Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Thursday, 02 July 2009

Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts in Northern Ireland

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

2 July 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr P J Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

Ms Joan Dempster )
Ms Roisín McDonough ) Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Ms Lorraine McDowell )
Mr Damian Smyth )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

I welcome Roisín McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council, who is joined by three of her senior colleagues: Lorraine McDowell, director of operations; Damian Smyth, head of drama and literature; and Joan Dempster, arts development officer for community arts. Thank you for coming along. Since we already have your submission, we will start with members’ questions.

Mr McCarthy:

You are all welcome. Many witnesses have told the Committee that arts funding could be increased if there was an interdepartmental approach to funding. Does the Arts Council share that view? Who would be best placed to co-ordinate such an approach?

Ms Roisín McDonough (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

The Arts Council would welcome support for the arts from right across Government Departments. I am sure that many submissions to the inquiry have mentioned that the arts connect with employment; the economy; health; education; regeneration; personal development, particularly for young people; and so on. Therefore, the Arts Council believes that all Departments and associated agencies can, and should, make a contribution to the arts.

We believe that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), which is our parent Department, should lead the co-ordination of funding. I add a note of caution in that looking at the arts without additional funding may not bring about the result that we need, which is more funding. The establishment of an interdepartmental co-ordinating mechanism needs to come with a commitment to increase funding.

Mr McCarthy:

Would DCAL take the lead role in that?

Mr McDonough:

Yes; I think so.

Mr McNarry:

One of the values of this inquiry — [Interruption.]

Obviously, Jim was not here when the Chairperson made the announcement about switching off mobile phones.

Mr Shannon:

Sorry.

Mr McNarry:

One of the values of this inquiry is that it has helped me understand more about the work of the Arts Council. I recognise the passion of the witnesses, and they have gone up in my estimation. This is an inquiry, and although we might make you feel like you are in the dock at times, that is not what this is about.

You consistently made the point that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has a lower per capita spend than that of the Irish Republic, England, Scotland and Wales. However, it appears that the Department is challenging the robustness of the figures that have been used. For example, the Department makes the point that that figure does not include spend by other Departments or local councils. In light of what you have said on record, it is interesting that the Department, the same Department that initially funds you, is making that point. It is a key point. On the basis of what I said, do you take the view that, in comparison with other regions, the arts in Northern Ireland are underfunded? What evidence can you give the inquiry to show that you are taking full account of the same information as the Department that funds you?

Ms McDonough:

We are talking about per capita funding on the Exchequer side. For comparative purposes, we agreed with the other arts councils what we would and would not count. None of the other arts councils take into account spend from other Government Departments or local authorities. We are talking about per capita spend from central Government, from the Department for Culture Media and Sport, from DCAL, and from their counterparts in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Those are the figures that we are using for comparison.

We submitted evidence to the Committee in the form of a letter. We made reference to local-authority funding for the arts and we furnished the Committee with that information. Over time, the Arts Council has collected information through its local government expenditure survey on the arts, which has been validated by the Department of the Environment. We collect that information on a biennial basis, and I think that our latest figures are from 2006-07.

With respect to other central Government Departments, what we know from the arts organisations that have come to us, and from our own experience, is that when it comes to regeneration, the pot for arts funding has been reduced. The cultural traditions money, which we got from the Department of Education, has been reduced, and there has been a reduction in funding for schemes such as the Creative Youth Partnerships, which again, are funded by the education sector. As the Committee knows, Peace funding has been contracted over the years too. In general, there has been a reduction in funding for arts activity, artists and arts organisations.

Mr McNarry:

This is a key point for the Committee in the inquiry. I, along with other Committee members, supported you, by making your case in the Assembly and arguing for an increase in funding. I think that I want to continue to make that argument, for the sake of consistency. We have concerns about how you manage your affairs, among other things. Facts and figures will help us if we are to continue with this line of questioning.

Have you taken on board the Department’s view? Do you accept that it is saying that the Arts Council is not taking into account the financial assistance of other Departments and local councils? I am not asking that you do it now, but if you have not, you should, because you have to build up your defence for the case against you. The Department has made a powerful challenge to you. I have heard your explanation, but facts and figures will help. It might be useful if you were to collate what you receive from other Departments and councils, because that might make a difference when we are trying to get an uplift in your funding, as I intend to continue to do.

If Committee members were to speak in a debate on a motion similar to one that was tabled recently, the Minister would be putting the Department’s view. That would challenge other Members who would not have the in-depth knowledge that we have gained, and they would be concerned about why the Minister is saying what he is saying. You need to take that on board.

