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
Belfast
via email private.office@communities-ni.gov.uk

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.

National Lottery funding from Arts Council NI – 04 April 2019

So, as we had forecast, National Lottery funding from Arts Council NI has been reduced and most organisations across the sector have experienced some cuts to their programme capacity as a result. There have been very few uplifts (three in the dance sector, one in verbal arts) but sadly the biggest headline is regrettably that some organisations have been de-funded completely. Whilst the outcome is better than the Arts Council of N Ireland had asked organisations to prepare for, nevertheless it represents further stretching of budgets that have not been increased for approaching ten years.

This is another dark moment for the arts here. Another year of cuts imposed on this historically underfunded sector albeit that they were not handed down by a government department per se. But unlike in England and Scotland, there was no offsetting of struggling lottery revenues, instead we have to make do with less.

This is another dark moment as we see organisations now threatened with potential closure as result of the removal of funding. Some may indeed find ways to continue, but it may signal the loss of jobs, livelihoods, productions and participation. For the others, it may mean the end.

It signals that we are reduced as a sector again, year after year, cut after cut. It means we fall further behind our nearest neighbours, when we need to be as culturally resilient as possible to deal with the increasing and alarming level of change occurring all around us. It says that ultimately, without political champions for the arts locally, the slide continues.

If we are to see the concept of a ‘creative ecology’ truly understood and enabled, we need all aspects of creativity nourished and the conditions for renewal and regeneration supported. Balancing the equilibrium by assisting those most in need, not most able, would seem an appropriate intervention. An ecological response cannot be Darwinian, instead it requires nurture and sensitive management, relating to the interconnectedness of our fragile eco-system that is our arts sector here.

So, there is little to cheer about. Some can count themselves winners maybe, with some uplift to their coffers but we doubt they feel anything beyond relief. But the Arts in N Ireland are losers today and as a result, this place and all our people lose out as well.

ACNI-AFP-19-20 (pdf)

ArtsMatterNI Campaign Statement

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