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Northern Irish arts hit by ‘terrifying’ funding cuts

Thomas Finnegan and Patrick O’Kane in Red, by Northern Irish company Prime Cut Productions. Photo: Prime Cut Thomas Finnegan and Patrick O’Kane in Red, by Northern Irish company Prime Cut Productions. Photo: Prime Cut
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Arts organisations in Northern Ireland have been left reeling by new funding cuts that will see almost half of the province’s regularly-funded companies hit with reduced grants.

Of the 107 key arts organisations supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 43 will receive reductions in funding and seven will have their funding cut entirely, however the Arts Council has not identified these.

The remaining organisations are due to receive standstill funding or “strategic uplifts” in the new spending round. Overall, this represents a drop in the funding body’s overall allocation of 4.7% in 2018/19.

Total spending of £13.1 million in the year ahead includes the £600,000 emergency funding allocated to the Ulster Orchestra and Belfast’s MAC in January.

This means both the MAC and Ulster Orchestra will see increases in funding for 2018.

Among the largest losers are Belfast’s Bruiser Theatre Company, which will see its grant-aid fall by 85% to £12,500, and the city’s Grand Opera House, for which a £375,880 for 2018-19 represents a 22% cut.

Prime Cut Productions, for which a recent production of John Logan’s Red won four Irish Theatre awards in February, will receive a 8.3% cut. Last year it was also hit with two rounds of cuts.

Executive producer Una NicEoin told The Stage: “It can’t go on. Nobody can continue to produce at the rate they do when the core [funding] is being whittled down bit by bit. You cannot keep cutting and expect to survive, much less to thrive.”

Responding to an 8% cut, artistic director of Tinderbox Theatre, Patrick J O’Reilly, said he was “terrified about what the future will hold. There’s a real sense of vulnerability in the sector this week. Companies will be forced to close.”

The latest blow to the Belfast-based company follows a 44% cut in its funding in 2015.

He added: “It feels like the arts are always on the back foot, having to convince people that what we do has worth. These latest cuts are going to have a massive effect.”

The Arts Council said the latest round of cuts amounted to a cumulative reduction of £23 million in arts funding since 2012.

In the wake of several failed campaigns mounted by the Arts Council for increased allocations from its parent body, the Department for Communities, it warned: “To date, the Arts Council has been mitigating the impact of this reducing funding on the arts sector with National Lottery funding. This is not sustainable.”

More than a third of the funds to be allocated for 2018/19 have been drawn from National Lottery receipts.

Equity’s general secretary Christine Payne said the union was “extremely concerned about the impact of successive cuts to Northern Ireland’s arts budget”.

She added: “There continues to be a huge missed opportunity in Northern Ireland in terms of investing in the arts and building a strong creative economy. The creative sector is an engine of growth across the rest of UK, creating good, highly skilled jobs – it is such a shame that Northern Ireland is losing out.”

Organisations that can expect to see increases in funding in the year ahead include the MAC (up 21% to £1.12 million) and Lyric Theatre (5% to £1.01 million) after both successfully argued they had been “structurally underfunded”. The Ulster Orchestra remains the region’s largest organisation with funding of £2.1 million.

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