Belfast Telegraph

James Nesbitt: Just 13 pence a week for the arts makes us all richer...

Actor throws weight behind campaign to stop £1m cuts

By Harriet Crawford and Nevin Farrell

James Nesbitt is supporting an Arts Council campaign demanding that Stormont stops severe cuts to Northern Ireland's endangered arts sector.

The local actor is the first famous voice to add support to campaign to save our arts sector, saying that he and many others relied on public-subsidised theatre companies to launch their careers.

"I started my acting at the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine when Interplay were there, a professional theatre company," he said in a special campaign video.

"Then I was in the Ulster Youth Theatre, alongside Michelle Fairly, who was in Game Of Thrones, (below right); Lloyd Hutchinson, who is currently on Broadway; Briana Corrigan, who was in the band The Beautiful South; Conleth Hill, a double Olivier Award winner - all benefited from the Ulster Youth Theatre and therefore from arts subsidy. They have all gone on to forge careers.

"Theatres, along with the likes of the Ulster Orchestra for example, are the cultural heartbeats of our towns and cities and without them we are much poorer for it.

"To the best of my knowledge, it doesn't take a lot of money and I would appeal to Stormont not to cut any more.

"Without the arts, we're just left with politics and we don't want that," he concluded, smiling.

Arts chiefs want the public to lobby the Northern Ireland Executive not to implement cuts of more than 10% that would see their funds slashed by over £1m.

The Executive currently invests just 13 pence per person, per week in direct funding for the arts, according to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI).

But arts bosses are fighting back and the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that a public campaign is being launched today by ACNI - the funding and development agency for the region's arts - against government cuts to the arts.

The campaign's battle cry is: "13p for the arts, no more cuts to the arts."

ACNI chief executive Roisin McDonough has warned that any further reduction to an already fragile budget will have a devastating impact on arts provision.

She said: "The arts receive a tiny amount of government funding but deliver big returns for our economy and for our society.

"We are now facing the biggest threat yet for the arts and cultural sector and we asking all those who value the arts to support our petition and ask the Finance Minister for no more cuts to the arts budget."

ACNI fears that arts organisations will go to the wall - and jobs lost -because of the funding crisis. Grainne McCann, communications manager at the Arts Council, said: "Some organisations will not survive because the Arts Council and their board are now of a position that the cuts cannot be salami-sliced across the sector."

The council is considering instead limiting the spread of the pain by closing whole funding packages for specific, still-to-be-decided groups.

Ms McCann said: "The small amount of funding has already been hacked at and our key campaign is to get people involved in the public consultation."

"The budget is out for consultation. We are asking people to get engaged in the public consultation and say they support the arts. They have up to December 29 to do so."

The Council says not only will there be job losses, but wider society will feel the loss of the arts sector.

"Artists help to put us on the map for all the right reasons and through that we are establishing a positive cultural profile and that enables people to look differently at this small place."

ACNI helped to fund Stephen Rea, and his theatre company's staging of a play in New York about the complex history of Northern Ireland.

A rallying cry is being made by arts chiefs to get the public to lobby Stormont to stop cuts of more than 10% to the arts sector - which would see funding slashed by over £1m.

The Arts Council has been asked by the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure to plan for an 11.2% cut in the next financial year, as part of plans announced in the Finance Minister's draft budget in October. This will leave the organisation to operate with just £10.9m - less than it operated on 10 years ago. Its current budget of £12.3m constitutes just one 1,000th of the Executive's budget.

The Arts Council has launched a postcard and online petition, asking the public to sign up in support of their call for no more cuts to the arts budget.

Philip Hammond: ‘We’ll have nothing of artisitic quality left’

Composer

In this benighted country, surely there is no one who would disagree that the arts bring light to our daily life.

The relative amount of money allocated by our government to the arts, however, could lead onlookers to believe that, here, there is no real value to the arts – a misconception easily dismissed by irrefutable facts.

The “13p a week” campaign highlights the ludicrously small importance is given to positive creativity while millions of pounds are squandered on trying to mask the impact that negative tribalism has on society.

We are in danger of losing what little arts provision we have. It is time for a silent majority to speak out before we have nothing of artistic quality left, and to demand better of our political leaders.

Dan Gordon: ‘Theatre’s an investment in our young people’

Actor, director and playwright

Without public funding the Lyric Theatre would not exist. On Sunday night 20 youngsters from Ardoyne and 10 bandsmen from East Belfast were invited to watch the Mistletoe And Crime show for free. They had never been to a theatre before — ever.

Literacy, unemployment and suicide rates amongst our young people are spiralling out of control. Theatre is a way of empathising, inspiring and changing lives. Marie Jones from the Newtownards Road became a writer because she saw a play in the Lyric about Belfast Dockers by Martin Lynch from Turf Lodge.

Liam Neeson from Ballymena became a superstar because the people who ran the Lyric gave him his first job. What does the Government not understand about investing in the arts?

Ali Fitzgibbon:  ‘Our artists can play a big part in economy’

Director, Young at Art

The people of Northern Ireland value the arts and are actively involved daily — 80% have been to an arts event in the last year.

They are part of our regeneration, part of our education system, part of the fibre of our society.

Our artists are workers, parents, volunteers and taxpayers.

They are the people with the creative knowledge to rethink our economy. So how can the Assembly think that is not worth investment when the head of HBO thinks it’s vital?

 How can our minister prioritise access and then cut the resources that makes the arts accessible?

Why should our communities, receive so much less than their counterparts in Ireland or Scotland?

Does that seem fair?

Will Chamberlain:  ‘The arts are an essential part of any healthy society’

Director, Belfast Circus School and Festival of Fools

We should not just safeguard the existing funding for the arts provision in Northern Ireland, but actually increase it.

When it is done well, the activity which emerges from arts funding actually makes a significant contribution to both health and education.

The level of funding for the arts is minuscule compared to the overall budget. The arts and creative industries employ as many people as work in agriculture but receive a fraction of the public funds.

The arts are not some luxury good, which is only for the wealthy. They are an essential part of a healthy society.

Public funding for the arts are a necessary factor in ensuring that the arts don’t become the preserve of some rich elite.

Sean Kelly:  ‘Is our legacy really to be a city whose lights go out after dark?

Director, Out to Lunch Festival and Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival

For a tiny investment, in relative terms, we stand to lose that which brings us together in a shared celebration of the arts and culture.

Is our legacy really to be a city whose arts are only for the affluent, a city whose lights go out after dark?

Ten years ago we launched the Out to Lunch Festival in January as a companion festival to the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

It was our small contribution to a dynamic and changing city.

Out to Lunch is an affordable festival for the city’s residents, the city’s workers and the hardy souls who visit our city in the dreary weeks of January.

The cuts being imposed in the coming years threaten this project and many others across the city.

Mary Trainor-Nagele:  ‘Cuts will jeopardise partnership with businesses’

Chief executive, Arts and Business Northern Ireland

There should be no further cuts to public investment in the arts.

Many private sector businesses are continuing to invest in and partner with the arts.

They see the contribution a vibrant arts and cultural sector makes to the region’s economy and society.

The small investment made by the Government to the arts is vital and delivering so much across the government agenda.

We know from our work with the private sector that there are more opportunities for partnership and that the arts have a very credible offer to business at this time. However, strategic fundraising takes time and resources — further cuts to an already stretched sector will jeopardise their ability to maximise these opportunities.

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