Arts groups reveal 'stress and uncertainty' generated by budget cuts
Arts groups in Northern Ireland are facing their worst ever funding crisis, Assembly members have heard.
Laying bare the harsh reality of government budget cuts before a Stormont scrutiny committee, cash strapped organisations warned of hundreds of job losses and an artistic "brain drain".
Will Chamberlain from Belfast Community Circus said: "I have never experienced so much stress and uncertainty."
In August, the Arts Council told 32 organisations including the Lyric Theatre, Grand Opera House and Ulster Orchestra to prepare for in-year cuts of up to 10%.
Mr Chamberlain, whose circus school has had to switch gas and electricity suppliers and install energy efficient lighting systems to save money, said Stormont should be "ashamed" of the amount it allocates to the arts.
"We are only higher than Moldova," he said.
" It is such a depressed sector.
"It is a devastating time to be working in this field."
Representatives from Belfast's Grand Opera House and Young at Art, which runs the International Belfast Children's Festival, also gave dire warnings to the Culture Arts and Leisure (CAL) committee that c ommunity outreach programmes in socially deprived areas were being axed and restoration work on Belfast's oldest theatre stalled.
Aine Dolan, community and education manager at the 120-year-old Grand Opera House, said it would be "impossible" to function without Arts Council assistance.
Recouping money from increasing ticket prices was not an option because shows were contracted 18 months in advance and prices were fixed, she said.
Ms Dolan added: "It is a bit unfair that sponsorship would be held up as the sticking plaster that is going to fix this."
Meanwhile, Ali Fitzgibbon from Young at Art described fundraising efforts as "exhausting and exhausted".
She said the annual festival, which faces a deficit for the first time in its 18 year history, has been reduced by two days with the loss of up to 40 events.
"We are very unsure how to proceed because the greatest risk in our risk analysis as a good business is public policy and funding of the arts not just us but the wider sector," Ms Fitzgibbon said.
"If we get an increase then somebody else will be cut and therefore the wider ecology in which we operate will be damaged and ultimately the loss will be for children and young people in Northern Ireland."
NI21 MLA Basil McCrea described the budget cuts as "outrageous".
Democratic Unionist William Humphrey said there was an "arts and cultural crisis."