Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Opera House shock as funding cut by £110k

Orchestra and MAC are big winners in shake-up

By Claire McNeilly

The Grand Opera House's chief executive has said he was "extremely disappointed" after the shock revelation that £110,000 will be slashed from its annual funding.

The cut - representing a 22% reduction in its subsidy - is a hammer blow to the Belfast venue, which only learned of its magnitude in a letter from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Ian Wilson said he and chair of the Grand Opera House Trust Colin Loughran have requested an urgent meeting with the Arts Council to discuss the rationale behind the decision".

Mr Wilson voiced his concerns yesterday just moments after the Arts Council publicly announced annual funding worth £13.1m for 100 arts groups, down from 107.

His fears were echoed by the CEO of the Playhouse in Derry, which faces a cut of £20,000, and the West Belfast Festival, which has been told it will suffer a £21,000 loss.

The Arts Council said that "of the 100 organisations offered annual funding, the majority (57) received standstill funding or uplifts while the remainder received reduced funding".

It added: "This year's budget allocation for the arts from government follows a pattern of successive reductions in public funding for the arts of £23m over the last six years."

The big winners in the 2018/19 round of funding were the Ulster Orchestra Society, which gets a boost of £393,000, and The MAC in Belfast, with a hike of £198,000 to its annual subsidy.

Other organisations given a financial lift include the Ulster Youth Choir (up £21,000), Ulster Youth Orchestra (£10,000), and Moving on Music (with £29,000).

In response to the cut faced by the Grand Opera House, Mr Wilson said that "although a reduction in funding was expected", there was no indication as to its extent.

"It's extremely disappointing that Arts Council has resolved to reduce its annual subsidy to the Grand Opera House Trust by £108,407 to £375,880 for the 2018/2019 financial year. This represents a 22% cut in funding compared to 2017/18," he said.

"The Arts Council did not give the Grand Opera House Trust advance notice of the scale of the cut and the news was received by letter.

"In spite of this cut, the Grand Opera House Trust will continue to prioritise the presentation of world-class live theatre appealing to the widest possible range of audiences, alongside creating a community engagement programme involving all its constituent communities and providing top-quality opportunities for the development of Northern Ireland talent and potential."

Feile an Phobail director Kevin Gamble said he feared its £21,000 reduction in funds "will negatively impact on the local community".

"We are very disappointed to hear the news today that many organisations, including ourselves, have received a cut in funding from the Arts Council for the incoming financial year," he said.

"We are particularly disappointed that we are facing such a cut in this, our 30th celebration year.

"This will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact in our programme delivery."

Playhouse CEO Niall McCaughan said he was "sincerely disappointed that their grant offer from Arts Council of Northern Ireland for 18/19 has been reduced by £20,000".

"This represents an 8% cut in our annual budget and a cut on an already diminished baseline Northern budget, which has shrunk by 30% in the last five years alone," he added.

"This cut may signal the final blow for some organisations and have a serious detrimental effect on the output of others.

"We simply cannot continue to 'do more with less'."

Arts Council chair John Edmund said the £13.1m total "includes an additional allocation from the Department for Communities who responded to business cases made in 2017 to directly support two key arts organisations, the MAC and the Ulster Orchestra, both of which successfully demonstrated they are structurally underfunded".

He added that "within the context of reducing public funding across government, the board had to make the difficult decision to reduce the number of annually funded organisations while protecting the balance of arts forms for the year ahead".

Mr Edmund also said that "all applications received for annual funding this year were eligible, but there simply weren't the resources to fund all that was asked for. The majority of organisations were offered standstill funding or strategic uplifts, while the remainder received cuts".

In response to a Belfast Telegraph question about a perceived shift in resources from popular arts to highbrow, such as The MAC and Ulster Orchestra, a spokeswoman said "elitism is a charge the Arts Council refutes".

She added: "We aim to ensure that everyone has access to the arts, from popular arts to classical music. All of our funded organisations are held to account in order to demonstrate their outreach and inclusivity and to increase access to audiences."

Belfast Telegraph

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