Will the restoration of Stormont benefit the arts in Northern Ireland?

Production shot from Agreement by Owen McCafferty
20 Feb 2024

With the return of devolved government to Northern Ireland, Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive of Arts Council Northern Ireland, reflects on what it might mean for the arts and cultural sector. 

Arts organisations benefit from Bank of Ireland fund

27 Feb 2024

Eight arts organisations from across the island of Ireland are to receive up to £11,000 each as part of the Bank of Ireland’s Begin Together Arts Fund.

Delivered in partnership with Business to Arts and with support from Arts & Business NI, the programme aims to support projects that increase inclusion and break down barriers to arts participation.

This year’s funding round focused on helping arts organisations working with marginalised and vulnerable groups and included two projects in Northern Ireland.

William Thompson, Head of Consumer Banking NI, Bank of Ireland UK, said: “The Begin Together Fund recognises the important social and economic contribution of the arts and culture sector and its role in connecting and strengthening communities.

“Since the fund began in 2020, Begin Together has provided financial support to a broad range of artists and arts organisations.  

We are pleased that this round of funding will help increase participation in the arts and ensure  as many people as possible have the opportunity to explore their creativity.”

Arts Council Northern Ireland issues 10-year plan for public review

19 Feb 2024

Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI) has published its first 10-year strategy for public consultation.

The funding body developed the long-term plan last year following engagement with artists, arts organisations and representatives across government, businesses and the public sector.

It is now seeking responses to the proposals from individuals, businesses, and organisations via an online survey, which will run for 12 weeks until 5 April.

The ambitious strategy presents ACNI’s “unwavering commitment to championing the arts sector” and its plans to “propel it to new heights of recognition” but also acknowledges the challenges facing the arts in Northern Ireland.
“It is a regrettable truth that government investment in the arts sector in Northern Ireland has not always matched the incredible potential and impact it holds,” says the foreword by Chair Liam Hannaway and Chief Executive Roisín McDonough. “Opportunities have been missed, and the growth of this wonderful sector has been hindered by a lack of adequate resources and recognition.”

Summarising the key issues facing the sector, the strategy notes that while “public investment in the arts has fallen by 28% in cash terms over the last decade, from £14.1m to £10.1m, closer to a 49% reduction when inflation is considered", Northern Ireland has the lowest levels of per capita government spending on the arts in the UK, receiving £5.07 PC (2023/24), in contrast with Wales at £10.51 (2023/24) and the Republic of Ireland at £21.90 (2022).

A key proposal in the strategy would see ACNI introduce multi-annual funding, which it says will reduce administrative costs, releasing more time and resources for the council to support arts organisations. It is currently the only UK arts council not to do so “due to risks associated with annual budget allocations from the government”.

As part of its plans to develop a more financially stable sector, ACNI also said it would undertake a scoping exercise to assess how it can generate more income for the industry across private, public and philanthropic funders.

Badenoch blocks grant for NI rap trio over political views

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, pictured at the Ukraine Recovery Conference 2023.
12 Feb 2024

A spokesperson for Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said it was “hardly surprising” it had overturned Kneecap's funding award as the Northern Irish group is "opposed to the United Kingdom".

Northern Ireland artists receive £1m from National Lottery 

17 Jan 2024

Arts Council of Northern Ireland has named 292 artists awarded funding from a £1.04m National Lottery fund as part of its Support for Individual Artists Programme.

The scheme provides artists working across all disciplines with grants of up to £6,000 to develop new creative projects, purchase equipment, and support international performance opportunities and residencies.

Recipients include a horror music composer, aerial circus performer, prosthetic make-up artist and prop-maker.

“Individual artists are at the very heart of the creative sector in Northern Ireland, enriching our communities and bringing our theatres, music venues and galleries to life,” said Gilly Campbell, joint Director of Arts Development, Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

“Thanks to National Lottery players and money raised for good causes, funding from the Arts Council’s Support for Individual Artists Programme will provide artists, working across all areas of the arts, with the vital investment they need to embark on new projects, develop their ideas and find new and engaging ways to present their art.”

