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Struggling NI artists hail £29m 'safety net' as first payouts begin

A new multi-million pound Executive funding package has been hailed as a 'lifeline' for struggling artists hit by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Approved earlier this month, the £29m sum has begun to be distributed by the Department for Communities, with the first £3m now on the way to individual artists throughout Northern Ireland.

One recipient - acclaimed Belfast playwright and actor Maria Connolly (47) - explained the difference the funding made, particularly in allowing her to bring her socially distanced performance, The Broads, to elderly and vulnerable people living in isolation during lockdown.

For Maria, receiving the emergency grant from the Arts Council was a lifeline when her schedule of work was decimated.

"I lost all my work at the start of March. Everything was wiped out for the year, which was devastating," she explained.

"The funding meant I was able to bring my project, along with three other actors, to the people that I felt would have benefited from it the most - elderly people living in isolation and our NHS workers.

"Up to now we have performed to around 1,600 people living in isolation. It is amazing that we did it and I would never have got that project going without that funding.

"I can't save a life but I can try and make one better at least. That is for me what the arts does and the impact it can have on people right now."

Echoing those thoughts was Belfast writer and musician Dan Leith (34), who explained how having his entire calendar of work wiped out was "terrifying".

He said that the funding allowed him to invest in digital software to produce creative content, and assisted in writing and producing a children's book.

"It's been very difficult for the industry here. Pretty much everyone in my circle of friends and colleagues have lost so much work," he said.

"I still find myself very anxious when I think about the future. I'm just not sure what it holds. I learned I just needed to take it day by day.

"Now I'm making a lot of digital content. I taught myself to edit over the lockdown period. I'm trying to bring my stories to my audience in a new medium since I cannot do it live anymore.

"I hope with this new funding that a lot of artists are given support. There are so many of us and it seems like a lot of money initially, but I don't know if it really is considering our livelihoods are gone.

"It's not going to keep me afloat in the long run, however, every little helps right now.

"I know from the first round of people getting funding that some people were not fortunate enough to receive anything. I just hope more artists get a bit of this safety net and some of the pressure is relieved."

The Department for Communities funding will allow more than 1,000 individual artists to be supported through grant funding of up to £5,000.

Letters by the Arts Council to those who successfully applied for grants back in August will be sent this week. Roisin McDonough from the organisation said she "welcomed" the support of extra funding.

She added: "This is a year like no other and the massive volume of applications we received for financial support from individuals usually employed in the arts, culture and creative sectors spoke for itself."

Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the funding will provide "vital assistance".

Belfast Telegraph