ISM raises concerns about cuts to Northern Ireland arts funding
The ISM's Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts, has written to the Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Department for Communities, Colum Boyle, to raise concerns about the proposed cut of 10% to the Northern Ireland Arts Council's (NIAC) budget.
In 2022-23 the NIAC's Annual Funding Programme awarded £13 million to arts organisations across Northern Ireland, including Belfast's Grand Opera House and Oh Yeah Music Centre, the Millennium Forum in Londonderry and the Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre.
The proposed cut is due to a £300 million budget overspend by Stormont in the 2022-23 financial year. Although the Northern Ireland Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, has now agreed to allow Stormont to repay this sum over two years rather than just one, this will still entail cuts to most government departments.
Dear Mr Boyle
We write with concern about the proposed 10% cut to the budget of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), affecting organisations in its Annual Funding Programme.
Cutting ACNI’s budget would be extremely damaging for the arts in Northern Ireland. ACNI already receives considerably less funding than other parts of the UK. Last year the Chair of ACNI, Liam Hannaway, said funding for the arts in Northern Ireland was already at an ‘all-time low’ compared with other parts of the UK. Based on 2022-23 budget figures, investment in the arts in Northern Ireland was just £5.44 per capita, far less than the £10.35 per capita arts investment in Wales.
To cut funding from this already low level of investment would be devastating, impacting music venues, theatres, ensembles and arts organisations across Northern Ireland. This is a financially challenging time for the arts sector. Many organisations are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and are struggling with soaring energy costs and the effects of high inflation. These cuts would also disproportionately impact musicians and other freelancers, who make up 71% of the performing arts workforce and are a crucial part of the creative economy.
The creative sector contributed £116 billion per annum to the UK economy pre-pandemic, employing over 2 million people, and has rightly been identified as a key growth sector by the UK Government Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt. It is short-sighted in the extreme for the Department of Communities to cut funding to a sector that has the potential to generate growth and contribute to levelling up our cities and regions, as well as bringing communities together and improving mental health and wellbeing.
We should be striving for a greater cultural spend across the UK. I urge you to reverse these proposed cuts and give the creative sector in Northern Ireland the support it requires to flourish.
Cc: The Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland