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.”

Arts Council of Northern Ireland adds to art collection

04 Jul 2023

Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) has published a catalogue of the latest acquisitions to be added to its contemporary art collection.

The collection is available for exhibition on a loan basis both within and outside Northern Ireland, as part of the Arts Council’s Art Lending Scheme.

The scheme is free and available to borrowing organisations interested in exhibiting any of the catalogue of works, which date back to 2003.

Currently consists of over 680 works, the collection spans a range of disciplines, including painting, sculpture, craft, print, photography and video, including 35 new pieces by 22 Northern Irish artists purchased in 2021 and 2022. 

“Many of the artists represented in the Arts Council’s contemporary art collection have major national and international reputations”, said Dr Suzanne Lyle, ACNI Head of Visual Arts.

They include the Turner Prize-winning Array Collective, silversmith Cara Murphy, whose work is held in the Goldsmiths Company Collection, painter Colin Davidson, who was selected in 2016 to paint the official portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, two-time Turner Prize-nominee photographer Willie Doherty and BP Portrait Award winner painter Ian Cumberland.

“By offering the collection for public display, we are helping to showcase the work of our artists and to introduce the public to Northern Ireland’s wealth of creative talent,” Lyle said.

ACNI staff are available to help with the selection and curation of works for a range of public venues, she added.

Equity NI launches Safe Home campaign

28 Jun 2023

Equity's Northern Ireland National Committee has announced a new Safe Home initiative.

The announcement took place at EquityFest yesterday (June 26), the union's first Northern Ireland performing artist convention, which hosted several talks including Equity4Women Toolkit, Tax and Benefits as well as launching its Safe Home campaign. 
The campaign calls for venues to safeguard performing artists and technicians who work at night or in vulnerable locations in Northern Ireland.
The campaign asks venue owners and managers to agree to the following principles:
•    Artists will be accompanied to their ongoing transport by two staff members unless they request otherwise.
•    Artists will be provided with reputable taxi firm numbers to arrange their transport.
•    Payment for artists' travel is made clear within their contract.
•    If the venue has car parking, artists will be provided with a free car parking space on request.
Venues signing up for these principles will receive an Equity poster showing their commitment.
The campaign is aimed at performers and technicians whose work can include leaving venues late at night, parking and loading out in insecure locations with expensive and/or cumbersome equipment and a lack of personal security.

ACNI says government funding ‘simply not enough’

Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Chair Liam Hannaway and Chief Executive Roisin McDonough
27 Jun 2023

Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Chief Executive and Chair speak out on the impact of a 5% reduction to the level of government funding.

How to curate a festival

Panellist on stage at the Belfast book festival
12 Jun 2023

Belfast Book Festival is celebrating its 13th edition this week, bringing together Ireland's storytelling talent. Sophie Hayles is challenging the traditional model to deliver a festival that is more reflective of the communities across the island. 

Northern Ireland arts organisations lose regular funding

02 Jun 2023

Arts Council of Northern Ireland reveals arts organisations in the country have been informed of their annual funding decisions, with official announcement due once a review process has been completed.

New funding round for Northern Ireland's rural arts programme

10 May 2023

Rural arts organisations in Northern Ireland are being invited to apply for funding as part of a programme to increase access to and participation in the arts.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Rural Engagement Arts Programme (REAP) was launched last year.

The £1.5million inititiative is now on its second funding round, with grants from £500 to £10,000 available.

The focus of the scheme is to tackle isolation and loneliness through the arts. It was conceived as a post-pandemic recovery programme aimed at rural communities that were particularly hard hit by Covid-19.

Projects already funded through REAP include Glenlough Community Choir in rural North East Antrim, and Portstewart-based Big Telly Theatre Company, which created a touring, interactive piece of 'hybrid street theatre'.

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said REAP will "increase opportunities for people living in rural communities to engage and participate in meaningful arts activities, enriching their lives for the better. I would encourage organisations to apply.”

Unions campaign against Arts Council Northern Ireland cuts

24 Apr 2023

Trade unions are criticising plans to reduce Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s (ACNI) budget by 10% ahead of a rally in Belfast.

Earlier this month, ACNI warned its regularly funded arts organisations their annual funding for 2023-24 was likely to drop by 10%, due to an expected reduction in funding allocated to Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities.

In response, Equity Northern Ireland will host an arts funding rally tomorrow (25 April) in Belfast, campaigning against the move.

An online petition by Equity Campaigns Officer Gareth Forest has received over 2,000 signatures since its launch last week, which Equity plans to hand deliver to the Permanent Secretary's offices at the Department for Communities in Belfast.

The campaign has received support from the Musicians' Union, who called the proposition “reckless in the extreme”, adding it will put the jobs of musicians across Northern Ireland at risk.

“The budget of Arts Council of Northern Ireland is already incredibly poor per capita when compared with Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales and Creative Scotland,” the union said.

It is planning to write to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Communities and to the Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to “urge them in the strongest terms to reverse these proposed cuts before it is too late”.

Arts Council Northern Ireland warns of 10% cuts

Lyric Theatre's production of Rough Girls, September 2021.
12 Apr 2023

Expected cuts to the 2023-24 Northern Ireland budget, which are still to be announced by NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, have prompted ACNI to contact organisations in receipt of annual funding.

Arts Council Northern Ireland awards £110,000 to community projects

05 Apr 2023

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has awarded £110,000 to 22 projects through its Small Grants funding programme.

The initiatives receiving support span the regions of Down, Mid-Ulster, Armagh, Fermanagh, Antrim and the North West.

