billion being allocated by the British government to support the arts, and welcome the subsequent £33 million that will eventuate through the Barnett consequentials into our local devolved administration.

As a campaign group, we have consistently and constantly represented the widest ecology of the arts and in light of the current COVID-19 crisis, we again wish to represent a range of views consistent with supporting and indeed coming to the aid of many of our colleagues within this valued and currently beleaguered sector.

Whilst we understand through your public pronouncements that you do indeed grasp the gravity of the situation that many organisations and indeed individuals face during this upheaval, we would urge you to understand further how the allocation of the £33 million can offer to many within this sector not just a lifeline, as the Arts Council rightly comment, but a means of sustaining all those involved within the local creative economy and indeed the hundreds of thousands of participants and audiences that enjoy and rely on our services. For venues, for small and large organisations and for the staff and contractors that they would normally employ, these are days filled with uncertainty and insecurity. As you are further aware the Arts sector here has had to contend with historically low levels of per capita investment which has meant that even the most resilient of organisations and individuals will still struggle to survive this current crisis without financial assistance.

The global pandemic and its impact on the arts here has been a massive body blow. The news that £33 million has been secured to assist the sector weather this storm has been greeted extremely positively by all those in our sector. And whilst you are on record as advocating for the retention of these emergency monies, the sector wishes to represent to you the urgency and absolute necessity that those funds are wholly retained to assist the massive presenting need across our creative community at this time.

We would further urge you to recognise the both the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and indeed local councils have sophisticated grant management structures with which most within the arts community are familiar. We would ask that in order to more effectively roll out an emergency support package targetting organisations and institutions as well as freelance arts workers, the most efficient option in order to speed up the beneficial impact of these emergency funds on our community may well be via these channels of distribution.

There are of course a multitude of additional reasons attached to these considerations, beyond saving an industry that contributes so much to the GVA of our economy, supporting entertainment, production, education, social cohesion, cultural tourism and wellbeing; namely the audiences, participants community groups and societies, schools, care homes, sheltered housing projects, day care centres, youth services and of course, the general public. As we cautiously ease restrictions and adapt to the new normal, the arts, and all that they bring, are likely to be required even more. ,

As the economic impact of the pandemic is more and more understood, the trauma, anxiety, bereavement and community unease is only beginning to be recognised. The arts will have a central role in how we reflect and respond to these past months and hopefully build back better. For many among our ranks, who have fallen between emergency provision, unable to apply for emergency grants or indeed Universal Credit and who have seen their earning potential for this financial year wiped out, these are desperate times. The freelance workers upon whom the arts sector relies: whether actors or dramaturges, community artists or stage crew, performers of all hues, in circus, opera, dance, poetry and music, or whether they work in box offices, in administration or developmental arts work, all require immediate and sustaining support.

We understand fully the challenges that our local administration has in managing not only policies and procedures to mitigate the worst of this crisis, but budgets to best support this community. As we have stressed, time and again, any financial support for the arts is a direct investment in the economic and social betterment, and the health and well-being of all of us here in the North.

In closing, we stress once again that we believe it economically, socially and morally imperative that this, the most hard-hit sector now and potentially for months and months ahead, can be offered the fullest financial support available to your department and our local devolved administration in mitigating the worst of this public health crisis and its accompanying social and economic impacts across our creative sector.

We look forward to meeting with you and working together again

Yours sincerely

Conor Shields on behalf of the steering group.