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Arts ‘decimated’ without coronavirus funding rescue

Flagship organisations like the Ulster Orchestra are not expected to resume performances until January.

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The arts sector will be ‘decimated’ without a coronavirus funding rescue package, its representative body in Northern Ireland said (Lyric Theatre/PA)

The arts sector will be ‘decimated’ without a coronavirus funding rescue package, its representative body in Northern Ireland said (Lyric Theatre/PA)

The arts sector will be ‘decimated’ without a coronavirus funding rescue package, its representative body in Northern Ireland said (Lyric Theatre/PA)

The arts will be “decimated” without a cash injection to recover from coronavirus, its main funding body in Northern Ireland said.

Flagship organisations like the Ulster Orchestra are not expected to resume performances until January, the Arts Council warned.

The Lyric Theatre in Belfast has put three quarters of its staff on furlough while the Opera House is closed for renovations.

Roisin McDonough, Arts Council chief executive, said: “Unless there is a rescue package the arts sector will be decimated.

“If people cannot open the buildings, if they cannot perform and do what they normally do, it affects our artists.

“They won’t get work, that is why we refer to our artists as the eco-system.

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“We can look to the future and try and have a bridge-head into the future but the scale and impact of the pandemic has been so severe that people are struggling to survive.”

She said the “life-blood” for artists was their audiences.

She added: “They don’t want to lose that contact during the pandemic because they know it is very hard to get it back in the future.

“We are cautiously optimistic that some of our arts organisations will be able to reopen and present work within the next year on a phased basis.”

She warned members of Stormont’s Communities Committee those her organisation funded and represented faced the loss of millions of pounds in earned income.

She also predicted a significant deficit by the end of this financial year unless more help is provided.

The Ulster Orchestra has been on the brink of closing in the past over funding cuts.

The only full-time professional orchestra in Northern Ireland was founded in 1966.

It plays the majority of its concerts in Belfast’s Ulster Hall and the Waterfront Hall – but is not expected to begin performing again until next year, Damian Smyth from the Arts Council added.

He said: “You are looking at a significant deficit, if it began earlier the deficit increases.”

The Lyric Theatre in Belfast is Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre.

Among its alumni are some of the country’s finest actors, including Liam Neeson and Adrian Dunbar.

It has premiered the work of playwrights like Stewart Parker, Martin Lynch and Marie Jones.

The venue has had to pay back advances on sales for performances during the pandemic, the Arts Council told the committee.

Shows up to July have been cancelled, including the stage musical version of the popular movie charting the life of Belfast punk legend Terri Hooley, Good Vibrations.

Three quarters of its staff are on furlough but returning to work from July will provide its own financial pressures, the Arts Council said.

The Opera House is a major venue for receiving touring performances from around the UK.

It is closed for refurbishment but most of its normal revenue comes from the box office.

Mr Smyth added: “You are looking at a very complicated logistical problem that is going to have to be solved.

“All three of them would have considerable risk at the moment.”

A Creative Support Fund for small to medium-sized organisations as a response to Covid-19 will open soon, the Communities Department said.


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