Belfast Telegraph

Ensuring the MAC has a healthy financial future

By Aine McVerry

We believe that culture and the arts are the foundation of any modern society. In Belfast, the MAC is at the forefront of regenerating the Cathedral Quarter and the wider city. Like other vital services, the arts sector has felt the financial strains of austerity and the tightening of the public purse.

We will always make as strong a case as we can that the arts are a service just like infrastructure, education and health, and deserving of public funding and public support. A city that values its cultural offering is one that is outward looking, progressive and ambitious - and that's exactly the sort of society that we all want to live in. That mission is central to the MAC's ethos.

At the same time we are keenly financially aware and are making strides towards a model of sustainability that involves not only public funding but increasing our own means of income through corporate relationships, commercial activity and even bringing a spirit of entrepreneurship to how we run our organisation.

The creation and enjoyment of excellent art is at the heart of our business model, but we also have a commercial side to the business which we are further developing.

The MAC opened in 2012 and in the short period since has hosted ground breaking exhibitions and shows including David Hockney, Gilbert & George and Andy Warhol. We have attracted over two million people through our doors and we have forged a new Belfast institution.

Now, six years on we have come to a point where we can assess what we know about our customer base, about how to meet their existing needs and how to attract new visitors to the MAC. We are essentially moving into the second phase of our evolution. That means planning for the long-term and doing all we can to ensure our long-term sustainability.

There are some concrete examples of this new spirit of entrepreneurship. We are currently in the process of bringing our cafe, bar and hospitality business in house.

We have a full understanding of what our customers want and need and we think we are well placed to deliver that.

So, a number of changes are on the way - we have brought in some new staff, re-designed our food offering and looked at our service style to create an experience that we hope will work better for the MAC and our customer base - new and old.

Last month we remodelled our ground floor theatre into the Luminaire Club. This was an investment which allows to move beyond traditional theatre-style seating to a cabaret format.

Since the opening of the MAC we have developed strong and lasting relationships with corporate Northern Ireland.

These connections have resulted in successful sponsorships for our shows, engagement programmes with schools that have been directly funded by local companies, and importantly the development of a significant venue hire business.

In a very short time the MAC has become the venue of choice for business seminars, team meetings, product launches, formal dinners and awards ceremonies.

Our aim is to ensure we maximise the potential that exists within this fantastic and versatile space in our corner of the Cathedral Quarter. As Belfast grows, our strategic plan will ensure that income from commercial venue hire will grow also.

It is not widely appreciated that the arts sector delivers a significant return for what is a small budgetary allocation from the public purse. This economic impact is driven by job creation, visitors spending on hotels, restaurants and transport, the purchasing of goods and services locally as well as the attraction of foreign and direct investment.

Without that public subvention we would not exist and certainly could not provide the arts programme and economic impact we do. By merging our artistic instincts with a business focus, we can help ensure the MAC impact is here to stay.

Belfast Telegraph

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