Belfast Telegraph

Arts budget cuts could kill film and theatre in Northern Ireland, actors union warns

By Ivan Little

Actors union Equity has claimed that the swingeing Arts Council cuts could kill the professional theatre here and seriously damage the flourishing Northern Ireland film industry in the process.

The union has written to every MLA at Stormont urging them to impose a moratorium on the cuts which they say will have a disproportionally severe impact on the theatre at a time when other organisations, like NI Opera, have seen their funding increased.

Equity's national organiser in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Drew McFarlane, has also sent a strongly worded letter to Arts Council chairman Bob Collins. A number of theatre organisations like Tinderbox and Kabosh have had their grants slashed by up to 45%, while Martin Lynch's community theatre company Green Shoot Productions has lost all its funding.

The Arts Council's decisions came after its own budget from the Northern Ireland Executive was reduced by 11.2%, down by £1.38m to just under £11m.

Mr McFarlane said in a letter to his members here: "I don't want to compare art form with art form, nor do I want to rob from Peter to pay Paul.

"But what we have on a cursory analysis is a disproportionate impact on professional theatre."

He said the cuts were a direct attack on actors, set designers, directors and stage managers and would result in the loss of jobs to people "who work in an already fragile low pay environment".

Mr McFarlane also warned that the cuts would send out a message to students at colleges or drama schools that their dreams and aspirations of a career in the theatre would not be supported or met by government.

He said: "Implementing cuts that in reality are killing the foundation blocks for any creative industries is hypocritical, shortsighted, and highlights a couldn't-care-less attitude that needs to be taken to task."

Mr McFarlane said that the benefits which the creative industries had brought to the Northern Ireland economy could be jeopardised by the cuts. He said: "Game of Thrones and other high-end television and film productions depend very much on the talent base that works and develops in theatre.

"If the jobs are cut there is a real danger that the talent base will erode and move from the very community that should nurture it."

Among the other organisations which have been badly hit by the cuts are the Blackstaff Press publishing company and the website Culture NI, which says it will be forced to close next month after 10 years of promoting the arts.

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