Belfast Telegraph

Pressure mounts on Arts boss John Edmund to step down after grants criticism

By Allan Preston

The chair of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland remains under pressure to step down after he hit out at a "high level of dependency" on public grants.

John Edmund, a marketing and media professional, faced calls to go this week after he made a speech urging arts organisations to improve their business skills.

The backlash came as an 8% cut to Northern Ireland's arts budget was announced.

Mr Edmund and the other board members of the Arts Council were contacted for a response yesterday but have declined to address the fallout so far.

A spokesperson for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland said: "There will be no comment at this time until the chair and the board have a chance to discuss the views expressed."

Adam Turkington, head of the Seedhead Arts and Events company, continued his calls for Mr Edmund to step down as his views appeared to be out of step the Arts Council's Executive.

On his Twitter page, Mr Turkington posted the Executive's response to Northern Ireland's budgetary outlook alongside an apparently contradictory extract from a draft of Mr Edmund's speech.

The Executive statement said arts funding had been slashed by 30% in six years, adding: "The historic pattern of funding cuts threatens the very fabric of our cultural infrastructure and we urge a rethink on further reductions in arts funding."

The draft of Mr Edmund's speech, however, said: "The current funding model for the arts has created a high level of dependency and, frankly, has not been a sustainable one for some time." Mr Turkington went on to ask "which view actually represents the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, does the chair speak for the Board (and) if not why is he offering his views as Chair?"

Yesterday, Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir also hit out at the reduction in arts funding.

"Such a cut would be devastating and could plunge many groups and organisations into crisis. Artists and arts groups are an engine for progress, diversity and community cohesion with a real and important contribution to make in our efforts to promote a future with a place for all and where difference is celebrated," he said.

"Artists and art groups deserve consistent, mainstream funding. That is why, when I was Finance Minister, I brought forward three initiatives to boost the sector: providing funds to buy the work of local artists, allocating £1m from dormant funds. The arts should not be the target of austerity budget cuts and I will continue to lobby the Department of Communities to seek proper investment in the sector."

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