ArtsMatterNI has been a quiet place of late…

ArtsMatterNI has been a quiet place of late, however with Culture Night #CNB15 just round the corner, and tremendous publicity not only for the arts but for our campaign generated by Culture Night folk (thank you Adam) perhaps the time is right to renew our conviction to advocate for more for the arts and raise our profile once again.

It has been a very difficult period for many of the largest arts organisations across Northern Ireland of late. The stuffing has kind of been a bit knocked out of the sector with the news of further indicative funding in year cuts of 10% being looked at by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

For a range of organisations across the region, at this time, when one looks to lobby government, and finds that there isn’t one actually performing its duties or in any capacity able to look at the perilous position that the arts find themselves, it just gets more difficult.

In year funding cuts are a very hard thing to manage and have very different effects for many organisations. There are features to consider:

  • 10% for a full year equates to 20% if you’re already half-way through the year, for any organisation
  • 10% for one organisation might represent 5% of total turnover – i.e. say you are an organisation that receives £150,000 from ACNI and finds another £150,000 in funding and income from elsewhere but for another say receiving £1,000,000 with a turnover of £4 M that represents 2.5%

Voted for funds, the money that comes from the Treasury, is to be scaled back by up to 40% over the next four and half years. Already, the DCMS, the Department for Media Culture and Sport is to receive a cut of that full 40%.

That is a huge reduction in funds. If that level of cuts, as has been projected, then translates across to budgets in Northern Ireland, it will see the local arts infrastructure, at least the 32 organisations currently funded from this pot of money, potentially cease to support the depth and range of activities and people that it currently does. It will see theatres go dark i.e. close their doors for periods, it will see outreach programmes cut, higher ticket prices and undoubtedly redundancies.
Beyond that, the government’s consultation on the upcoming white paper will explore four key themes: the role that culture plays in creating places that people want to live, work and visit; people and how they engage with culture; funding models and how they can contribute to financial resilience in the sector; and culture as a tool for promoting Britain abroad, all of this while preparing for the slashing of budgets to the bone.

As can be seen on this website, there is a tool kit that shows the benefits that we all derive from the arts. We have been campaigning and trying to persuade politicians in particular about the benefits for all of us.

Before the summer and the inevitable disruptions that the holiday season can bring, many within the sector were employed with supporting the minister for culture arts and leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, develop her Ten Year Strategy for the Arts via a ministerial arts advisory forum.

At the time of writing, no one involved in that forum understands either the potential level of investment the arts are likely to receive in the longer term but also, are not aware of the status of the 10 years ambition for the future of the arts locally. Added to this is the level of uncertainty shared with all other sectors that are affected by changes to the remit and make-up of new government departments.

This is a time of absolute flux, as is borne out by the incredible difficulties that our Assembly is appreciating at the moment Where we build a lobbying campaign back to when we do not have a representative governmental forum at the minute makes things a little more problematic but it should not dim our enthusiasm to see the arts supported and championed.