Artist's pet project gets cash boost: Creative firms share £428,000 round of funding
An artist who makes neon dog sculptures seen during Londonderry's City of Culture year is one of over 40 creative businesspeople to benefit from a new £428,000 round of grants.
Deepa Man-Kler's creations were one of the highlights of the City of Culture Lumiere light festival.
She is one of 44 Northern Ireland businesses and three sectoral bodies to share in the Creative Industries Innovation Funding (CIIF), administered by the Arts Council.
However, the Arts Council has confirmed that the current funding programme will end in 2015 and with government budget cuts, it is unknown what cash will be available after.
Based on balloon models, the dogs went on display at the Walker Courtyard of the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall.
The self-taught artist, who was born in Nottingham but who now lives in Killyleagh, plans to modify her designs to make them suitable for sale as 3D light art pieces for the global market.
Ms Mann-Kler has exhibited internationally in solo and group shows in China, America, Germany and Ireland and her neon work 'Teenage Kicks' was also displayed in Derry last year.
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Setting herself up in business in 2007, from 2011 to 2013 she was artist-in-residence with the Belfast playwright Martin Lynch and she is also well known for her cycling paintings.
"The neon dog pieces are beautiful but they are made of neon - glass and gas - so they are quite fragile," she said.
"There is no way I could sell them in their current form - they would be too volatile and too expensive to produce and to buy in any scale.
"With the funding, I am looking at alternative materials like plastics and LED lights and once I get the materials fixed in place then I think that these and other designs will make a good, viable product.
"I hope that people will want to buy a piece of art which also has a function in the home."
CIIF provides seed funding of up to £10,000 to creative businesses and up to £20,000 to sectoral development bodies to enable the development of new products and services.
The grants are funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), and supported by Northern Ireland Screen and Digital Circle.
Almost 200 projects been supported with £4m already handed out through CIIF funding investment, which is designed to grow and develop the creative industries sector in Northern Ireland.
Ms Mann-Kler said that there was a balance to be struck between artistic integrity, popularism and commercialism.
"My neon work is for public spaces and my painting is for domestic settings," she said.
"I think for some people, there is a chill factor about going to galleries and on the other side, there is a bit of inverted snobbery when everybody likes something," she added.
"I started out in 2007 when the economic bubble burst. It was the worst time to start, but I haven't known it to be any better.
"It's a tightrope that artists have to walk - we need to be commercial but we can't be too commercial.
"My cycling work I usually sell as prints with a low price point and I have scaled back on exhibitions as these are very time-consuming, but artists need an income and this is why the funding from CIIF has been so critical for helping me develop these new products and make them as viable as I can."
Research by KPMG commissioned by the Arts Council at the end of last year forecasts the gross value added, or GVA, of the Creative Industries in Northern Ireland will be close to £1bn by 2015, with 37,000 employed.
Another businesses which has picked up funding is Garry McElherron's 'MourneQuest: The Game of Myth and Legend'.
The funding will be used to develop the already successful fantasy book series into a family board game and app.
Irony Metalworks in Magherafelt will receive support for its 'Mallon Ancestral Foundry Bronze Collection' to develop sculptures that will convey the essence of Ireland's history and legend.
Irony was set up by blacksmith Charles Mallon eight years ago.
A former boilermaker, his big break came in 2007 when he met celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin, with whom he has worked on a sculptures for the Chelsea Flower Show.
His other clients include the BBC, Donegal County Council and various hospitals.
The Arts Council faces a 2.1% immediate cut and a proposed further 2.3% cut this month.
Almost 40 organisations supported by the Arts Council have been told to plan for potential cuts of 5% from the budgets they have already been granted, almost half way through the financial year.