Belfast Telegraph

Now arts feeling the impact of Stormont stalemate

Editor's Viewpoint

Another day, another sign of the chaos caused by the political impasse at Stormont. This time it is the arts world which is being thrown into turmoil because of uncertainty over funding streams for the current financial year.

More than 100 organisations have been handed just 50% of their intended funding for the year, and with no guarantee that the remainder of the money will be forthcoming, or that it will be at a similar level.

Whatever the outcome, the immediate concern is that the organisations will find it almost impossible to think ahead in any meaningful way.

Arts programmes and activities have to be planned well in advance. Plays don't just happen on the night, operas cannot be booked simply a week ahead, and orchestras cannot offer musicians contracts if they are unsure what money is available.

Although a senior civil servant has taken temporary charge of the public purse, his ability to dole out funding is limited and the budget at his disposal will fall short of the one that would exist if the Executive was up and running.

Of course, the arts is not the only sector feeling the pinch, and some people will argue that areas like the health service, infrastructure, education or the voluntary sector are of higher priority.

But that is to unfairly denigrate the arts. This is not a highbrow sector solely for opera or classical music lovers. The arts cover the whole range of cultural activities. It is a sector that holds a mirror up to life and makes us look at it in a different manner.

Imagine an existence without drama or literature or music. That would be a society no better than a cultural desert.

Northern Ireland has a rich artistic seam which has to be constantly mined to provide us with entertainment in all its forms. Not all artistic endeavour, especially in a place this size, can be self-sustaining, and public funding is vital to its future development.

The creative industries are among our success stories, bringing much-needed money into the economy and enriching the province's reputation.

But those industries would not have existed or been given the opportunity to flourish had it not been for the seeds sown by indigenous arts groups and initiatives.

The longer the impasse at Stormont continues, the more serious the financial implications for all aspects of life here. We need fewer dramas on the Hill and less political theatre.

Belfast Telegraph


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