Funding, Organisations

Arts organisations seek new sources of funding amid rising costs

27th October, 2023

New data released by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland today reveals the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on the arts sector, as it struggles to return to pre-covid programming and audience levels.

The findings from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Annual Funding Survey* shows a pressurised and complicated funding picture for the 95 small, medium and large-scale arts organisations analysed during 2022/23.

While there have been some improvements year-on-year in employment levels, the number of live productions and earned income, the sector has still not fully returned to pre-covid levels. Core running costs for all organisations increased by 16% (£4.8m) compared to the previous 12 months and are now 43% higher than before the pandemic.

Rising rent, rates, salary and wider operating costs are set against a backdrop of limited available public funding, while income from European funding sources also declined for a few organisations following the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The data did however show some positive news, as some arts organisations successfully leveraged investment from new sources. Income from trusts and foundations grew by 20% year-on-year and are now a more significant source of funding compared to before the Covid pandemic.

Karly Greene, Director of Strategic Development and Partnerships, at the Arts Council commented:

“This report provides a valuable insight into some of the arts organisations we invest in, in terms of output, employment, investment and income generation.

Increases in the cost of living continue to have a detrimental impact on the entire arts infrastructure. Looking at this year’s data we can see that, despite the enormous challenges, some arts organisations receiving investment from the Arts Council have been able to diversify their income from other sources in order to sustain their activities.

It’s clear, that with a much-needed increase in public sector investment in the arts, Northern Ireland has an opportunity to yield even greater social and economic return from the arts, which will benefit jobs, communities and help to attract future inward investment.”

The Annual Funding Survey gathers data from organisations in receipt of National Lottery and Exchequer funding from the Arts Council’s Annual Funding Programme (AFP), the largest financial awards made to key arts organisations every year to support year-round running costs and programming. The survey collects data on financial statements (income and expenditure), numbers of performances, participation based events, exhibitions and festivals. It also records details of known and estimated audiences.

Key Findings

Workforce and volunteering

  • The overall workforce is now back to pre-covid 2019/20 levels (6,497), having grown by 29% in 2021/22.
  • The greatest growth was in the employment of part-time and full-time artists on contract basis.
  • Growth in permanent (full-time) positions was slower and remains 6% lower than in 2019/20.
  • The more substantial growth for both permanent and non-permanent posts remain in part-time positions.
  • There is evidence that volunteers are being recruited to take on previously paid roles so that organisations can maintain service provision. In some cases, organisations are being run by a board of volunteers, rather than paid staff.

Earned Income

  • Earned income increased by 72% year-on-year to £28.6m and now exceeds pre-Covid levels by 25%.
  • Earned income now represents 43% of all income sources, an increase of 12 percentage points compared to 2021/22.
  • Growth in earned income was driven by large-scale organisations. These organisations saw their box-office income increase by 99% year-on-year (£6m). Box-office income for these organisations now exceeds that generated in the pre-pandemic year 2019/20. Significant box-office income is only generated by larger scale venues. Smaller scale organisations are more reliant on public sources of funding.
  • Overall, income from public sector sources (excluding ACNI) increased by 4% year-on-year to £20.6m.

Public Sector Income

  • Public sector income now represents 31% of income sources for all organisations (a fall of 6% compared to 2021/22).
  • Small scale organisations saw the largest increase in support from public sector sources, up 45% year-on-year to £1.42m. By comparison, large scale organisations saw their income from public sector sources fall slightly from £10.7m to £10.6m.
  • Income sourced from trusts and foundations grew by 20% year-on-year and is a more significant funder of organisations compared to before Covid.
  • Income from European funding sources including Creative Europe and Erasmus continue to decline with income now 56% lower than in 2019/20.
  • Public sector income from sources outside NI, remain higher than pre-pandemic levels but fell year-on-year, down 17%.

Core and Programming Costs

  • Salary costs increased by 21% year-on-year and are now 50% higher than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019/20, comprising 67% of all core costs (£23.4m).
  • There were other significant year-on-year increases in rent and rates (6%), light and heating (50%) and printing costs (34%).
  • For all organisations, core costs increased by 16% (£4.8m) year on year. This represents an increase of 43% (£10.4m) compared to 2019/20.
  • Travel, accommodation, and subsistence costs increased by 133% year-on-year (£756,913).
  • Expenditure on equipment and materials fell slightly year-on-year, by 8%. For small scale organisations these costs are now 33% lower than pre-covid levels. Increasing trends towards recycling sets, creating smaller-scale sets and producing sets at destination venues have all contributed to cost reductions.

*Please note, the reporting period for this survey is 1st April 2022-31st March 2023.

To review the Annual Funding Survey in full visit