I accept that you have checked with other people and that you have made a like-for-like comparison, where you can, but we need to know what differences the other resources make to you. However, you do not have to tell us that today.

Ms McDonough:

I am happy to come back to that question. We saw the Department’s submission just when we arrived. From a cursory glance at it, I see that the Department recognises that in order to make as accurate comparisons as possible between the various countries, a huge amount of additional research will be required. In our submission to you on 27 March in the form of a letter —

Mr McNarry:

If it requires a huge amount of additional research, let it be done. Otherwise, we will not understand it. I have heard it said before that something may require a huge amount of additional research, and it usually means that they have not got the whole truth about it and that they do not know exactly what they are talking about.

Ms McDonough:

We are comparing ourselves as an arts council with other arts councils across these islands, and we think that that is an appropriate comparison. On top of that, we have collected local authority expenditure, and it is only recently that the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers in England and Wales, comprising 415 people, carried out a similar survey of local authorities in England and Wales. It found that the average spend in local authorities in England and Wales was higher than the average local spend of local authorities in Northern Ireland. Therefore we have two bits of the jigsaw tied down in respect of the funding equation.

Mr McNarry:

I have heard you say that. We need to have a piece of paper that details it a bit more. We cannot get into it too much here. There is a message; have you got it?

Mr McDonough:

We are not the only funders of the arts. We recognise the role that local authorities in particular play, because they have been one of our long-standing partners. We have got those figures. We also recognise that, from time to time, other Government Departments have helped to fund arts activity for a particular purpose. Given that the arts touches many areas of society’s activity and Government objectives, those Departments should fund more. We are happy to work with them accordingly. However, a large-scale research project would be required to quantify the precise amount that they have spent, because the extraction of those figures carries huge definitional and methodological problems.

Mr McNarry:

You are taking a route that makes me anxious. If you and others cannot define “the arts”, the Department’s statement does not hold up. The Committee needs to be clear about the definition of “the arts”. The Committee has asked about the definition of community arts, and we have not received a bad answer. All the answers have been excellent. I sometimes get lost in the namby-pamby gin-and-tonic stuff about the arts. I have no clue, but it seems to be somebody’s choice. I do not know how narrow the definition is, but I cannot work without a clear definition of arts.

Ms McDonough:

I appreciate your issue. However, the Arts Council is clear that it funds within the ambit of the arts. Other Departments and agencies may experience problems if they move into territory that is not their own. We do not have such problems; we know that we fund the arts.

Mr D Bradley:

The process should not be, as the Department suggests, an over-complicated process to establish how much public money is spent on the arts by central Government and local government. That can be broken down further; however, in general, it should not be a huge task. The Department’s submission suggests that funding of the arts should include philanthropic donations, private sponsorship, and so on. Do you agree with that, or do you think that, for comparative reasons, it is better, more accurate and more objective to confine the per capita issue to public spend?

Ms McDonough:

As I said, it is the only figure that we can authoritatively speak about. I know that Arts & Business has briefed the Committee and provided a significant body of evidence about its private investment and the cultural survey that it undertakes. Those facts and figures are available. As I said, we conduct a local government survey. We are happy to play a part if the Department is willing to take the lead and examine other central Government funding sources for the arts. That might provide the Committee with a picture of the totality of potential funding opportunities.

Mr D Bradley:

Do you agree that the inclusion of areas such as charitable donations and so on makes it difficult to achieve an objective comparison across Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland?

Ms McDonough:

Yes; real inherent definitional and methodological problems exist with how to attribute spend to a particular category. That is one complexity of the issue. I read some evidence from the Research and Library Service on the difficulties of making comparisons within these islands and further afield through consideration of how the arts is funded in other European countries. The evidence considered different funding models for the arts; everyone recognises the difficulties that exist. When we talk to the Committee about per capita spend, we agreed that common classification with the research departments of the four arts councils. We stand over that figure.

Mr Damian Smyth (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

It might be useful to point out that the comparative resources that are available in other parts of these islands for philanthropic giving and private investment by individuals, organisations and businesses into the arts is much greater than those that are available in Northern Ireland. When the other categories of arts funding elsewhere are factored in, Northern Ireland probably still comes off far worse than it does just from looking at the arts councils. One reason it is important to focus on the arts councils is that each of them has defined categories for funding that, although they are not exactly comparable, they are still comparable. In other factors, Northern Ireland is at even greater disadvantage.

