A £18m funding uplift for the arts has been secured by Northern Ireland?s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, less than a month after Professor Brian Walker, Chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), expressed his dismay at figures which revealed how far Northern Ireland had fallen behind the rest of the UK in per capita spend.
He called on the new administration at Stormont to redress the chronic under-funding of the arts, and last month his wishes were granted when the new 3-year funding package was announced, meaning that per capita spend on the arts in Northern Ireland will rise from £4.34 this year to £6.45 by 2005.
£4m over three years has been earmarked for Belfast?s Grand Opera House, to allow work to start on an extension to the building. The investment will enable the theatre to cater for increased audience numbers, make the building more accessible and provide a better standard of accommodation for customers, staff and performers.
The distribution of funding will be driven by the priorities of ACNI?s five-year plan, published last year. In addition to the money to secure the future of key arts organisations and venues, money will go into a Challenge Fund to encourage district councils to support community arts projects and venues in their areas. More support will go to individual artists for training and to help them promote their work and improve their employment opportunities. There will be further support for theatre, dance, disability arts and language arts, as well as for ACNI?s emerging crafts and architecture strategies and initiatives to encourage creativity in young people. A further £1m has been set aside to help venues meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.
Meanwhile in Wales, the theatre community has been cheered by the announcement by Jenny Randerson, the Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language, of an additional £1.5m over the next 3 years for the development of the national Welsh language theatre company, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. The money is to enable the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) to establish and run the new company with a range of high quality productions and ensure that there will be coverage across Wales. ACW has already allocated the new theatre £250,000 from its current year Assembly Government funding, and has announced the appointment of Lyn T. Jones as its Chairman.
In Scotland, the Scottish Arts Council budget for 2003-4 is due to be announced by the Scottish Executive later this month. A second year of standstill public funding is widely expected, despite mounting criticism over the Executive?s cultural policies and in particular the shelving of plans to establish a Scottish National Theatre.