Government’s lack of investment in the arts is affecting those most in need

22nd June, 2023

Following today’s confirmation of the Department of Communities budget allocation for 2022/23, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has today released its response to the recent equality impact consultation on the impact a 5% reduction in funding would have on the arts sector.

Group of young children taking part in an arts workshop at the Young at Art Children's Festival.
Young at Art

The Arts Council’s response document sets out the negative impact the cut will have on Section 75 groups in NI and on the key arts infrastructure here.

The Arts Council has a statutory obligation to promote equality of opportunity and to ensure access to the arts for all under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland act. However, the Arts Council’s Board has stated that the annual exchequer budget allocation to the arts has been in decline for over 12 years and they believe that this latest 5% reduction will have a grave impact on arts delivery in Northern Ireland; particularly for older people, disadvantaged children, D/deaf and disabled groups, LGBTQ+ groups and more.

Arts Council Chair Liam Hannaway said: 

“The arts bring so many benefits into our lives and it is only right that everyone has the opportunity to watch, take part and engage in arts activities. We rely on our artists and a diverse range of arts organisations to help bring people together, to shift debates, change perspectives, as we strive towards increasing inclusion in Northern Ireland.

“Government investment in the arts here has fallen since 2011 to £9.7m in 2023. In real terms, this equates to a reduction of almost £10 million in that time. As a bare minimum, the Arts Council needs this latest cut reversed and an additional £10.51 million, if we are to achieve our ambitions. Given the far-reaching social and economic benefits that the arts sector evidently brings to the region, not just in terms of awards, Oscars and international success, this investment is entirely proportionate.”

“Every year the Arts Council supports between 85-100 arts organisation through its annual funding programme. These organisations include venues, festivals, visual arts, music and community organisations. At present just 23 of these are supported with funding from the exchequer.”

Arts Council Chief Executive Roisin McDonough said

“When you look at the figures, it is apparent that this 5% cut to the arts will come at a cost to the most under-represented members of our society. Exchequer funding in NI is supporting just 23 arts organisations in our Annual Funding Programme, the biggest round of funding we administer. This cut is negatively affecting the ability of our arts organisations to deliver the very activity that meets the needs of Section 75 groups.

“It is worth repeating that government investment in the arts here is the lowest in the UK, and by a considerable margin. Per capita, the arts in Northern Ireland receive just £5.07. In Wales, our nearest comparator, it is double that, at £10.51 per head. To put this into still further context, our counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, An Chomhairle Ealaíon, receive four times this level of commitment from the Irish Government, at £21.58 per capita. And the gulf continues to widen.
“The government money available here is simply not enough to meet our fundamental objective, and one of the NI Executive’s priorities - to ensure that everyone has access to the arts. The arts enrich our lives, the economy, bring communities closer together, contribute to better health and wellbeing and create a place where we all want to live, work and play. They aren’t a luxury, they a universal human right.”

As a non-departmental public body (NDPB) of the Department for Communities, the Arts Council is the lead development agency for the arts in Northern Ireland, offering funding opportunities from a combination of exchequer funding and National Lottery funding.

Case study: Young at Art

Young at Art (YAA) is NI’s leading children’s arts provider with a year-round programme of quality events and programmes for children, young people and their families annually; including the annual international Belfast Children's Festival, one of the UK/Ireland’s largest children's festivals.

Since 1998, the year-round programme has grown significantly. In 2022-23, YAA engaged with 32,500 children/young people/families, but this year their programming plans have had to be curtailed due to rising costs and a shortfall in funding.

While the Arts Council’s annual support for the organisation has remained the same for 2023/24, Eibhlín de Barra, Director of Young at Art, says that in real terms this represents a cut, which will affect the events planned for this year, including the Belfast Children’s Festival.

"As an arts charity, we have experienced rising costs over the past few years, and not just standard inflationary increases, utilities costs have surged, as an employer we have mandatory increases due to the National Living Wage, insurance costs, and, as an organisation that hosts the region's only international children's festival, we have also faced rising costs following Brexit with additional costs due to introduction of customs documentation and significant increases in travel, accommodation, freight and transportation costs. And this is compounded by falling box office revenues due to the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on schools' and families' purses. This all impacts our capacity to deliver both the Belfast Children's Festival and our year-round Education and Engagement Programmes.

As a result, this year we have already had to take the difficult decision to not run two arts engagement programmes, which will mean that hundreds of children and young people in some of Belfast most marginalised communities will miss out on receiving in-depth creative engagement sessions that would have benefitted them by increasing their confidence, self-esteem, critical thinking and opinion forming. Those creative conversations will now not happen, and we won't be able to equip them with creative techniques to reflect on and respond to the difficult and changing world around them.

But this situation we find ourselves in this year has to be seen in the context of years of dwindling funding support for the arts, which has had a devastating year-on-year cumulative impact. I looked back on a selection of key funding programmes that have supported YAA's core organisational costs, and over the past 12 years support from these funds has decreased by 18%, but when we factor in inflation that's actually a real terms cut of over 61%, and it's not sustainable. In addition, other funding has been pulled completely for this year - Dept of Communities City Centre Events Grant, Dept of Health Core Funding Grant, and Tourism NI's National Events Sponsorship Scheme and that fund particularly will significantly impact the festival. We have become so skeletonised there's not else we can cut back or trim. This year that will impact the scale of the festival's programme, how we can support, develop and train our staff, but most importantly our capacity to deliver our engagement programmes, and that impacts our ability to support the social and emotional wellbeing of disadvantaged children. That's the stark reality we are facing. This is the most precarious situation we have faced in our 25-year history."

Headline facts:

  • The Arts Council’ baseline exchequer resource allocation for 2023/24 (excluding capital) is £9.682m. This represent a 5% cut based on the previous year’s allocation and further compounds the much longer-term dis-investment in arts funding by government, which has seen funding reduce by £4.451m since 2011/12. In real terms, this equates to a reduction of £9.815m.
  • Currently ACNI receives the equivalent of £5.07 of arts funding per head of population. Its nearest comparator, Arts Council Wales, received £10.51 per head of population. The disparity in government support for the arts is even greater on the island of Ireland. An Chomhairle Ealaíon received £25.90 from its own exchequer sources.
  • The continued diminution in exchequer support for the arts through the Arts Council’s largest Annual Funding Programme, now means government supports just 23 arts organisations directly. This represents just 27% of the Arts Council’s Annual Funding portfolio and further weakens the ability of arts organisations to help deliver government’s Section 75 outcomes.
  • As government funding has fallen in recent years, the Arts Council has become increasingly reliant on other sources of funding, including the National Lottery, to deliver core funding programmes for both organisations and individual artists.
  • In 2022/23 and despite unprecedented demand for funding, the Arts Council was only able to support 28% of applications made by individual artists under its SIAP programme . The total request for funding was £4.3m. The Arts Council is now completely reliant on National Lottery to fulfil its funding obligations to this core strand of work. This is despite the importance of our artists to the Creative Industries, the wider cultural sector and to the reputation of NI abroad.
  • The arts infrastructure in Northern Ireland requires significant investment to address major health and safety issues. Access to venues for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people is increasingly compromised, with many venues unable to meet minimum access requirements.

Read the Arts Council’s full response here: