Arts groups won’t survive huge budget cuts, MLAs told

By Adrian Rutherford. Belfast Telegraph.

Some arts groups may not survive because of savage budget cuts, it has been warned.

The Arts Council is facing an 8% in-year reduction – a shortfall of £870,000.

The organisation had already seen its annual funding from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) for 2015/16 slashed by £1.38million.

Appearing before Stormont’s DCAL committee yesterday, Arts Council chief executive Roisin McDonough warned the very existence of some groups could be under threat.

“If they survive, they will be doing extraordinarily well under the current circumstances,” she told MLAs.

Ms McDonough said those that did survive were likely to do so “on a reduced or slimmed-down scale”.

The Arts Council is the development agency for the arts in Northern Ireland.

In the past year, it has funded 112 organisations to the tune of £13.5m.

Ms McDonough said staff had been “dismayed” to learn of the shortfall in funding.

The £870,000 deficit will be made up of £250,000 in savings from its own operating budget, and £620,000 from cutting grants to its main clients.

A total of 32 organisations will be affected, including the Lyric Theatre, the MAC and the Ulster Orchestra.

Responding to a question from DUP MLA Gordon Dunne, Ms McDonough voiced concerns about the orchestra’s future.

“The orchestra, like all our arts organisations faced with this additional in-year cut, will struggle,” she said.

Most organisations, she continued, would not be in a position to carry a deficit.

“The orchestra is no different in that regard,” she added.

“Others will be facing the issue of whether they need to cut back in their programming, or whether they need to let staff go, or whether they can, in fact, continue with the level of outreach and social engagement activity that they currently do.

“The orchestra, I’m sure, is facing all of those issues as it endeavours to sustain itself into the future.”

The committee heard repairs to the facade of the MAC, which opened in 2012 at a cost of £17m, could cost £600,000.

Problems with the basalt cladding were first noticed at the end of 2014.

Ms McDonough said the MAC board had sought legal advice.

Lorraine Calderwood, head of capital projects management for the Arts Council, told the committee work on the damage had been ongoing for 16 months.

“We are putting together a business case for the preferred option, which is complete removal of the facade and replacement with another stone,” she said.

She added that solicitors were examining the issue of liability, and it could go to court if agreement could not be reached.

Responding to a question from DUP MLA William Humphrey, Ms McDonough said the Arts Council had no input into DCAL’s cultural programme.

Mr Humphrey said it was “incredible” that DCAL had failed to include its arms-length body.

Ms McDonough replied: “In an ideal world, we would have wished to have had dialogue and engagement from an early stage in terms of the development of a wider cultural programme.”