City of Culture legacy never realised claim MLAs as Belfast £22m to Derry £3m in Arts Council funding flagged

A Derry MLA has called for more funding for arts groups in Derry stating that over £22m was allocated to Belfast by the Arts Council in comparison to just £3m for Derry.

By Kevin Mullan
Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 4:47 pm
MLAs have complained the legacy of the City of Culture year has not been realised.
MLAs have complained the legacy of the City of Culture year has not been realised.

"Artists flock towards and live in urban settings; we know that. However, more and more money is being ploughed in to organisations in Belfast that are deemed too big to fail, and that is actively discriminating against smaller arts groups outside of that geographical sweet spot.

"ACNI funding for 2020/21 highlighted that clearly, with Belfast allocated over £22 million of funding, whereas the Derry and Strabane area received a fraction of that at just £3 million. That is in no way proportionate to the amount of activity going on in both settings.

"The second city, and first City of Culture, demands and deserves its fair share. As I have said, I am cognisant that that imbalance is not isolated to the north-west, but the figures are stark nonetheless. There can be no more gaslighting on regional inequity," said SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan.

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Mr. Durkan was among a number of local MLAs to speak in favour of a motion at Stormont acknowledging the importance of the arts and creative industries sectors and the 8,000 people employed in them.

He claimed the Executive had failed to build adequately on the success of Derry's year as UK City of Culture in 2013.

"It is clear that historical regional imbalance is not simply a theory but a reality that has been explicitly and unequivocally accepted by the Minister and the chief executive of the Arts Council, Roisín McDonough.

"Earlier this year, following engagement with the Derry City and Strabane District Council business and culture committee, chaired by my colleague Rory Farrell, they agreed that disparity in investment existed and acknowledged a structural problem that needs to be addressed.

"The Minister gave her commitment to tackle inequality as a key consideration of the renewed culture and arts strategy. To be fair to my erstwhile constituency colleague Martina Anderson, she did much to bring that to the fore. Now is the time for action on that commitment to move beyond rhetoric and to ensure that arts organisations and communities feel the benefit of those promises," he said.

Martina Anderson's successor as Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle Ciara Ferguson said the arts were particularly important in keeping spirits high during the pandemic.

She said: "They encourage self-expression, improves mental health and well-being, enriches and supports education, builds skills and supports the economy to prosper, which strengthens the position of the North as a must-go destination.

"As we know, over 1 million people visited the city of Derry in my constituency in 2013 during the City of Culture. Arguably, no sectors were hit harder than the arts and creative industries. The necessary measures in response to COVID-19 meant that our cultural events and venues were the first to close and amongst the last to reopen. Many of those employed in the sector were self-employed, and many also relied on our hospitality sector to ensure income. Many practically lost their income overnight.

"When the outbreak of COVID came about in March 2020, our Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, proactively engaged with, listened and responded to the ongoing needs of the arts and creative industries. She values the sectors. She knew immediately to instruct the Arts Council here to ensure that 50% of the £12·9 million in annual core grants given to it by the Department was paid up front to support over 100 key organisations in the sectors.

"As interim Minister, Carál was able to secure £29 million of the £33 million of arts and heritage funding that came our way from Britain from the Barnett formula for the arts, culture, language and heritage. That financial support was vital in stabilising organisations, preventing many from closing. For example, of the £5·5 million that was set aside for the creative support fund, £1·5 million went to individuals and small to medium-sized organisations, while £4 million went to musicians, freelancers and arts and culture venues.

"In February of this year, under the stability and renewal programme for organisations, a further £10 million of funding was offered to 168 arts and creative organisations to stabilise the sector. That was very much welcomed by the arts and creative sector in the Foyle constituency, by such groups as Greater Shantallow Community Arts, the Derry Theatre Trust, the Walled City Music Trust, the Centre for Contemporary Art, In Your Space Circus Ltd, the North West Carnival Initiative, the North West Cultural Partnership, the Nerve Centre, Void arts centre, the Verbal Arts Centre and the Waterside Theatre Company."

SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin said the legacy of the UK City of Culture in 2013 was never realised.

"I know that some Members will accuse me of banging on about regional inequality, but the fact is that arts funding is geared towards Belfast. As my colleague Mark H Durkan said earlier, Derry was the inaugural UK City of Culture, back in 2013.

"We have never realised a legacy of success from the accolade of being City of Culture. Since 2013, funding has actually drained away from Derry and community and business organisations in the arts sector. It has been death by a thousand cuts. It is totally unacceptable.

"As I have said, I see the outworkings of that in my constituency of Foyle. I have met many constituents who work in the creative industries. They love our city, but feel forced to move to Belfast if they want to stand a chance of gaining a certain level of success in their particular field, as a bare minimum. It is really important to actually be able to earn a living wage that sustains them in their home town.

"As a city, we are known for our creative talents. We are proud of our exports, but it is bittersweet: we should not have to lose so many people to Belfast and beyond. Nobody should feel pressured to move from their home town.

"While I am speaking about Derry, I am absolutely sure that the same message applies to many other areas outside the Belfast bubble. It is imperative that there is a 10-year strategy that includes targets for levelling up. That will have the added bonus of making the arts more accessible to a wider range of audiences, which enriches all communities."