Belfast Telegraph

Relying on handouts is extremely naive, warns under-fire Arts Council chief

 

By Allan Preston

The under-fire chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has said the Government just doesn't have the money to meet the sector's demands.

Writing exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph, John Edmund has defended his controversial stance on cutbacks.

The consultant marketing professional provoked outrage in a speech last week when he suggested that the arts should be run more like a business and not rely on State handouts.

Reiterating his point today, Mr Edmund said Stormont had other priorities, and the arts sector should be realistic about its expectations.

Northern Ireland's arts budget is facing a cut of more than 8% this year, something that the Arts Council itself warned will devastate the sector.

"The government just doesn't have the money to meet all the demands placed upon it and the priorities it has set are those that society cares deepest about - health, education, jobs, infrastructure, identity," Mr Edmund writes.

"We all want to see more government funding for the arts but we have to be realistic and leverage the funding that is made available to secure support from new funding sources."

Last week, Mr Edmund suggested that the arts sector's dependency on public funding was unsustainable.

"The views I expressed at the Arts and Business Awards last Wednesday evening were aimed at opening the conversation on the development of a new partnership model for arts funding that involves government, councils, the audience, business and trusts, and foundations," he writes today.

But Mr Edmund's article does not refer to an effective vote of no confidence by the Arts Council. In an unprecedented move, eight out of 10 of his fellow board members in the Arts Council distanced themselves the DUP-appointed chairman's remarks in a publicly signed statement. It said Mr Edmund's comments "did not reflect any discussion or position which had been agreed by the Arts Council Board".

It made Mr Edmund's position as chairman appear virtually untenable.

Other artists called for him to stand down from his role, for which he is paid £10,000 for a minimum of 40 days a year.

Among the critics is Conor Shields the convenor of Arts Matters NI, who represent dozens of groups opposing cuts, and is Chief Executive of the Community Arts Partnership.

Writing in today's newspaper, he disputed Mr Edmund's claims, saying that the arts sector "is made up of thrifty, well run businesses, whose profit is only to serve the public good".

He added: "As a sector, we have been hit by deep cuts over of 40% in real terms over the past few years and we are fighting hard to still provide as much benefit to the public as possible.

"We don't appreciate being damned by faint praise - we want to be championed, especially by the person who claims it's his 'job' to enable the arts sector to 'thrive'. Sticking up for our funding needs to government would have served us far better, than pointing to our failings."

Yesterday Alliance MLA for South Belfast, Paula Bradshaw, also queried whether Mr Edmund's position was untenable.

"The Chair of the Arts Council should be standing up for arts funding in Northern Ireland," she said. "The previous DUP minister Paul Givan appointed Mr Edmund and there must now be a question mark over whether Mr Edmund - given his views - can command the confidence of the sector, and his organisation, into the future."

Belfast Telegraph

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