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Arts funding cut by £500,000 the same week loyalist bands get £200,000 grant reinstated

By Rebecca Black

Published 14/07/2016

The Belfast Mela festival received funding from the Arts Coun
The Belfast Mela festival received funding from the Arts Coun

Scores of arts groups across Northern Ireland have been dealt a blow following a significant cut to the body that funds them.

The Arts Council has had its 2016/17 budget slashed by almost half-a-million pounds by the new Department for Communities.

Its funding has been reduced from £10.95m in 2015/16 to £10.49m in 2016/17.

The bulk of the Arts Council's money is used to pay annual running and staffing costs for arts organisations.

The revelation comes in the same week as Communities Minister Paul Givan confirmed that a £200,000 scheme to pay for musical instruments for bands had been reinstated.

It provides grants of between £500 and £5,000 for marching bands to buy new instruments and replace worn-out ones, and is distributed through the Arts Council.

Former Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin suspended the same fund last year.

Mr Givan said the marching bands sector was "the largest community arts sector in Northern Ireland, with well in excess of 20,000 participants".

"These bands contribute to our society not just musically, but providing structure, discipline and a social outlet for a huge number of young people across Northern Ireland," he said.

The Arts Council's biggest allocation in 2016/17 was to the Ulster Orchestra Society Ltd - £1,779,568.

Just two years ago the ensemble faced closure due to a funding crisis and needed extra money from Stormont and Belfast City Council to remain afloat.

The Arts Council also funds the Lyric Theatre, which was given £968,500; the Metropolitan Arts Centre (£950,000); and the Grand Opera House Trust (£494,610). However, most of its grants for 2016/17 are small sums, including to the West Belfast Festival Feile an Phobail (£142,590) and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival (£126,100).

EastSide Arts manager Anthony Toner said the £94,000 from the Arts Council, plus a grant from Belfast City Council, was crucial to its success.

Another community festival, Arts Ekta, received £55,844 from the Arts Council.

Nisha Tandon, executive director of ArtsEkta, which organises the Belfast Mela, said: "The arts sector has faced its most challenging times in recent years, with deep cuts to a budget that is the lowest across the whole of the UK and Ireland.

"This latest cut is tiny when put in the context of overall Stormont spending, but the impact will undoubtedly be felt in the sector, and as we have seen before this has the potential to have a knock-on effect on jobs, the livelihood of our artists and the breadth of programmes that reach out to so many different communities."

Meanwhile, the Belfast Circus School received £156,699.

Spokesman Will Chamberlain has expressed concern at the cutbacks.

"Investment in arts and culture pays back many, many times over," he said.

"Whether it's in tourism benefit or education or health, that investment will come back to the Northern Ireland economy.

"Cutting by half-a-million is a miniscule amount in terms of the overall budget.

"But it makes a difference to us, because it is a massive proportion of what we actually get allocated."

In March the Arts Council warned that it expected its budget for 2016-17 to be reduced by up to 6%.

That follows an 11% - or £1.38m - cut from DCAL in 2015-16.

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