Funding fears for top Derry arts groups

Ailbe Beirne from Echo Echo.
Ailbe Beirne from Echo Echo.

A number of arts organisations in Derry have expressed fears for the future after being asked to come up with plans to slice 10% off their Arts Council grant aid for the current year.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has this morning moved to reassure the public that the letters were issued to 32 of its clients across the north as a precautionary measure.

The Playhouse in Derry (Arts Council/PA Wire)

The Playhouse in Derry (Arts Council/PA Wire)

Among the local organisations effected at the Playhouse in Derry, which could lose up to £24,900 and Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company, which could lose over £10,000 should the cuts go ahead.

A spokesman for the Arts Council said today: “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, in response to indications from government about the potential for in-year cuts to exchequer funding, contacted 32 annually funded clients recently.

“We asked them to consider how they might apply up to an indicative 10% cut and assess the impact this will have on their programmes, staffing, services and audiences.

“The prospect of in-year cuts for the second successive year are of deep concern to the Arts Council and it is with regret that the Board of ACNI has had to ask clients to again plan for cuts. However this is both a necessary and prudent planning exercise and the Arts Council is duty-bound to inform its clients of these matters in a timely manner.”

I think we are already past the tipping point. The outcomes of further cuts will be more people leaving because it is a less pleasant place to live, there’s less job opportunities and there will be fewer quality projects for artists to work on.

Ailbe Beirne, Echo Echo

The spokesman added: “The Arts Council was informed on June 22nd that no organisation is to enter into new contracts, commitments or discretionary expenditure without departmental approval. This affects our grant-making abilities and the timing of this letter is pertinent to planning the release of the next instalment of exchequer funding.”

Ailbe Beirne, manager of Echo Echo described the cuts- although relatively small in terms of government expenditure- could have a major impact on the arts sector and the community in general.

Mr Beirne said Echo Echo was already involved in trying to generate funding through crowd-funding, giving circles, Trusts and Foundations.

“It is quite difficult to see what area we could reduce spending on. We plan to spend as little as possible on all our overheads. We have certain fixed costs like rent, staffing and our variable costs like PR, energy bills part-time staff costs are at rock bottom.

“We are now on substantially lower funding at our fantastic building here on the City Walls than when we had a single studio in the Waterside Theatre.

“If our core grant is chipped away the ability to bring in these other sources of funding is diminished.

“If they keep chipping away at the foundation of the organisation that is not a good place to be.”

Mr Beirne added that the arts sector was “already past the tipping point”, adding that “the outcomes of further cuts will be more people leaving because it is a less pleasant place to live, there’s less job opportunities and there will be fewer quality projects for artists to work on.”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Playhouse on Artillery Street said; “A 10% cut for ourselves would be £24,900, and it would need to be made during the next six months.

“The Arts Council have already expressed their deep concern about these cuts and their long term impact. And we at The Playhouse would also like to add how saddened and disappointed we are that valuable arts provision is being threatened across Northern Ireland.

“For 23 years The Playhouse has used the arts to give a voice to the marginalised in our society, to equip young and old with valuable skills and knowledge, to give everyone in our communities access to tools that help them creatively express themselves, to come together, to learn and to share.

“As an organisation, we will continue to fight for this provision, and continue to create these opportunities for everyone.”