Northern Ireland programme brings artists into classrooms

20 Dec 2023

Professional artists will work in classrooms at 11 schools in Northern Ireland as part of two-year programme serving urban areas in Belfast and Londonderry.

Under the scheme, backed with £15,000 of funding from Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Executive Office’s Urban Villages Initiative, each school will devise its own individual project, working with professional artists to help students develop skills such as script writing, musical composition and performance. 

Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented: “Since the Creative Schools Partnership Programme was first piloted in 2017, we have seen the enormous impact it has had on participating schools and the individual students who have had the opportunity to take part in projects.

"For many, this creative approach in the classroom has had a long-term educational and social impact, opening up their minds to new creative ways of thinking and learning, as well as building confidence and self-belief."

Funded organisations diversify income in Northern Ireland

Aerial view of Belfast
14 Nov 2023

Arts Council of Northern Ireland says increase in organisations leveraging investment from new sources is “positive news” amid “pressured and complicated funding picture”.

£2.3m arts centre opens in Northern Ireland

07 Nov 2023

A £2.3m arts and culture centre has opened in Derry/Londonderry as part of an initiative funding projects in five urban areas of Northern Ireland (NI).

Funding for the New Gate Arts & Culture Centre comes from the Urban Villages Initiative, which is overseen by NI’s Executive Office.

The scheme offers funding for projects that develop thriving places where there has been a history of deprivation and community tension.

The new arts centre, located in the Fountain area of Derry/Londonderry, features a performance space, art and tuition rooms and a dance studio.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council, which managed the development, said the centre will “assist in fostering positive community identities, building community capacity and improving the local physical environment”.

Joan O’Hara, Director of the Executive Office’s Urban Villages programme, added: “This is a fantastic regeneration project for the Fountain area of the city and across the region to provide a shared cultural space right in the heart of the local community”.

“The centre will invigorate the area and encourage the community to come together to celebrate their culture and backgrounds in a space that will use the arts to create new experiences and friendships.”

Belfast Council votes to contest arts cuts

02 Nov 2023

Belfast City Council has voted in favour of a motion to support a campaign calling for a reversal of arts cuts in Northern Ireland. 

The motion asked government officials for “a reversal in cuts to the arts” and committed the council to signing an open letter from Equity Noerthern Ireland to Colum Boyle, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities.

MPs unanimously endorsed the motion, which recognised that Permanent Secretaries are “being forced to take, without a mandate, difficult decisions that should be taken by locally elected ministers and a devolved Executive and Assembly” and that “too often the council is forced to step in and financially support arts and cultural organisations who have lost funding from Stormont departments”.

A 10% reduction to Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s budget was proposed in April, which was later lowered to 5%. In its letter, Equity NI said that reduction in the decrease was of "no comfort", claiming that Arts Council NI funding has decreased, in real terms, by 30% over the last decade.

Around 130 Equity members and supporters held a rally at Belfast City Hall ahead of the vote on Wednesday night (1 November). Speaking at the protest, Equity president Lynda Rooke said: “12,500 people signed Equity's petition demanding more investment in the arts and no to further cuts, I echo this with the backing of 47,000 Equity members from across the four nations of the UK."

Arts projects in Northern Irleand get £170k boost

24 Oct 2023

Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) has announced funding for 22 arts organisations across the country to deliver a series of community-based arts projects benefitting older people. 

The funding, which totals £169,994, is part of the National Lottery Arts and Older People Programme, an initiative funded by The National Lottery and Public Health Agency, which aims to tackle loneliness as well as promote positive mental health and well-being among older people through engagement with the arts.

Lorraine Calderwood, Community Arts Development Officer at the ACNI, said: "Research has proven that taking part in arts activities can raise self-esteem, confidence and motivation, as well as aid in relieving stress. 

"The National Lottery Arts and Older People Programme is committed to providing meaningful opportunities for older people to take part in arts activities, enriching their lives for the better. 

"The arts have a vital role to play in helping our older people find their voice, bring people together and promote positive physical and mental health.”

Calls for increased sector investment in Northern Ireland

flag of Northern Ireland
10 Oct 2023

Northern Ireland’s Culture, Arts & Heritage Strategy Taskforce says a cross-government approach to investing in the sectors is needed ahead of development of 10-year strategy.

