Northern Ireland’s arts woes deepen with new funding cuts

Prominent arts organisations in Northern Ireland are bracing themselves for further cuts, after the Arts Council of Northern Ireland suffered an 8% reduction to its funding.

The announcement follows a harsh round of reductions in funding in March this year that saw Belfast’s Lyric Theatre – regional winner of the My Theatre Matters! search for the UK’s most welcoming venues – and the Mac arts centre each lose £50,000.

Both the Mac and the Lyric stand to lose around a further £68,000, a figure the Lyric’s head of marketing Simon Goldrick told The Stage is “just the latest in an unsustainable sequence of cuts”.

“We already run an extremely tight ship, so realistically the only things left to chip away at are our creative learning and education work and our productions,” he added.

A season of work by Irish playwrights planned for next spring has been the first casualty of the Lyric’s cumulative 12% drop in funding.

Hardest hit will be the troubled Ulster Orchestra, which is expecting a further £125,000 to be slashed from its funding.

Currently without a chief executive, some commentators are warning that the already cash-strapped orchestra may not survive its latest season.

Other organisations that will bear the brunt of the additional in-year cuts include Londonderry’s Playhouse Theatre and the Grand Opera House and Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast.

Roisin McDonagh, chief executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “The combined effect is an overall unprecedented cut to the arts of almost 20% this year.”

She added: “Cuts will affect arts jobs, arts programming and will reduce, if not drastically undermine, the valuable education and outreach programmes that government has asked us all to prioritise.”

In August, McDonagh had asked companies to plan for possible cuts of 10%.

But in a letter to those affected by the latest reduction, she expressed “shock and disappointment” at a decision that will reduce the region’s annual per capita spend on the arts – historically the lowest in the UK and Ireland – to little more than 10p per person.

Although the arts council has shaved £250,000 off its own operating costs, it says it had no option but to pass on £620,000 cuts to client organisations.

Arts minister Caral Ni Chuilin said “inescapable pressures” on the Northern Ireland Assembly budget had produced a set of “very difficult choices in redeploying budgets internally”.

She added: “Given that we are halfway through the year and that many of our arm’s-length bodies’ costs, such as salaries and buildings costs, are committed in the medium term, I had no alternative but to look to grant programmes for a significant part of the savings required.”