Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland arts groups demand equality in funding as budgets slashed

By Allan Preston

Arts organisations in Northern Ireland have renewed their demands for funding equality with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

Yesterday, representatives from 60 arts organisations gathered at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, a venue which had its own public funding slashed by £110,000 this year.

The Arts Council for Northern Ireland announced funding for 2018/19 would be £13.1m, a cut of 4.7%.

This reduced money for 43 out of 100 publicly-funded organisations and stopped funding for seven organisations entirely.

Led by the advocacy group Arts Matter NI, yesterday's meeting debated a strategy for their campaign in the future.

Convenor Conor Shields said many were "baffled" that citizens in Northern Ireland seemed to be worth less than those in neighbouring countries.

After the gathering, the group delivered a large signed poster to the Department for Communities building in Belfast.

The statement read: "We demand equality of access to the arts, we demand parity of investment across these islands and neighbouring jurisdictions."

"We sent a very clear message," said Mr Shields.

"The cuts that we're receiving year on year will kill the arts, we see our neighbouring states, by contrast, reinvesting to make sure the arts can survive."

Arts Matter NI have repeatedly called for meetings with senior civil servants and the Secretary of State Karen Bradley, but have been rejected to date.

"It's disappointing and many of us feel it shows the esteem in which the arts are held," said Mr Shields.

"We know there are problems politically, but for small amounts in comparison to other budgets we could make an incredible difference to the lives of ordinary people."

Mr Shields also pointed to Germany, where arts funding was boosted by €300m this year, representing a 38% growth since 2013.

"Dortmund's city Opera House receives more in arts funding in that one city than all the arts in Northern Ireland," said Mr Shields.

"They have 89 publicly-funded opera houses in Germany. We're not asking for parity to that level, but we are asking for equality of access, the same as somebody in London, Glasgow or Dublin.

"Why we aren't worth as much as citizens elsewhere is baffling to us.

"We know that arts and culture offer this safe space for people to express themselves and is a really positive platform for building new economies."

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