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Arts sector 'on the brink' as it waits for £33m package

Venues plead with MLAs over funds still not allocated

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Exhibition: MAC Curator Hugh Mulholland and Louise O’Boyle, acting head of Belfast School of Art, at the show of work by Fine Art graduates from Belfast School of Art at the MAC

Exhibition: MAC Curator Hugh Mulholland and Louise O’Boyle, acting head of Belfast School of Art, at the show of work by Fine Art graduates from Belfast School of Art at the MAC

Exhibition: MAC Curator Hugh Mulholland and Louise O’Boyle, acting head of Belfast School of Art, at the show of work by Fine Art graduates from Belfast School of Art at the MAC

Northern Ireland faces becoming a cultural wasteland if a vital £33m support package announced in July to combat the Covid-19 crisis is not allocated immediately, the arts community has warned.

Leading venues - including The MAC, Crescent Arts Centre, The Lyric Theatre and the Millennium Forum in Londonderry - issued the plea in a letter to MLAs and said the industry is "on the brink of devastation" as they are still waiting for the funding to be released.

The letter, delivered to MLAs on Tuesday, said the financial crisis means the impact of Covid-19 could mean the end of the arts in Northern Ireland, and despite the urgency, the matter is only due before the Executive later next week.

"We understand that the Covid crisis has impacted across Northern Ireland and many thousands of people face an uncertain future as we hopefully move out of the lockdown in a careful and managed way," they said.

"The arts and culture sector is facing very real pressure and without urgent and significant financial intervention many venues and organisations will close, jobs will be lost, career paths blocked for young people and the impact will be the end of the arts in Northern Ireland.

"Our arts venues and organisations have been closed since March with the subsequent loss of revenue. Staff have been furloughed and many of our freelancers have fallen through the gaps in support provided through the support schemes.

"The resulting loss of creative and cultural activities as a regular part of people's lives is deeply worrying. Our sector is teetering on the brink of devastation.

"The arts and culture sector plays an important role in driving our economy; attracting global tourists; protecting and enhancing the mental wellbeing of our citizens, underpinning involvement for our disabled and deaf community and bringing communities together.

"As we emerge from Covid-19, the arts sector can help Northern Ireland thrive, but only if we survive."

The venues said they now want to work with Minister Caral NI Chuilin and the Executive to help secure the full financial package of £33m which was allocated to Northern Ireland as a result of a UK-wide investment in the sector announced in July.

"This potential investment is vital if we are to avoid the collapse of our industry and support the recovery of the broader arts, cultural and creative industries. We need the full allocation of £33m to be spent as intended in full, and very soon," they said.

"The initial UK allocation was made two months ago and the urgency and gravity of our situation has deepened.

"We need funds allocated in the coming weeks as this is all the time we have left to ensure that we do not become a cultural wasteland."

The Department for Communities has been contacted for comment.

Belfast Telegraph