Belfast Telegraph

Questions over future of Belfast Festival at Queen's amid cash cuts

By Noel McAdam

Does Belfast still need an international arts festival?

And if so, should it still be called the Belfast Festival at Queen's?

Those are among the questions in a review of the 53-year-old event being conducted by the Arts Council and the university, following a significant drop in the level of Ulster Bank funding for the festival.

The Stormont arts and culture committee also heard that the landmark annual event had been hit by a fall in European money as well.

Roisín McDonough, the council's chief executive, was asked by Sinn Fein's Rosaleen McCorley about the impact of Ulster Bank withdrawing some funding.

There have been reports that the bank's backing – which amounted to £300,000 last year – could fall by as much as two-thirds to £100,000.

Ms McDonough said: "The festival is happening this year, and we are pleased about that – but terms of reference have been agreed for a strategic review in conjunction with Queen's.

"Not only has there been a diminution in the resources coming from the Ulster Bank, but European funding, which the festival was successful in getting under the previous cultural programme, has ended. It got that funding for three years. Both of those issues have had to be addressed.

"But more than funding is that, after 50 years, I think you have to reflect on a lot of issues there: is it more town than gown, or is it the other way round? How can it develop other partnerships?

"Should it continue to be located in Belfast and be called the Belfast Festival at Queen's? There are a lot of issues. Is there still a need for an international festival in, in this instance, Belfast?

"So, there are a lot of areas to be thought through and looked at. Is the current model the best one? Could it be located elsewhere and operate in partnership with others, making it much more rooted across all parts of the city? Those are all big questions that we hope the review will deal with."

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