Belfast Telegraph

Arts festival boss axed amid spending concerns once headed event that made a £1.8m loss

By Cate McCurry

The director of a major arts festival in Co Fermanagh that was axed over spending concerns was at the centre of controversy over a separate big-budget event, it has emerged.

Sean Doran was set to be one of the artistic directors of the fifth Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, which celebrates the life and works of playwright Samuel Beckett.

But a statement from Mr Doran and another artistic director, Liam Browne, that was posted on the event's website announced that it had been called off.

The statement explained that the cancellation was down to the loss of a "core funder" - the Arts Council for Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for the Arts Council said the festival's funding had been cut in half because of spending issues.

It has now emerged that Mr Doran, from Co Londonderry, was previously the director of the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia.

After his first year in the post, he was questioned about the impact of a budget blow-out under his leadership that led to a substantially reduced programme the following year.

In an interview with an Australian radio station, Mr Doran was told that his first festival would be remembered for its big-budget acts, including an 18-hour Chinese opera production.

But the interview also heard that under the Londonderry man's control, the event had lost $2.6m (£1.8m).

Mr Doran, who was also artistic director of the Belfast Festival at Queen's University in 1997 and 1998, went on to take up the role of artistic director at the English National Opera (ENO) in 2003.

However, a report in the Guardian newspaper at the time claimed that his appointment was "dogged by a series of crises".

Mr Doran eventually stepped down just over two years later, apparently without giving notice to members of the company. The newspaper said his resignation followed rumours of clashes with the ENO's vice-chairman, Vernon Ellis.

The Derry man, who was previously described as "one of the most innovative and daring artistic directors working in the international arts world", has also been signed up for a Seamus Heaney festival.

The Happy Days festival has in the past attracted some top names to Co Fermanagh, including Frank Skinner, Adrian Dunbar, Miranda Richardson and Julianne Moore.

It won £300,000 in funding last year from the UK-based TS Eliot Trust, which was to be dispensed over three years.

In its statement, the Arts Council had said the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival was ineligible for 2016/17 funding "because the organisation did not meet the conditions of the grant awarded the previous year".

"The festival organisers were unable to make their records of expenditure for the 2015/16 festival available, consequently just 50% of the award was paid," it added.

Mr Doran did not respond to requests for comment.

Belfast Telegraph


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