Falling budget axe will hurt NW: arts lobby

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A Londonderry cultural lobby says looming budget cuts will devastate some arts groups working in the most deprived areas of the city and asks: where is the legacy from the City of Culture year?

Eileen Walsh, Chair of the Cultural Partnership Forum (CPF), which was established prior to the successful City of Culture bid in order to assume civic responsibility for arts and culture, says cuts will result in further job losses in an already investment-bereft region.

The CPF believes that cuts - proposed under the Draft Budget 2015/16, which is out for public consultation until December 29 - will have damaging effects in the North West.

Ms Walsh points out how local arts organisations and venues work closely with many Government Departments and bodies in addition to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

With all departments facing cuts, there is “no doubt that this will have a devastating effect on local organisations and the artists they work with,” she says.

She explains: “Culture and the arts are at the heart of the social, economic and physical regeneration of the city and region.

“The enormous benefits that the arts deliver to our society, both in terms of health and well-being and also with regard to education are well-documented.

“The arts also bring huge economic benefits to Northern Ireland and are a key driver for tourism. In Derry-Londonderry the top five arts events held last year during the UK City of Culture attracted over 330,000 visitors to the city.

“And the arts are a key employer, employing 40,000 people in Northern Ireland. The sector is actually bigger than agriculture and it contributes over £714m to the local economy.”

Ms Walsh says the CPF is backing the Arts Council’s 13p per week for the arts campaign.
She continues: “At present the Northern Ireland government invests only 13 pence per person per week in direct funding for the arts, which works out at a tiny 0.1 per cent of total government spending. This is despite all the benefits, economic and otherwise that the sector brings.

“I actually don’t think this is nearly enough. At only 13 pence person, Northern Ireland already is at the bottom of the UK league table in terms of government spending on the arts, lying below Wales which having a comparative spend of 32 pence, receives almost three times as much funding.”

The CPF also points out how local groups are being affected now.

“Only recently in the city we had the deeply disturbing news that one of our member organisations, the Nerve Centre, who deliver groundbreaking education programmes around digital literacy, technology, creativity and film, are under threat following proposed cuts to Northern Ireland Screen’s budget.

“These proposed 50 per cent cuts could mean the loss of up to half their staff across their Creative Learning Centres in Derry, Belfast and Armagh as well as the Foyle Film Festival and their film education programmes.

“This is despite having delivered training in digital skills to almost 7000 young people and 5000 teachers last year.”

She adds: “We have a long history of chronic underinvestment in this region. Despite this, local organisations rose to the challenge last year to deliver an excellent programme of arts and cultural events throughout the UK City of Culture year. The proposed cuts would be a devastating blow to the city and would all but wipe out any sense of legacy.”