TOF-1610-2020 Retention of Emergency Funds for the Arts Sector

In the last weeks, having had a meeting of the steering committee, the ArtsMatterNI campaign wrote to the minister for communities, Carál Ní Chuilín asking that all available funding allocations be retained for the arts sector (see our letter below). The Head of Arts and Creativity in DfC, Debbie McKibben, came back to us this morning on behalf of the minister with some reassuring news for all of us concerned about arts workers, and the sector in general, surviving the most challenging working environment that the arts have ever faced.

As an ArtsMatterNI member on the panel that Ms McKibben alluded to, I can represent your views and needs. Please feel free to write to the enrichinglives email address, with observations, case studies, ideas or insights and I will do my best to pass them on to the department and indeed Arts Council NI etc.

Be safe, be well and try to be optimistic.

Conor Shields

Minister Caral Ní Chuluinnin
Department for Communities
Causeway Exchange
via email

6th of July 2020

RE: Retention of Emergency Funds

Dear Minister Ní Chuilin

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, he 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.

Date: 27 July2020

Conor Shields


Dear Mr Shields

Retention of Emergency Funds

Thank you for your email enquiry of 7th July to Minister Ní Chuilín MLA on retention of emergency funds for the Arts Sector. As Head of Arts & Creativity I have been asked to reply on the Minister’s behalf.

The Department recognises the value of our Culture and Arts Sector, not only to our economy but the benefits of the arts on our social wellbeing, cohesion and for our physical and mental health. We are acutely aware of the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the local arts sector, and the individuals within it. When Minister Hargey announced the £1.5m Creative Support Fund it was recognised that further support would be required for the arts sector.

Minister Ní Chuilín announced,on 23rd July, the reopening of the Creative Support fund for individuals and organisations with a further £4m, successfully bid for from the Executives COVID-19 Relief funding. The aim of the fund is to maintain creative skills and creative capital in readiness for the recovery and renewal that needs to follow in order to maintain a vibrant arts ecology here and assist wider social and economic recovery. The fund will open on the 31st July for individuals, enabling them to sustain themselves professionally and artistically, building their creative skills, whilst assisting them adapt to the new market conditions as a result of Covid-19. The fund for organisations will then open in August, helping to prevent the loss of arts organisations.

The funds will be administered by the Arts Council on behalf of theDepartment and the Minister has asked that the application process be kept simple and the turnaround time be kept short. Priority will be given to those who have been unable to access other forms of financial support from Government or other sources. Further information on eligibility and the application process for the fund will be published as soon as possible on the Arts Council website

The £33m Barnett Consequential funding for the NI Executive announced on 5th July was very welcome. Whilst ultimately it will be for the Executive to decide on how this money should be spent, the Department will be submitting a bid for the full allocation to be used for a comprehensive package of support to ensure the short term and long term sustainability of the sector.

We are working in partnership with the Arts Council NI and other key stakeholders to address the needs of the sector and have already established a Consultative Arts and Culture Recovery Forum to help in assessing priorities for funding for the sector in its entirety. Work is ongoing at pace to establish immediate priorities in relation to how the funding will be used to meet the needs of the arts sector as a whole, and to develop plans to ensure its future viability and resilience. Consideration is being given to ensuring that the support will have the widest reach possible.

The arts sector is hugely important for community well-being,our attractiveness as a tourist destinationand the economy as a whole. The Department will continue to work with the sector to put a recovery plan in place.

Yours sincerely

Debbie McKibben
Head of Arts Branch