Belfast Telegraph

My View: Small price to pay for great arts

By Roisin McDonough

The arts are facing the very real prospect of the Executive turning the clock back on them a decade to a level of public investment last seen in 2005.

Let's put the Executive's investment in the arts into some kind of perspective. It is tiny. At just £12.3m, or 0.1% of the overall budget for Northern Ireland, the annual arts budget would sustain the Health Service for less than one day. Or it would sustain Education for two days. Justice would last four days; policing of Twaddell Avenue a year.

The money spent on the arts makes next to no impression on the budgets of these departments. Rather than competing, the arts support these vital services, with over half of the work undertaken by Arts Council's funded organisations taking place in healthcare and educational environments and with community groups.

Public investment in the arts here works out at just 13p per person per week. The comparative figure through devolved government in Wales is 32p. What can you buy for 13p? Yet this tiny investment yields big returns for Northern Ireland.

What possible sense can it make to cut a sector that feeds 40,000 jobs and generates £714m GVA (gross value added) through the creative industries? Where's the sense in cutting a sector that puts Northern Ireland on the map for all the right reasons and is capable of transforming a place so that tourism rises by 50%, as happened through Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture?

Today the arts are firmly established as major players in social development, bringing people and communities closer together, promoting cultural pluralism and giving marginalised groups a stronger voice.

These days 79% of Arts Council investment goes to the most deprived areas; more tellingly, 70% of people living in these areas now choose to engage with the arts. More than ever before, the arts are enriching everyone's lives. What sense, then, in imposing cuts that will force organisations to reduce access to the very people and communities the Executive wants to reach out to?

The arts have already endured six successive cuts in four years. A seventh will tip the already precarious balance.

Roisin McDonough is chief executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

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