Statement from the Arts Collaboration Network
More than 100 arts organisations and individuals took part last week in an online meeting of artists, freelancers, venues and festivals from every part of the arts and culture sector organised by the Arts Collaboration Network (ACN). Representatives from the Arts Collaboration Network said there is growing anxiety and frustration expressed at the second Big Gathering on 21 January 2021, at the gap between words and actions when it comes to providing practical and financial support.
ACN is now calling on the NI Executive to take urgent action to protect the sector from the impact of ongoing Covid restrictions.
The ACN, an informal network of cultural organisations and individuals across NI, has set out five key issues which need to be addressed in ‘Culture Beyond Covid’ a document sent to Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and other MLAs. The paper sets out 5 keys asks which are:
1. Building the sector’s infrastructure, capacity and skills so the arts sector survives to play its part in NI’s recovery.
2. Investment to address the very significant hardship being experienced by artists, creatives and freelancers many of whom have not benefited from financial support to date
3. A partnership approach to planning a safe re opening of venues
4. A commitment to increasing the annual arts spending to support the renewal of the sector
5. Establishment of a Northern Ireland Cultural Task Force
The arts and culture sector welcomed the Executive’s allocation of £33m to support the arts and heritage sectors. However, in many cases that financial support has still not reached the numerous arts organisations and individuals who so urgently need it, with funding decisions not due until later this month. The current situation is that those monies will then need to be spent before the end of March unless that budgetary restriction is lifted.
This week it has emerged that there is £300m of unallocated funds across the NI Executive. This, at a time when many creative individuals and artists are struggling to feed themselves and their families; and the end of the CRJIS scheme could mean leading culture organizations face closure in the coming weeks and months, with considerable associated job losses. This will lead to irreparable damage to Northern Ireland’s vibrant, creative and unique arts sector.
ACN is appealing to the Executive and to the Assembly to translate the vocal support of Ministers, MLAs and civil servants into immediate action. Other regions throughout these islands are planning for long-term cultural renewal and have established Taskforces to map out a post-Covid strategy for the arts. As yet there is no such Taskforce in Northern Ireland and no plans to create one. There is no proactive planning in place to look at the safe reopening of our venues or for the return of live theatre and music. At a time when politicians across the spectrum express support for the sector, there is only a fleeting mention of the arts and culture in the just published draft Programme for Government.
Since the beginning of this crisis arts organisations have responded with imagination and creativity and continue to provide much needed support and respite in innovative ways for people of all ages and backgrounds from across NI and beyond.
The arts and culture sector plays a vital role in driving our economy and is an integral pillar of society; directly employing thousands of people and supporting tens of thousands others indirectly and attracting local and global tourists. Research has demonstrated the value the arts play in protecting and enhancing the mental wellbeing of our citizens and the public are missing live events, cultural activity and all the benefits these bring. Unfortunately, the vocal support from our politicians and civil servants has not translated into commensurate levels of financial assistance. The pandemic has been a body blow to an arts sector that has already been ravaged by years of cuts.
When we emerge from Covid-19, the arts and cultural sector can help Northern Ireland adapt and grow again. The arts can play a unique role in breathing new life into our towns and abandoned city centres; in helping our people heal and cope with loss but only if we survive the pandemic intact.
Now is the time for our Ministers and Executive to take urgent action to avoid a future in which Northern Ireland becomes a cultural wasteland and our citizens lose out on much that they value.
The Arts Collaboration Network is an informal network of the main sector support organisations and a number of creative hubs across Northern Ireland. The people involved are Margaret Henry, Thrive Audience Development, Niamh Flanagan, Theatre and Dance NI, Mary Nagele, Arts & Business NI, Rob Hilken & Noel Kelly, Visual Artists Ireland, Kevin Murphy, Voluntary Arts Ireland, Katherine McDonald, Craft NI, Charlotte Dryden, Oh Yeah, Sarah Jones, Creative & Cultural Skills, Peter Richards, Golden Thread Gallery/Chair Belfast Visual Arts Forum, Sophie Hayles, Crescent Arts Centre, Cath McBride In Your Space Circus / Chair: DCSDC Arts & Cultural Strategy, Co-Delivery Group, Anne McReynolds and Maeve Hawkins, The MAC, Damien Coyle, University of Atypical and Jenna Hall, Belfast Community Circus School/Co-Chair Belfast Festivals Forum.