Arts Council of Northern Ireland

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Message from Arts Council Chief Executive

Monday 30th March 2020 at 11am 0 Comments

Chief Executive, Roisin McDonough Image: Chief Executive, Roisin McDonough

In these extraordinary times, everyone is having to cope with challenges the scale of which we have never faced before. The need for our politicians and our statutory bodies, including the Arts Council, to respond quickly and effectively has never been more keenly felt, by ourselves and by the people and the communities that we represent. Staff at the Arts Council have been working exceptionally hard, not only to remotely maintain essential services but to put in place emergency measures to mitigate against the worst of the impact of the coronavirus on our sector. I am proud of the response of our artists and arts organisations to this threat to our creative and cultural life. Artists are finding brilliant and innovative new ways to deliver inspirational work to what are now, by necessitiy, virtual audiences. Artistic enterprise is perhaps more vital, more key to enriching and lifting the nations' spirits, now more than ever before.

The Arts Council is supporting our arts workers as they pursue their vocations as well as finding new ways to bring colour, meaning and inspiration to our lives.

On March 16th, we posted important advice relating to the impact of COVID-19 on the arts on our website (http://artscouncil-ni.org/news/coronavirus-covid-19-advice) and via our social media networks. We have continued to regularly update this information, so please do keep checking our digital platforms and stay in touch with our officers, all of whom are by now available on email. Please be assured of our commitment to the sector to honour all grants already made; to issue any remaining balance of payments as a matter of urgency; and to work flexibly with you on contracts for the coming financial year. This will include advancing grant payment to assist with cashflow. We asked organisations to honour, to the best of their ability, their contracts with artists and freelancers. This reassurance, given upfront, is of critical importance to artists and arts organisations. Hopefully the government's emergency funding packages for businesses and, latterly, the self-employed, will provide some measure of security for artists. We have continued to update and circulate this information regularly as the funding (and government benefits) situation has unfolded, and we will continue to do so.

We have been in negotiations with a number of other funders and agencies and have been in detailed discussions with the Department for Communities for some time now, submitting a bid to the Minister for extra support. We welcomed her announcement on Friday that she intends to step in with an initial package to the Arts Council worth £1m of much-needed support for creatives and individual artists working here. This emergency COVID-19 Creative Support Fund will support a creative practitioner-led programme of support to help freelancers obtain employment and payment for their work in these difficult times. We are currenty working out the detail with the Department of how it will be administered and we will let you know as soon as possible. (https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/communities-minister-announces-support-artists-performers-and-creative-producers-across-arts-and).

Arts Council officers have been in contact with as many of our funded arts organisations as is feasibly possible under present circumstances, to ascertain need in the immediate and medium term. On Thursday of last week we also circulated a survey which will further help us to evaluate the impact of coronavirus on the sector and inform our response (https://forms.gle/xB6a3f2qFMhrvmfQ8). It would greatly help the Arts Council and our colleagues in government if you would complete this survey.

The Board of the Arts Council is scheduled to meet (virtually) in the second week of April. They will make their decisions on our Annually Funded Organisations Programme for 2020-21, in anticipation that the Department for Communities will by then have formally confirmed the Arts Council's budget for the year. One of the options the Board will consider in light of present circumstances is awarding Annually Funded Organisations 50% of their grant value upfront.

Today we are publishing a list of additional potential funding sources for artists and arts organisations (http://artscouncil-ni.org/news/useful-funding-sources). With new crowd-funded resources becoming available as we speak, we would ask anyone who is aware of any other useful funding sources to share them with us by emailing info@artscouncil-ni.org and we will publish them to the wider sector,

The escalation of the impact of the coronavirus has been rapid and will test all of our institutions to their limits. Staff at the Arts Council are more determined than ever to ensure that our artists and arts organisations get the help they need and I, on behalf of the Arts Council, give you my sincerest commitment that we will move heaven and earth to protect the livelihoods of arts workers through these horrible times.

Please stay safe everyone. Continue to show kindness, generosity and support for each other. With just a little of the humanity with which the arts are abundantly blessed, we will endure and we will emerge from this crisis to a world - a much changed world - but still a world where the arts are the beating heart of our society.

Roisin McDonough
Chief Executive

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