The Arts Council is the distributor in Northern Ireland of funding from the National Lottery for the arts. Since it was introduced in 1995, the Council has made 533 separate awards, spending a total of almost £36.5 million pounds – that’s more than £22 for every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland.
There are four major funding programmes:
ACCESS TO THE ARTS, which awards grants of up to £25,000 for one-off projects
NEW WORK, which has grants from one thousand to one million pounds to fund original new work or for work new to Northern Ireland
FILM FINANCE, which has grants from £2,000 to £200,000 for script development and actual film production for television or feature film production within Northern Ireland;
CAPITAL PROGRAMME, which has grants of up to £2 million for new buildings, or refurbishment, or musical instruments, or vehicles, or disabled access and so on.
You will see on the map just how the Lottery has revolutionised arts provision in Northern Ireland. The spread of the awards is testimony to the market for the arts outside the large urban areas: the Lottery enables the Arts Council to respond to the needs of that market. Indeed, the appropriately-named Market Theatre in Armagh, awarded £3 million in 1995, opens in March; the Burnavon Arts Centre in Cookstown, awarded £745,000 in 1996, opens in February; the long-awaited theatre in Derry City, awarded £2.6 million in 1998, will open in 2001; and, late last year, the largest award to date, £4 million, went to build a new arts centre in Omagh, an award which overshadowed an equally significant award made on the same day of £2 million towards a new arts complex in Ballymena.The challenge for the Arts Council, and indeed all of us, is to find ways to ensure that these new, impressive venues are filled with both arts events and the audiences to enjoy them.
The map indicates awards right across the artforms – 39 awards to Community Arts, 144 to Music (including musical instruments for bands), 31 awards for Film. While the large awards grab the headlines and are very visible additions to the physical and well as to the arts landscape in Northern Ireland, it is important not to forget that even a sum as small as £2,000, strategically deployed, can transform a rural community, or the relationships between schools across the divide. This is why I would like to turn, finally, to a particular programme the Arts Council has been developing for the last five years.