Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Arts sector deserves protection as James Nesbitt adds his support

If you want to see a play in future, view new art, go to a concert or enjoy a community festival then tell Stormont not to cut the Arts Council's budget.

It is not unusual for organisations to go public in a plea for funds, but the campaign launched today by the Arts Council for Northern Ireland is unusual. It just wants to be allowed to keep its current budget. And it is pleading with the public to lobby the Executive at Stormont not to implement cuts which could see £1m taken from its coffers.

Yes, these are hard times, and some people might argue that the Arts Council does not deserve to be a special case exempted from the austerity measures which hit many services. But there are two compelling reasons why it is different.

The budget it works with and which is sieves down throughout the province to all sorts of arts-related projects is tiny in public sector terms - a mere 13p per person per week. It is the sort of money that can be found down the back of the proverbial sofa.

The second reason is the wholly disproportionate impact that the arts make to life here from that money. Just read the passionate words of James Nesbitt, currently one of the most in-demand actors in the UK, who began his professional career here funded by the Arts Council.

He rhymes off a list of other actors who have made a national and international impact after being given their first chance to tread the boards here through an arts subsidy.

But that is only part of the story. The arts - the cultural heartbeat of society according to Nesbitt - covers everything from huge set-piece dramas, to struggling artists, to poets on the verge of discovery and bodies like ArtsCare, which brings the sector into hospitals, nursing and residential homes and other facilities, including providing clown doctors to brighten up the lives of very sick children.

The arts don't just happen magically, even if they can bring magic into our lives. They have to be nurtured and encouraged. They have always been under-funded, yet have flourished against all odds.

But even if the bean-counters turn a stony face to the beauty and vitality of the arts, they should recognise the business case for the sector. It employs many very talented people who deserve to keep their jobs every bit as much as those working in more traditional industries or professions. All they are asking is that funding levels are retained.

If you want to see a play in future, view new art, go to a concert or enjoy a community festival then tell Stormont not to cut the Arts Council's budget.

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