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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.

Open House Festival is one of the organisations losing its annual funding

Open House Festival

A total of 11 organisations previously in receipt of annual funding from Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) are set to miss out this year, it has emerged.

Despite proposals to cut ACNI’s total budget yet to be finalised by Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities (DfC), the funder has confirmed to Arts Professional that organisations that applied to its Annual Funding Programme (AFP) for financial year 2023/24 were notified of their application outcome in early May.

An ACNI spokesperson said that of the 95 organisations that received AFP funding last year, two have been offered less funding, while eleven were not offered funding, but did not comment on if any new organisations were being added to the portfolio.


The spokesperson added a number of organisations have asked for their decision to be reviewed, adding that a full list of awardees will be published once the review process is complete.

In the absence of a multi-year funding programme, ACNI’s AFP represents the only opportunity for arts organisations to get sustained arts council funding in Northern Ireland annually, although organisations have to reapply each year.

In April, all organisations included in ACNI’s AFP for 2022/23 were sent a letter from the arts council that said they should expect a 10% reduction in their funding, to align with proposed cuts to the arts council’s total budget.

However, some organisations, including independent arts charity Open House Festival, were informed last month that they will not receive any support through the AFP this year.

Funding 'symptomatic of the insecurity here'

Open House Festival Development Director Alison Gordon told Arts Professional that ACNI said its decision to remove it from the funding programme was down to funding budget constraints and “the fact we are seen as a strong organisation that can take it, while others can’t”.

The charity, which hosts an annual arts festival in Bangor and took on running the city’s only dedicated music and arts venue, The Court House, last year, had been in receipt of AFP funding for 20 years.

“The financial year started at the beginning of April. Our festival runs July and August. If you know about this in February you can adjust your programme, but not when you hear about it in May,” Gordon said.

“But it’s very symptomatic of the insecurity here in Northern Ireland in terms of funding. It means everything is hand to mouth, it’s very difficult to plan long term.”

'Folk on a Boat' was one of Open House Festival’s event’s last year. Credit: Open House Festival

Gordon explained Open House Festival has been “restrained” in its programming this year due to the uncertainty around funding. The majority of the charity’s income comes from ticket sales, with its AFP support its only source of core funding.

“I think it’s our strong box office that has gone against us. But it’s a viscous cycle because we’ve had to develop a strong box office because of so little funding,” Gordon said, adding the festival will now look to apply for ACNI’s Lottery Funding to make up the lost income.

“We have a real burgeoning arts scene here in Bangor. We’re going through a creative and cultural renaissance, but it feels like we’re having to do it on our own,” Gordon added.

'Extreme stress'

Oliver Green, Arts Director at Greater Shantallow Community Arts in Derry, told Arts Professional his organisation’s funding allocation is a 38% cut compared with last year.

He said the AFP funding is spent directly on heat, electricity, rent and staffing shortfalls, adding that they “will now struggle to make up in the year ahead, putting our community arts charity in a constant position on extreme stress for the foreseeable future”.

“We were not given any rationale for our funding allocation other than the letters we received on behalf of the Chairperson of the ACNI outlining the uncertainty of funding allocations from the NI Executive Office and the continuing funding deficit that the ACNI would be facing in the time ahead”.

Green added that those in positions of power are “simply not listening to the cries of our citizens to support Community Arts to make better communities”.

“The failure of successive British Governments and their arm’s length bodies to recognise the importance and value of Community Arts as a vital vehicle for delivering real change within our most deprived communities and its ability to enhance the quality of lives of our most vulnerable, isolated and marginalised citizens is shocking!”

Ongoing consultation

The DfC, which is the largest department in the Northern Ireland Civil Service and where ACNI gets its funding from, is yet to publicly share how much funding will be allocated to the arts council this year.

The department was left with a resource funding gap of £111.2m (15.5%) and a shortfall of £59m in capital required for 2023/24 after the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, set the Exchequer budget in April.

The DfC will likely have to make up this deficit with cuts in some of its remit, which also includes benefits delivery, social housing, community regeneration and sport.

The department has a public consultation open on proposals following its budget settlement from UK Government, which is considering the impact of cutting the budget of Libraries NI and Museums NI, as well as ACNI.

Open until August, parties are encouraged to submit responses before 7 June to inform the DfC’s allocation of funds. Any responses received between June and August will be used to “inform further mitigation measures and reallocation of any additional funding available” this financial year.