STOP THE CUTS - FIND THE MONEY - FUND THE ARTS
There comes a time in the ancient lingering execution lingchi, or Death by a Thousand Cuts, when the prisoner begs for the final stroke to end the torture. The only good news is that today as an arts sector, we find ourselves in January – not April and there is renewed optimism that our politicians may return to government and undo egregious cuts to the smallest budget that effects the most citizens – the arts.
The most recent N. Ireland Statistics and Research Agency report states that 91% of our population participate in the arts, that’s a staggering 1,680,000 local citizens who enjoy the cultural offering in theatres and venues, community spaces and schools, hospitals and homes. From the organisations who choose to locate their businesses here, to the tourists who come in their droves, it is the promise of vibrant, cultural colour that enhances and attracts. But these promises may soon be broken as the sector reels from the third significant cut in as many years to the Annual Funding Programme (AFP) from our principal funder, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI).
This cut is likely to be in the order of over 8%. The AFP and the over 100 key organisations that it supports, in turn represent the essential ecology of the arts in Northern Ireland. It is the bedrock upon which the stewardship of the arts locally is built – supporting everything from orchestras and operas, international festivals to community celebrations and workshops for the vulnerable and disabled, embracing creative, commercial and social entrepreneurs and almost every citizen. Historically underfunded for years, it has nonetheless given core support to a diverse, dynamic and multi-disciplined arts sector.
Despite the concerns of the ACNI and its promises of careful management of severely depleted funding, that arm’s length body will have little choice but to slice again into the essential ecology that has struggled to enable artists and arts organisations to perform, entertain, facilitate, educate, celebrate, produce and publish for years. For some however, further torturous slashing of their budgets may signal the final blow. On the basis of an 8% reduction, exchequer investment in the arts here will plummet further. Colleagues elsewhere in Wales and the Republic of Ireland currently receive, per capita per year, £10.03 and £12.79, respectively, where ours’ would struggle to even reach £5.
Despite the UK Treasury announcement last year that Northern Ireland would get an additional £650 million over the next three years, of that £120 million toward day to day expenditure, not a penny extra has come to the smallest and most vulnerable budget, the arts sector. We have all read the headlines of over £1 billion extra coming, with money being made available now. And despite the Confidence and Supply arrangements promising additional monies to assist with areas that the arts serve and support like ‘Health Transformation’ and ‘Mental Health’, the arts are to be cut.
And furthermore, despite executive departments in Northern Ireland bidding in the monitoring rounds last October and often successfully finding additional resources to support beleaguered services, the Department for Communities did not – instead it modelled cuts that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is now indicatively projecting at 8%. We know there is some £19 million sitting, waiting to be deployed from a Community Finance Fund, coming from monies recovered from dormant bank accounts. Over £350m has been spent elsewhere in UK – not a penny here due in part to the suspension of our Assembly.
Without a change to this newly projected reduced budget, it means what stands for our local administration will provide every citizen, every day with just over 1p to enable their access to participate in arts and creativity or 0.07% of all DEL Resources. Put another way, for every £100 spent, just 7p will go to the arts. If this were to rise by just a penny, the additional £1.5 m would go a long way to secure 5,500 jobs in a sector that reaches every nook and cranny of the country and touches the lives of 91% of the population.
We reject these cuts and instead ask for additional investment, at the very least, a penny a day extra for everyone, so that creativity and the enabling culture of hope that it provides, can offer residents and visitors with a reflection of the best of ourselves.
We ask for a strategy that consults and adequately projects the true resource needs of the arts and cultural sector be developed.
We urge the new Secretary of State, Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, to alter these determinations, meet with our representatives and explore ways to support our sector.
We urge David Sterling, Head of the NI Civil Service and Leo O’Reilly, Permanent Secretary of Dept for Communities, to consult with us and develop strategies to properly invest in the creative future of Northern Ireland.
We urge our politicians to recognise the incredible value for money that the arts provide locally and the spectrum of services and supports offered in each and every constituency here.
We urge all colleagues in the arts to actively support this campaign and lobby and advocate at every opportunity to see these proposed cuts reversed and long term investment secured.
And we urge the public to support our campaign to provide adequate access for all sections of our community to enjoy the benefits of the arts.