Belfast Telegraph

Pressure on Northern Ireland arts chief mounts as groups voice their 'grave misgivings'

Controversy: John Edmund
Controversy: John Edmund

By Ivan Little

More than 50 arts organisations here have supported a call for the chair of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to 'consider his position' in the face of growing controversy over his stance on funding.

In a statement, the Arts Matter NI campaign group said it didn't believe John Edmund could champion the collective interests of the arts sector.

Marketing consultant Mr Edmund has been in the firing line for nearly a fortnight since he used a speech at an awards ceremony to say that the arts sector was too reliant on state financing and needed to do more to help itself.

Some arts figures immediately called on the DUP-appointed chair to quit, saying he should be doing more to support the arts amid forecasts of an 8% reduction in the arts budget.

And Mr Edmund, who was accused of backing the cuts, came under even more pressure after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the strength of opposition to him from within his own organisation.

This newspaper reported that an eight-strong majority of the Arts Council Board had issued an unprecedented statement distancing themselves from the chair's funding comments.

The statement said Mr Edmund's comments "did not reflect any discussion or position which had been agreed by the Arts Council Board".

Then it was revealed that two separate votes of no confidence in the chair were passed at fractious Board meetings late last year when there were also walk-outs.

In the midst of the storm, Mr Edmund defended his position and re-iterated his call for new thinking on funding in an article for the Belfast Telegraph, sparking fresh demands for him to step down. And yesterday the Arts Matter NI advocacy group, which is fighting budget cuts, released a statement on the mounting crisis.

It said it was deeply concerned to "read unconfirmed reports in the Belfast Telegraph of no confidence votes and walk-outs in opposition to the chair John Edmund by the majority of the Board of the Arts Council".

The statement continued: "Given the arts sector's profound anxiety about proposed cuts and successive reports of the advocacy position of the current chair, after these further revelations, members of Arts Matter NI do not believe that this chair can champion our best collective interests.

"This follows an eight-strong majority of the Arts Council Board issuing a public statement on January 30 disavowing the chair's public pronouncements of January 24 at an awards event in Belfast."

The statement went on: "Given that no denials have been issued regarding Friday's further reports of votes of no confidence and walk-outs, we are greatly concerned.

"If this is indeed the case, as it appears, that the board were acting within agreed norms of good governance and in light of the Arm's Length principle, then, we share grave misgivings about the chair's ability to command the confidence of our sector, its principal funder and stakeholders, and would ask that he consider his position.

"At a time when the arts sector is campaigning against the proposed imposition of unfairly disproportionate and deep cuts, we urge that stability, assurance and support for the arts economy, infrastructure and community be a priority."

The statement also said that in the absence of a functioning Assembly Executive at Stormont, Arts Matter NI was urging the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, to meet with its representatives to discuss the concerns of the sector regarding the need to maintain and increase investment in the arts.

Belfast Telegraph

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