Belfast set for 'biggest ever creative celebration'

10 Oct 2023

Belfast City Council is investing £5.9m to deliver a programme of cultural events and community-led activities billed as the city’s “biggest ever creative and cultural celebration”.

The Belfast 2024 programme will begin in spring and run through the year with a series of workshops, performances and events.

It will be led by 24 large-scale commissions, under a collective theme of People, Place and Planet, 17 of which have been specially commissioned following an open call earlier this year.

Among the signature events in development are a collaboration with the Eden Project, the development of public art installations and a UNSECO City of Music event.

The programme will also feature six international residencies, a community-led Creative Citizens scheme and a music heritage programme.

According to a statement on the council’s website, investment in Belfast 2024 was approved by all political parties earlier this autumn and follows extensive engagement with local cultural, community and arts providers over the last 18 months.

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Ryan Murphy, said the cultural programme “is a hugely ambitious and exciting step forward for Belfast”.

“By investing in the arts in this way, we are creating new opportunities to protect, sustain and develop employment in a sector which is a catalyst for so much of our local economy.”

Support for increased arts funding in Northern Ireland

02 Oct 2023

An independent survey commissioned by Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) has found widespread support for continued and increased investment in the arts.

The Arts Council’s General Population Survey, conducted between May and June this year, found 79% of respondents supported public investment in arts and culture organisations, while 70% agreed with public investment in individual artists.

Over half (58%) of respondents said they would vote for a political candidate who advocated for increased spending on arts and culture. 

In comparison, 9% said they would vote against, while 33% were undecided.

Karly Greene, ACNI’s Director of Strategic Development, said the survey “shows strong support for the arts”.

“It clearly demonstrates the value which the public places on continued and increased investment in the arts infrastructure, for the benefit of our economy, tourism, education and personal health and wellbeing.”

The survey also found more people are attending arts events in Northern Ireland than at the time the last survey took place in 2019-2020.

Almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents said they had attended an arts activity or event in the past 12 months, compared to 68% at the time of the last survey.

Cultural renaissance in Bangor

Open House festival choir in Bangor
11 Sep 2023

Alison Gordon believes culture is vital to the regeneration of Northern Ireland's seaside towns, but ongoing cuts to the arts will have a damaging impact. 

Rural arts in Northern Ireland receive £400k

05 Sep 2023

A total of 63 rural arts projects will share £400,000 of funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, it has been announced.

The money, which is coming from the third round of the National Lottery's Rural Engagement Arts Programme, will go to community groups, arts organisations and local authorities in communities across Northern Ireland.

Organisations set to benefit include Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre Company in Fermanagh and Omagh, which has been awarded £9,000 to undertake a 40-day programme of dance workshops.

Meanwhile, £5,640 will go to Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Craobh Boirche in Newry, Mourne and Down, which will use the money to provide traditional Irish music classes. 

Gilly Campbell, Director of Arts Development at Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “We know that taking part in arts activities can raise self-esteem, boost confidence and motivation, as well as alleviate isolation and loneliness. 

The Rural Engagement Arts Programme has supported a total of 135 arts projects in rural areas with fudning of £898,780 since its establishment in 2022.

Northern Ireland: Resisting the cuts

Equity members protesting in with banners saying 'Resist the cuts'
30 Aug 2023

In April, artists and supporters were galvanised to sign a petition, eventually numbering more than 12,500 signatures, resisting cuts to arts funding in Northern Ireland, writes Equity’s Alice Adams Lemon

Belfast City Council invites applications to cultural grants scheme

24 Aug 2023

Belfast City Council is inviting applications to its Cultural Multi-Annual Grants scheme, part of its Cultural Strategy for Belfast 2020-2030.

The scheme has two funding strands, available for two or four years.

Arts & Heritage Grants are for arts and heritage organisations with a year-round programme of activity. A second fund provides grants for festivals and events.

All applications are through the council's Online Funding Hub and an online information session to support applicants will take place at 12 noon on 24 August. 

