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Belfast artists turn to council for help over fear of closures

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Artists filled the Lavery Room at City Hall to support a presentation by Jane Morrow, artist, curator and PhD researcher, and Rob Hilken, artist and Northern Ireland manager of Visual Artists Ireland

Artists filled the Lavery Room at City Hall to support a presentation by Jane Morrow, artist, curator and PhD researcher, and Rob Hilken, artist and Northern Ireland manager of Visual Artists Ireland

Artists filled the Lavery Room at City Hall to support a presentation by Jane Morrow, artist, curator and PhD researcher, and Rob Hilken, artist and Northern Ireland manager of Visual Artists Ireland

Artists fear they will be wiped out of Belfast city centre due to lease insecurity and cuts in funding if they do not receive support from the city council.

Councillors heard at this week's city growth and regeneration committee that artist-led galleries, organisations and studios are severely threatened.

Three spaces/organisations folded in the last year and more face imminent closure.

Artists filled the Lavery Room at City Hall to support a presentation by Jane Morrow, artist, curator and PhD researcher, and Rob Hilken, artist and Northern Ireland manager of Visual Artists Ireland.

Ms Morrow told the committee: "Studio groups and artist-led organisations are being forced to move further and further from the city centre, and this will have a lasting impact on initiatives such as Late Night Art that help develop the night-time economy of the city."

She added: "We as a sector are not opposed to every change in the urban economy and we support Belfast City Council's cultural strategy and vision for the arts. But we do recognise that the current situation of many studios is caused by three main factors.

"Firstly, the politics of austerity and consequently the reduction in public funding, secondly, the regeneration and property speculation in the city centre, and lastly, the lack of specific support for grassroots infrastructure as an essential part of a vibrant arts ecosystem."

There are currently 17 studios/artist-led organisations in Belfast, with around 450 artists, all under threat. The majority of studios have tenancy agreements of less than 12 months, with many on monthly rolling contracts.

The Cathedral Quarter, once a hive of artists' studios, currently hosts only two. Platform Arts in the Fountain area will close at the end of this month, while the Cathedral Quarter's Cotton Court gallery space, owned by the Department for Communities, has been leased to a neighbouring business to extend a bar. Pollen Studios, also in the Fountain area, faces a similarly bleak future.

At this week's council meeting Ms Morrow asked the council to intervene: "We want the council to take an ideologically sound position to our grassroots activity. That doesn't cost any money. We need only your recognition and your advocacy at this stage."

Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl, who facilitated the artists' presentation before the council, said artists need sustainable support. She added: "If these studios close they'll be lost forever, and it's likely these artists will move elsewhere. We already have an issue with a brain drain, we really can't afford to lose any more talent."

Belfast Telegraph