Lord Browne:

Has the private-public ratio in Northern Ireland changed greatly during the past three years? What is the private-public ratio here compared with that of other parts of the United Kingdom?

Ms McDonough:

The Arts & Business submission covers some of that. For every pound that we have given to an arts organisation that we support, we looked at the leverage that it yielded from other sources; that is income other than that which it earned from its own box office, and so on. We found that for every pound that we have given during 2005-06 and 2007-08, leverage has gone down by a factor of two, I believe. Therefore, we are witnessing a process that is actually going the other way.

Obviously, the Arts Council, as you would expect, is concerned to try to reduce dependence on public subsidy and to try to strengthen the ability of arts organisations to acquire income from other sources. We have done much work with them in that regard. Unfortunately, however, we have found that movement is in the other direction because of the trends that Damian Smyth referred to a moment ago and which Arts & Business articulates in its submission. It is getting tougher for people, rather than easier.

Mr Brolly:

So far, we have discussed funding for the arts. Recently, some Committee members visited Liverpool. There is growing interest in examining and assessing the impact of the arts socially and economically. It seems that the response will be positive, certainly in Liverpool, where the impact of its year as European Capital of Culture is being assessed. We were told of some of the early findings of that assessment, which suggest that, for a start, the economic value is quite considerable.

Clearly, the perception here is that money that is spent on the arts is spent relatively frivolously, and that it should go to health, education, or to building, but not to art galleries. Would it not be worthwhile to put effort into an impact study of some of the projects that have been funded? PricewaterhouseCoopers recommends that an overall, umbrella examination should be carried out on the impact of funding.

Obviously, your work is difficult and complex. To what extent do you, having funded a particular project, go back to those people and ask for numbers, attendance figures, economic return, social impact, and so on? Quite clearly, if the public can be assured that arts are worthwhile socially and economically, it will be more likely to contribute to it and to participate in it. Arts would grow; therefore, it would be a win-win situation.

Mr K Robinson:

The thing that struck me on the Liverpool visit was that the arts did not appear to be detached from what was going on in that city. No matter who we met in the wider city governance, from the Lord Mayor downwards, seemed to have a buzz that the arts were central to what was going on in the city. Furthermore, it was a two-way process, and there seemed to be an enthusiasm for the arts that went beyond the introverted arts sector that we often comes across here.

Mr D Bradley:

Even the local transport company was very much involved in the promotion of the arts, and saw the value of that involvement.

Ms McDonough:

We receive information from our arts organisations through our annual regularly funded organisations survey. That contains information on earned income and other forms of received income such as trusts and private-sector moneys. It also tells us how many people are employed in the arts sector, what the level of voluntary activity is, and so on. That is one piece of information that we use, and we are happy to share it with the Committee.

The Arts Council also carries out impact evaluations on some of its other programmes of activity. For example, we have just completed an impact evaluation of the work of the Re-imaging Communities programme, and we have also recently completed a similar evaluation of the Art of Regeneration programme, which is carried out in conjunction with local authorities. Furthermore, we are laying the foundations for an evaluation of the creative industries innovation fund, which will examine how many businesses and jobs that that fund has created and what gross value added benefit that it will bring to the economy here.

Obviously, Liverpool has had a fantastic year as the European City of Culture, and I am sure that the Committee was rightly and forcibly impressed by its achievements. As the Committee will know, the Arts Council worked with Belfast, which was unsuccessful in its bid to become the European City of Culture in 2008, and one of the main reasons that the judging panel gave for Belfast’s failure — which Aideen McGinley, the permanent secretary of the Department at the time, called her most successful failure — was the lack of infrastructure that was in place. There was not just a lack of hardcore physical infrastructure but a lack of collaborative networks and the types of activities and programming that are associated with a dynamic arts sector in a city. Furthermore, the judging panel also noted a lack of collaborative partnerships across Government partnerships, agencies and bodies.

However, the failure of Belfast to be awarded the European City of Culture in 2008 was a big wake-up call. There had been a lack of investment in the arts across the spheres that I described, and the reason Aideen McGinley called it her most successful failure was that following the decision, more resources were released for the physical infrastructure of the arts and, with the support of the Committee, increased revenue resources were also released. As a result, the arts are in a healthier position now than we have ever been.

Finally, Francie is quite correct to refer to the public’s concerns about funding of health, education, and so on. However, the Arts Council finished a general population survey in February 2009, the results of which show that 78% of the population here support public subsidy of the arts, because they recognise its importance. That is a significant figure, and we should collectively cheer that figure because it gives us all, particularly the Committee as champions and leaders, the information and evidence of public support and recognition of the arts.