“Thanks to National Lottery players and money raised for good causes, we are delighted to announce today funding to support 22 fantastic projects, creating more opportunities for people to engage with the arts, from grassroots level projects through to professional productions,” said Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

“This valuable funding programme will support a variety of high quality arts projects in locations across Northern Ireland, including performances, workshops and tuition.”

The Lurgan and Armagh George Russell Festival Society has received funding to support its George Russell Festival, a history, literature and art festival that began on 1 April and continues until 10 April. 

Funding was also awarded to Tempo Maguires GAC to provide weekly low-cost traditional museum classes; Lilac Cancer Support Ltd to recruit an artist to work one day per week in the Art Development Studio at its Community Hub; North West Cultural Partnership to fund a May to July festival celebrating the opening of a new £1.8m arts centre, Seaview Integrated Primary School for a 10-week block of dance classes; Down Academy Pipes and Drums for a music tuition programme at a local primary school; and Africa House NI for a series of arts development workshops and training for the African diaspora community. 

AHRC announces new hosts for Creative PEC

King's Walk on Newcastle University's campus, looking towards the Arches with the Student Union building on the left
09 Mar 2023

Centre producing research and policy recommendations on arts, culture and the creative industries will be split across two hubs in England, one in the North and one in the South.

Bid to secure Northern Ireland's first Cultural World Heritage site

09 Feb 2023

Northern Ireland is hoping to secure its first Cultural World Heritage site through a joint bid with the USA and Germany.

The proposal to UNESCO is for Gracehill in County Antrim, an 18th century settlement associated with the Moravian Church.

The picturesque village became Northern Ireland’s first conservation area in 1975.  

The other sites in the bid are settlements in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Herrnhut in Saxony, both of which also have strong links to the Moravian Church.

The nomination is being led by the USA in conjunction with the UK and German governments. 

Colum Boyle, Permanent Secretary, Department for Communities, said: “If successful in securing World Heritage Site status, Gracehill and the wider community will benefit culturally and economically from this important accolade that will further protect an important piece of history for future generations.”

The transnational nomination will be considered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee next year.

Musicians' census aims to 'kickstart industry change'

A man playing music on a turntable
23 Jan 2023

Musicians urged to take part in first ever Musicians’ Census in order to map the total population of musicians and build a picture of the issues they face.

Who’s who in cultural policymaking?

Government headshots edited together (L to R top to bottom): Lucy Powell, Michelle Donelan, Angus Robertson, Julian Knight, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
04 Jan 2023

With so much churn in government over recent months, it’s been hard to keep track of who's in charge of the UK's cultural policy. Lillian Race and Ruth Hogarth have assembled a guide to the movers and shakers in the Houses of Parliament and the devolved Assemblies.

Support programme for Northern Ireland artists massively oversubscribed

12 Dec 2022

Nearly three quarters of applicants for a support programme for artists in Northern Ireland have been rejected.

The BBC reports that about 920 eligible applications were received for the 2022/23 Siap General Arts Award fund run by Arts Council of Northern Ireland requesting a combined total of £4.3m in funding.

However, the funding pot of £985,000 was awarded to 262 individual artists received. Three years ago, the total number of eligible applicants was 280.

The fund aims to help artists purchase new equipment and develop new projects.

A spokesperson for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland said: "The 228.6% increase in applications to Siap's General Arts Award scheme this year, compared to those in 2019/20, has placed new pressures on the funding available for individual artists."

They added that a further £16.6m of funding would be needed to properly support and develop artists and organisations.

Arts funding in the devolved nations

08 Dec 2022

Arts Professional has been heavily focused on arts funding in England in recent weeks. But how are arts councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland managing their funding budgets? Patrick Jowett has been finding out. 

Arts Council Northern Ireland supports first-time digital artists

06 Dec 2022

Five artists have been awarded a total of £40,000 by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for new digital art projects.

Aimed at artists making digital work for the first time, the artists who have received Individual Artists Digital Evolution Awards are: Csilla Toldy, Michael McEvoy, Michael Speers, Peter O’Doherty and Rueben Brown.

The funded projects include McEvoy's contemporary dance-based project, A Kiss for a Kiss.

The project will feature a duet between a real-world dancer and a digitally-animated avatar.

Movement will be captured through motion-capture suits, with the data transferred using augmented reality technology.

Gilly Campbell, Director of Arts Development at Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: "The programme will support these artists in the creation of art using digital and immersive technologies, and will also help them develop skills in new technologies."

Championing the four nations

Flags of home nations
01 Dec 2022

Creative & Cultural Skills exists to create a fair and skilled cultural sector and is exceptional in its commitment to working equitably across the four nations of the UK, says long-serving former trustee David Anderson.

Northern Ireland brings artists into the classroom

29 Nov 2022

Eleven schools in Belfast and Londonderry will receive funding enabling them to participate in a pioneering education programme inviting professional artists to share their skills with children in the classroom.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Education Authority and the Urban Villages Initiative have announced funding to continue the Creative Schools programme.

Participating schools are invited to collaborate with artists working in fields including animation, film-making, journalism, music production, photography and scriptwriting. 

The Creative Schools programme was originally launched as a pilot in 2017 and has to date benefited 1,000 pupils. Last year, schools were invited to apply for up to £15,000 in funding to develop a bespoke project. 

“The Creative Schools programme is a landmark arts and education project,” said Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is investing £100,000 from its National Lottery funds in the scheme.

“It brings professional artists into the classroom to deliver practical and creative lessons that broaden learning opportunities for our young people, opening up creative career pathways.”

The programme is beneficial for students’ mental health, enabling young people “to experience a sense of freedom, self-expression and enjoyment”, said Education Authority Chairman Barry Mulholland.


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