Belfast Telegraph

Cuts put Ulster Orchestra's future at its Ulster Hall home in doubt

By Rebecca Black

The future of the Ulster Orchestra at its historic home has been thrown into doubt after a cut to its funding.

In 2012 the Ulster Orchestra Society Ltd received £2,196,720 from its principal funder, the Arts Council – the most of any arts group in Northern Ireland.

But in line with cuts experienced by all arts groups this year, this figure has been slashed by 15%, forcing the orchestra to streamline to stay afloat.

The funding cut came on top of a fall in revenue from sponsorships.

In 2009 David Byers from the orchestra told an Assembly investigation into its funding that the amount it received through sponsorship had fallen.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that one of the ways in which the orchestra is budgeting is by halving the amount of space it rents from the Ulster Hall.

The orchestra was granted a 25-year lease for its accommodation in the hall priced at £36,500 per annum in 2006.

However, it can no longer afford to pay this, and is currently having to renegotiate it.

The orchestra informed Belfast City Council last March that its funding from the Arts Council was to be significantly reduced.

Minutes of the council's strategic policy and resources committee have revealed that the orchestra served noticed on June 25 to terminate its lease and sought to reduce its area of occupation, and therefore its accommodation costs.

The council has now agreed a reduced area of the orchestra's occupancy totalling around 1,468 square feet. It is understood that the orchestra has consolidated its offices and meeting rooms – which formerly took up more than two floors – to one floor.

The orchestra is now being billed £1,298 per month, plus a service charge.

This will be the ongoing arrangement for six months from July 25 while the orchestra finalises its new business plan to take into account the reduced funding from the Arts Council.

Belfast City Council agreed to grant a temporary licence agreement with the Ulster Orchestra for six months and month to month thereafter at its discretion.

Ulster Orchestra chief executive Dr Rosa Solinas said the organisation is committed to remaining at its traditional home.

"The Ulster Orchestra are in the process of renegotiating its lease with Belfast City Council for its rental of space in the Ulster Hall," she said.

"This is an operational matter and is part of efforts to increase efficiencies for the Ulster Orchestra given the financial pressures that all arts organisations are facing in the current economic climate.

"We are committed to our partnership with Belfast City Council and look forward to continuing that partnership for many years to come."

BACKGROUND

The Ulster Orchestra was founded in 1966 by the Arts Council. It was established as a registered charity in 1981 and heavily relies on funding from the Arts Council, BBC, Belfast City Council and Gallaher Ltd. It plays most of its concerts in the Ulster Hall and Waterfront Hall, but it calls the Ulster Hall its home, with its office located there. The orchestra performs live to 100,000-plus people a year and has toured worldwide.

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