Mr Brolly:

With a positive impact evaluation of the arts, the target should be in attaining private, as opposed to public, funding. However, the one source of funding that gets lost in all that is the income that is generated by the arts themselves, such as from attendances at theatres and so on. Should we not target that? If we have a good message, we should target the public and say that this is good and creates an economy to support the arts. Private funding can be a bit iffy if it is being depending upon. Public funding, too, can be a bit iffy.

Ms McDonough:

Many arts organisations do earn income. Therefore, they are not 100% publicly subsidised. We work with them, and with Audiences Northern Ireland, which we fund, to strengthen the capabilities of our arts sector to develop marketing and audience development plans that target not only those who attend the arts. Not everyone knows who attends the arts, and we are encouraging arts organisations to get to know their audience. We invest substantial resources in box office ticketing systems so that they can analyse their audiences, target them appropriately with proper marketing, and, most importantly from our perspective, find out who is not attending the arts so that they, too, can be appropriately targeted. The Arts Council puts a lot of investment into that area, but more needs to be done to build and strengthen the capability of our arts organisations. Some are quite large, and are sophisticated in targeting their audience; bur others are small, and need that capacity strengthened.

Mr Brolly:

It strikes me — and Ken and Dominic will be aware of this — that Liverpool started from the ground up. They first went into the communities. We tend to be a bit top-down with the arts. Liverpool did amazing work, literally going into communities and schools around the place in the two or three years during the build-up to it being European Capital of Culture. That is possibly why Liverpool was so successful, and why, as Ken said, people who never talked about the arts now do so.

Ms Joan Dempster (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

I know that it is not my job to question you; it is the other way round.

Mr McNarry:

Do not dare. [Laughter.]

Mr Brolly:

I do not have to answer. [Laughter.]

Ms Dempster:

I want to explore who went into the schools, and who was going into the community and spreading the message. I am sure that it was quite often other arts organisations that had the capacity to transfer their knowledge to the community.

Mr Brolly:

There were a huge number of volunteers in those local communities, obviously led by people from Liverpool City Council. However, as Dominic said, every organisation was involved, even the city transport company.

Mr D Bradley:

Merseytravel.

Mr Brolly:

They were all involved, and the more people who became involved, the more the enthusiasm grew. There is probably a lesson for us there.

Ms Dempster:

There is a lesson to be learnt. To give a small-scale example, I worked on the Re-imaging Communities programme, and I was tasked to find a community champion who could speak to a transport company yet who was equally comfortable speaking to the Lord Mayor. It is often the case that people have a passion and an interest about participating in the arts, but that they do not always know where to start. Therefore, they need such a person.

The projects that were rolled out during the Re-imaging Communities programme almost always had a community champion in each area. As community arts officer, I want to build on that, especially in communities that have a weak cultural infrastructure or, perhaps, a fear of getting involved in the arts. You are, however, quite right in that much more work is needed.

Mr Shannon:

Thank you for your presentation. Witnesses have told the Committee that they were grateful for funding. However, they were concerned to find that it was renewed annually, even though they had been told that it was renewable on a three-year basis. That is something of a contradiction. Can you clarify the position when a group is awarded a three-year contract?

Ms McDonough:

We used to award three-year funding under our Lottery programme. That is one side of the house. On the Exchequer side of the house, we admit three-year clients to give them a modicum of stability. We ask for a three-year programme of activity, and each year we ask them to give us the programme for the next year. As the Committee knows, the confirmation of our funding comes on an annual basis only. Often, our funding decisions are not confirmed until February. Therefore, from time to time, we have had to make funding decisions in the absence of a confirmed budget, because we know that the arts sector needs some degree of certainty. The sector often has to programme long in advance, particularly a festival, a theatre company or a visual arts organisation. Programming can be for 18 months or even two years in advance and organisations need some certainty. We talk to them about it. However, the sad reality is that that is the way that Government funding works and we can only pass on what we have. We have tried to move to three-year funding.

This is the third and final year of the comprehensive spending review in 2010-11. We know what our indicative budget is, and we have plans for how we want to spend it. However, there are murmurings already that we might not receive all the indicative allocation, and, therefore, it becomes hugely difficult. The ambition of the Arts Council, its board and executive is to be able to confirm three-year funding agreements with our arts clients.

Mr Shannon:

I understand and appreciate the difficulties, but it has been something that the witnesses have raised.

Ms McDonough:

Indeed.

