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Belfast Mac arts centre wants council to triple funding

By Rebecca Black

Published 12/01/2016

The Mac in Belfast
The Mac in Belfast

Belfast's newest arts centre is in deep financial difficulties.

The flagship Metropolitan Arts Centre (Mac) opened in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter in 2012 at a cost of almost £18m.

However, it has not been a smooth road, and following cuts from Stormont the Mac has asked Belfast City Hall to triple the council funding it receives.

Problems with the building's distinctive basalt cladding were first noticed in 2014, and repair work started last November. That work is expected to cost around £600,000.

Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin told the Assembly then: "We would not expect to be running into these difficulties within three years of the building being developed", and vowed to get to the bottom of the problem.

In 2014/15 the Mac had a total expenditure of £2.26m.

But it lost 10% of its funding when the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure made major cutbacks last year.

Now it has emerged that the Mac is pleading with Belfast City Council to triple its funding.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the centre's management asked the council's city growth and regeneration committee for the money last month.

In 2013 Belfast City Council agreed to fund the Mac for three years. It received £75,000 per year under this deal.

But the Mac has now submitted an application for a new funding deal under the core multi-annual funding, a programme for arts and heritage organisations that will operate between April 2016 and March 2020.

The Mac requested £250,000 a year for four years.

Its management explained the request for extra money was due to a "significant shortfall in the funding needed to run the venue in an effective way".

However, council officers noted in the minutes of the meeting: "Given the overall available budget, organisations were advised that any uplift in funding is unlikely and that any such request must demonstrate significant change from the position and levels of activity previously presented."

Recommendations for the funding programme will be considered by councillors at a meeting of the committee on Wednesday, and decisions are due to be published early next month following ratification. The Mac is one of Belfast's flagship venues and includes two theatres (a 350-seater and 120-seater), three art galleries, one rehearsal space, one dance studio, three education and workshop rooms, four offices for resident art groups, a cafe and bar, an artist-in-residence studio and one permanent artwork.

It reported a total audience of 134,092 for the financial year 2014/15. It listed 24,988 individual participants, 3,433 volunteer hours, 1,397 artist/practionioner contracts, and 31 full-time non-artistic staff.

Last year the venue was on the shortlist for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year.

It was designed by Hackett Hall McKnight Architects, now known as Hall McKnight Architects. In 2013 the building received a national award from the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The Mac was asked to comment, but had not responded by the time of going to press.

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