Belfast Telegraph

Arts Minister: It's not my job to raise cash for Ulster Orchestra

By Noel McAdam

Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has insisted it is not her job to "drum up" cash support for the under-threat Ulster Orchestra.

And she confirmed that without a viable rescue package of proposals by December 15 the orchestra will be in "serious difficulties".

The Sinn Fein Minister told MLAs although Belfast City Council had performed a lot of the "heavy lifting" in financing the orchestra, she would not be going round the other councils to seek contributions.

The full extent of the cash crisis facing the internationally-renowned ensemble was revealed at the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee last month.

NI21 leader Basil McCrea said he had been told the orchestra could "cease to exist" and Ms Ni Chuilin said its position was "scary".

Earlier this year the minister confessed she had never attended a performance by the orchestra, but the Belfast Telegraph revealed she had attended a Burns Night concert at which it performed. Questioned by MLAs in the Assembly, she said: "The Ulster Orchestra needs to develop a long-term, sustainable approach to address its current financial difficulties.

"My officials, together with the Arts Council, have been liaising with the orchestra and its management to discuss potential future operating models and alternative funding mechanisms.

"In addition, I recently met representatives of the orchestra to explore the nature of some of those problems, the problems that it faces and the work it is undertaking to identify possible solutions.

"Further work will be undertaken by the orchestra over the next few weeks to identify potential options and associated costs for the future. If the orchestra identifies a new sustainable operating model, I will give it serious consideration, and, subject to receiving assurance that it can be delivered, I will engage with Executive colleagues to assess how we might support it," the minister added.

Pressed further by the SDLP's Dolores Kelly, she added: "From what I have seen, all orchestras across the world are struggling to fully publicly fund themselves.

"Because of the financial situation over the past few years, orchestras have had great difficulty in getting corporate sponsorship and, when they get it, it is not over a long time."

The DUP's William Humphrey asked if the minister had met with other councils and she said the orchestra's management team was going to talk to other local government bodies "but it knows that by December 15 it needs to have some short-term interim funding or the Ulster Orchestra will be in serious difficulties.

"It is not my job to go round all the local councils on behalf of the orchestra to drum up support, pardon the pun; it is the orchestra's job."

She reiterated that since 2010 approximately £10.9m had been invested in the Ulster Orchestra.

Story so far

The orchestra had asked Belfast City Council for £500,000 to cover a deficit of £400,000 for 2014/15 after a funding cut. Flautist Sir James Galway is among the artists campaigning for its retention.

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