Belfast Telegraph

As Belfast Festival sets record, arts budget cuts spark alert

By Amanda Ferguson

This year's Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's attracted record numbers, with sold-out shows across the packed cultural programme.

Figures from the arts world have said its success underlines the importance of preserving Northern Ireland's impressive cultural output amid savage funding cuts.

The festival gained stellar reviews and led to thousands of people, local and tourists, engaging with our vibrant arts scene.

But this comes as the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which already receives the smallest piece of the Stormont money pie, faces a 10% cut to its budget, expected to be announced today.

DCAL Minister Caral ni Chuilin told the Belfast Telegraph the arts were not a luxury but a right, and she believed "a society that does not sufficiently value and enjoy the arts is a poorer society".

The minister also said, as the Arts Council opens the latest annual funding programme, she was "fighting to ensure that we continue to give the arts the investment it deserves".

Last month the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment announced the Tourism Events Fund, which pumps money into showpiece events such as the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Culture Night Belfast, will not go ahead next year.

CQAF director Sean Kelly said: "We are facing into an uncertain time.

"The suspension of the tourist board event support means we are facing a shortfall of £45,000 for CQAF and the Out To Lunch Festival and we have been warned by the Arts Council to anticipate a 15% cut in the budget in next year's grant round."

Oh Yeah centre music chief Stuart Bailie said "we may never see a year like 2014 again", and BBC broadcaster Ralph McLean believes the arts are "not valued as they should be by Stormont" politicians.

"Arts are about showing Northern Ireland as a vibrant, exciting place and if people can't see big acts, performances, orchestras, we can't compete and be considered a proper cultural destination," he added.

Belfast Festival director Richard Wakely said despite harsh economic difficulties facing the arts sector, planning has commenced for 2015.

It's understood public funding is not secure beyond that.

"Unforgettable moments this year included the unsettling yet remarkable An Enemy Of The People at the Grand Opera House; Israel Galvan's fleet-footed flamenco at the Mac and the legendary soul songstress Bettye Lavette at the Music Club," Mr Wakely said.

"The city's neighbourhoods also came alive with festival events including performances by artist in residence Claire Cunningham in east and north Belfast; the Schubert Ensemble and the Bolshoi exhibition, both in north Belfast; Muriel Anderson and Poetry Ireland in east Belfast and Roland Pontinen and Vincent Dargan in west Belfast. "My sincere thanks to all the artists and audiences who helped make the festival a great success."

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