Arts and Culture Minister Nelson McCausland received an early Valentine's card with a difference today, from representatives of Arts groups from across Northern Ireland who had gathered outside DCAL headquarters in Belfast City Centre to tell him how much they 'love the arts'.
The groups presented the Minister with a five foot tall Valentine's card, created by the children at Play Resource, an organisation which provides arts resources for 300,000 young people, as part of the Fair Deal for the Arts NI campaign. The campaign is asking the public to write to the Executive to urge it to reconsider the potentially devastating 23% cut proposed for the arts in the NI Draft budget. The campaign highlights that these proposed cuts are disproportionately high compared with other sectors and will inevitably impact directly on jobs and front line services.
"For the Belfast Children's Festival and Young at Art, the budget will have a major effect on what we can do for local children and families, said Ali Fitzgibbon, Director at Young at Art. "A small cut from our funding could mean the difference between keeping open for business and closing our doors. It has taken fourteen years to build up this service and one draft budget could wipe it out."
The arts may lose �4.2million as part of the Draft Budget 2011-2015. Yet the amount of money the Executive currently invests in the arts is already tiny, working out at less than the annual cost per person of two cinema tickets.
Lyric Theatre Chief Executive Ciar�n McAuley was among those who gathered outside DCAL and urged the Executive to consider the benefits which maintaining investment in the arts brings: "Northern Ireland is currently undergoing the most amazing cultural renaissance. With flagship venues such as the Lyric and the MAC opening this year and next respectively, now is not the time to starve them, and other arts organisations, of the vital funds required to deliver an exceptional programme of work that will showcase the best of Northern Ireland at a local, national and international level. It would be a complete tragedy if the Lyric opened a stunning new �18.1m theatre but was left without the resources to actually put plays on the stage. We are also mindful of the damage it would cause to the local restaurants, taxi firms and hotels that benefit from the economic spin-off from customers and visitors attending the theatre."
Mary Trainor-Nagele, Director, Arts & Business NI, says that with the private sector also under pressure arts organisations will find it increasingly difficult to secure and retain corporate support.
She commented: "There is a view that the private sector will step in to plug the funding gap in the arts. Arts & Business passionately advocates for the value of private investment and partnership with the arts, and indeed in NI there are many excellent examples of such partnerships. However, my concern would be that although the arts have huge amounts to offer the business sector, particularly in these times when innovative thinking is critical, the private sector itself will be squeezed and therefore sponsorship will be harder to find and harder to retain. The arts are already hugely under resourced in this regard and these disproportionate cuts will seriously impact on their capacity to maximise opportunities from these important private investment sources."
Speaking about what the proposed cuts will mean, Anne O'Donoghue from Play Resource said: "Over the past 25 years we have developed a highly successful social economy enterprise which accounts for over 50% of our income. However, without public funding the future for this service could be in real jeopardy. We, along with others in the arts, want to look forward to a future where we can deliver exciting and stimulating programmes which help thousands of children and young people to acquire valuable life skills for a successful future.
"We are here today to urge the public to support the case for the arts by going to the Facebook page and sending the Fair Deal for the Arts campaign letter."
The public consultation on the Northern Ireland Draft Budget 2011-2015 closes on Wednesday 16th February. To find out more about the Fair Deal for the Arts Facebook Campaign visit 'fairdealfortheartsni' on Facebook or pick up one of the campaign postcards at arts venues across Northern Ireland.
Watch the Fair Deal for the Arts NI campaign videos at www.youtube.com/cultureni.