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Arts Council chair John Edmund urged to quit after criticising sector’s ‘dependency’ on grant aid


Arts Council chairman John Edmund

Arts Council chairman John Edmund

Ali Fitzgibbon

Ali Fitzgibbon

Adam Turkington

Adam Turkington

Arts Council chairman John Edmund

The chair of Northern Ireland's arts funding body has been urged to resign after he slammed the "high level of dependency" on grants here.

Arts Council chairman John Edmund, a consultant marketing professional, is facing a backlash after suggesting that the creative sector should be run more like a business.

He was speaking after it was revealed earlier this week that Northern Ireland's arts budget is likely to be cut by more than 8% this year.

In a speech at the Arts and Business awards on Wednesday night at Belfast's Harbour Commissioner's Office, Mr Edmund - who earns £10,000 for a minimum of 40 days a year - called on both sectors to support each other in "deeply uncertain times".

"Business can learn from the arts, but the arts sector has much to learn from business; we need to develop your focus on outcomes, your skills - particularly with regard to planning and performance measurement - and your commercial know-how," he said.

Mr Edmund said that for the arts, "the political and economic landscape here is such that we are having to do more with less".

But he added: "In Northern Ireland, a weak and unbalanced economy with poor levels of productivity, too many have ruled themselves out of the workforce and a high level of dependency has meant that day to day priorities have not made 'space' for the support needed to enable the arts sector to deliver the contribution to society and the economy of which it is capable.

"Unfortunately, that looks set to continue given the budgetary pressures that exist."

Earlier this week Arts Matter NI, a campaign supported by almost 50 groups across the sector, warned of the devastating consequences of the projected 8% funding cuts. It said for some organisations "further tortuous slashing of their budgets may signal the final blow".

The Arts Council also said it could no longer sustain further cuts after six years in which it witnessed a 30% cash terms drop in its budget - closer to 40% when inflation is taken into account.

In its submission to a public consultation on the draft Budget for Northern Ireland, it said: "The consequences of a further reduction is that the Arts Council will not be able to meet existing commitments and it will severely hamper efforts to maintain support to artists and organisations throughout Northern Ireland.

"Reducing an already fragile arts budget would have a devastating impact on our cultural infrastructure."

However, Mr Edmund appeared to support the cuts, and said the current funding model for the arts here "has created a high level of dependency and, frankly, has not been a sustainable one for some time".

However, independent arts consultant Ali Fitzgibbon called for Mr Edmund to step down from his role.

"John Edmunds' speech on Wednesday night showed he not only does not know how the arts and cultural industries work in Northern Ireland, but holds it in low regard," she claimed.

Adam Turkington, who runs the Seedhead Arts and Events company, said he was disgusted by Mr Edmund's comments and also called for him to resign.

"Mr Edmund's job is to be a vocal supporter of the arts and to lobby Government for a better deal. We're already the worst-funded part of western Europe," he said.

"I absolutely think he should leave his job, and I'm not the only one."

Belfast Telegraph