Belfast Telegraph

Queen's to stop funding flagship Belfast Festival of arts

By Amanda Ferguson

The arts world is in shock after Queen's University Belfast revealed it was ending a financial relationship with the international festival which bears its name after more than 50 years.

The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's, as we know it, is no more, after QUB revealed it is stopping annual funding of £129,000, which represents around 13% of the festival's income.

This comes after the festival's title sponsor, Ulster Bank, cut its funding from £300,000 to £100,000 last year.

Festival director Richard Wakely said: "In no way are we dead and buried."

He added that his team remained positive and looked forward to meeting its other funders next week to discuss a way forward for the international dance, music, theatre and visual arts event.

A statement from QUB said the decision to cut funding "is a consequence of financial challenges to the Belfast Festival at Queen's in recent years and significant cuts to the public purse, which have disproportionately impacted upon both the culture and arts, and higher education sectors".

QUB Pro-Vice Chancellor for external affairs, Professor Tony Gallagher, said: "The university has been a significant patron of the arts since the Belfast Festival at Queen's inception over 50 years ago and has invested significant funding into its success.

"Queen's has also played a unique role in developing the cultural infrastructure for Belfast and the region.

"However, the university cannot continue to expose itself to an unacceptable level of financial risk."

An Arts Council spokeswoman described the end of QUB's long-standing relationship with the autumn festival as regrettable.

"The remaining funders of festival will meet early next week to discuss the options for the future shape of Belfast's leading international arts and culture festival," she said.

"The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has been the festival's principal funder for over 50 years and our commitment to supporting an arts and culture showcase of this kind for Belfast remains firmly in place."

Last night, Mr Wakely told the Belfast Telegraph that he wanted Stormont to reconsider the "disproportionate" cuts made to the higher education and arts sectors.

"I want policy-makers in Stormont to revisit this and acknowledge arts and culture makes such a valuable contribution to Belfast as a place to live, work and visit," he said. "We are looking forward to exploring a new future for the festival next week with our stakeholders.

"We are grateful for Queen's support over the last 52 years."

Quote

"A key recommendation of the review was to secure a three-year funding agreement to allow for long-term planning that consolidated a new minimum baseline of public funding. The report recommended that the Belfast Festival at Queen's would need to grow its annual budget to £2m... unfortunately, in the current climate, this is not possible."

- Queen's University Belfast

Further reading

As Belfast Festival sets record, arts budget cuts spark alert

Reflecting on 17 days of diversity which truly delivered

Questions over future of Belfast Festival at Queen's amid cash cuts

Belfast Festival at Queen's organisers confident of event's future despite Ulster Bank cutting funding

How Richard went from box office to centre stage at Belfast Festival

A spectacular show, but does it leave some out in the cold? 

How Belfast got stuck in to make artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada's Wish come true

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