The application deadline is 12 noon on 6 October 2023.

Belfast arts centre at risk amid funding uncertainty

21 Aug 2023

The future of the Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) in Belfast is in doubt over concerns that Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ANCI) might cut its funding.

ANCI is the centre’s main funder, granting it more than £1m annually for the past three years. But an ongoing review risks jeopardising this funding in future, BBC News NI reported.

During the review period, which was scheduled to finish at the end of July, the MAC has been funded by ACNI on a quarterly basis.

Two external audits of financial management at the centre have also been conducted.

In the most recent accounts for the MAC, filed on 1 January 2023, an independent auditor said there was “a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the group and the parent charitable company's ability to continue as a going concern”, the BBC found.

The accounts also said the MAC board was forecasting a deficit of £150,028 for the year ending 31 March 2023.

The MAC said it was “engaged in ongoing discussions with funders” about “the most efficient way to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the MAC”.

“We are confident of a positive outcome in the very near future,” a spokesperson said. “In the meantime our shows, exhibitions and events all continue as usual.” 

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite said Belfast City Council wants to ensure the MAC’s long-term future, adding that it is “worth saving”.

He said sustained budget cuts in the arts risk a “devastating impact” that will “take years to rebuild”.

“We have a lot of concerns about making sure we protect Belfast's cultural and arts spaces and the MAC is one of those,” he said.

“We want to make sure it has long-term viability to keep the doors open. I think it's really, really important that we don't lose any of those types of spaces.”

He added that the centre has a positive impact on the local economy in terms of returns on spending and job creation.

Dual theatre complex planned for Belfast

26 Jul 2023

Belfast theatre company Bright Umbrella has announced plans for a £2.6m two-theatre complex in the east of the city.

The 150-seat Sanctuary Theatre and the Little Theatre, which are both part of the same arts centre, will become the permanent base of the company, which has signed a 50-year lease and aims to use drama to improve cross-community relations.

Housed in Mountpottinger Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, which dates from 1875, the theatres are located between the predominantly unionist areas of Castlereagh Street and Albertsbridge Road and the largely nationalist Short Strand.

The location is a short way from the peace line in Cluan Place, where sectarian rioting was once a nightly feature, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

“The church sits directly on what is arguably Northern Ireland’s most notorious interface,” the theatre company’s mission statement says.

“Many buildings and sites in the vicinity are derelict. Levels of paramilitary influence are high. Violent incidents and murders ramp up community anxieties, but despite this there remains a strong sense of community belonging.”

Bright Umbrella plans to refurbish the historic church, with backing from both sides of the community. The planned upgrades will preserve original features including the stained-glass windows, pews, vaulted roof timbers and the plaques and monuments honouring soldiers from the First World War.

“The original plan was to tour classical plays to other people’s theatres, but when we started to rehearse at Mountpottinger we realised it would be a wonderful performance space,” said artistic director Trevor Gill.

“We know funding’s tight but we are quietly confident that we can get the money we need,” he added. “We hope construction work will start in January 2025, with the opening a year later.”

Arts projects in Northern Ireland get £2.25m boost

14 Jul 2023

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) is investing £2.25m of National Lottery funding in a series of arts projects across the country.

Funded projects will support the development and creation of year round arts activities and events through literature, drama, visual arts, music and community programming.

In total, 72 arts organisations have been offered funding of between £7,789 and £67,559, with eight organisations receiving over £50,000, including Open House Festival, which lost its regular funding from the arts council earlier this year.

This round of National Lottery Project Funding sees five organisations receive awards for the first time.

New grantees include Amandan Ensemble, which makes devised theatre specialising in Clown and Bouffon practice, and An tSnáthaid Mhór, an island-wide arts organisation producing original Irish language children's content through print, Braille, broadcast, digital and performance.

“Thanks to money raised for good causes, over the last three decades the National Lottery has made an important contribution to the social, economic and cultural growth of Northern Ireland,” ACNI Chief Executive Roisin McDonough said.

“This vital source of funding allows the Arts Council to support our core infrastructure of artists and organisations, as we strive forwards in our ambition to make the arts accessible to all.”


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