Mr Shannon:

They are concerned that they, and their staff, have an uncertain future.

Ms McDonough:

Absolutely.

Mr Shannon:

When organisations start off in the financial year, they think that everything is hunky-dory. Then when nine or 10 months pass, they start to look at the financial position for the next year, for which they have made plans. I have concerns about that.

Ms McDonough:

I share that concern.

Mr Shannon:

A big issue that has come out of the inquiry is about community arts, and Joan may be the person to respond to this question. Witnesses indicated to the Committee that 9% of Arts Council money goes to community arts. Everyone has said to us that they want that figure to be higher. The Committee is aware of the good work that the community arts do, how much more they could do, and the benefits that their work brings to the community. The public service agreements refer to promoting and increasing access to the arts by 2%. It can only increase by 2% if that is reflected in the funding that goes to community arts. How have you reflected that target of 2% in your funding to try to ensure that the target is met? Does the Arts Council accept that community and voluntary arts have a higher level of participation and that, therefore, they deserve more funding?

Ms Dempster:

The Arts Council disputes the figure of 9%. In my role in the Arts Council, I have a portfolio of clients who are classified as community arts clients. That is not to say that other organisations that are funded through the Arts Council do not carry out community arts activity. I assume that the figure of 9% is drawn from the portfolio that I look after as regards the Annual Support for Organisations Programme. Therefore, the figure of 9% is not a clear one. A number of organisations do not sit in my portfolio for operational reasons but do carry out community arts activity. For example, the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, Best Cellars Music Collective, which is based in east Belfast, and the Playhouse in Derry/Londonderry. They would see themselves as delivering community arts activity, but they do not sit in the community arts portfolio. Therefore, the grant, or the moneys, that we award them, would not have been calculated in that figure of 9%.

Ms McDonough:

Within our budget, we do not have percentages that are allocated to particular art forms or to specialist areas. As Joan explained, we have a range of officers and a range of clients, and we divide the caseloads accordingly. Broadly, Joan is the community arts officer, and the other officers, who work in the sphere of youth arts, disability and health arts and voluntary arts, have their own portfolio of clients. Adding all those together, along with other art forms and other officers’ workloads and portfolios, would give a much more accurate figure. Calculating 9% from Joan’s clients is inaccurate, and we dispute that figure.

Ms Lorraine McDowell (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

In the submission that we provided at the beginning of the inquiry, we gave the Committee a breakdown of how we saw our funding falling into sectors: community arts; voluntary; disability and health arts; and youth arts. The figures in that breakdown show that in 2008-09, community arts were receiving around 20% of the grants that we gave out. That is a substantial shift from 9%, which was based only on the clients in Joan’s portfolio. It is a much bigger percentage.

Mr Shannon:

There is obviously a difference in the figures. However, there is a target to increase participation by 2%. I think you will agree that to do that, you will have to spend more. The thrust of the question is whether you will be spending more to meet that target.

Ms McDonough:

You are right in that we have a public service agreement target of increasing attendance and participation by 2%. We can achieve that only through our funded clients. We absolutely agree with you on that. However, you have to look at our funding programmes in totality in order to achieve greater participation and attendance rates in the arts. That is why we have other funded programmes that put people on a route to enjoying the arts. That route starts with small grants, perhaps an Awards for All grant, then moves on to Lottery project funding and beyond. It is a journey on which the arts officers, including Joan, but not exclusively, work with small-scale, fragile and voluntary organisations, to increase their awareness and interest in the arts. We progress them through a journey of support and development. It is not an easy journey, and we know that it is often patchy in certain areas. That is why we have targeted some programmes at particular communities, where we can give them ready access to small amounts of money as seedcorn to make a difference. Joan has worked with local communities on some of those programmes.

Mr Shannon:

Will you achieve your target of 2%? I am not being disrespectful, nor am I being argumentative; however, the Committee deserves a commitment that that target will be achieved. I want to know how it will be achieved, as I am not entirely convinced that it will.

Mr Smyth:

We have made it a condition of all our funding that regularly funded organisations deliver a strategy to the Arts Council for increasing audiences and participation over the designated period. We are monitoring that and get returns on annually. The target period was not as long as one would have hoped to be able to achieve that, but we are confident that we will be able to deliver positive returns on that 2% target.

Mr Shannon:

Can that be achieved without spending more or allocating more funds? That is the point that I am trying to get down to. I am not trying to wear this out; I am just trying to get an answer.

Ms McDonough:

Arts organisations, many of which will come before the Committee, tell us that they are expected to achieve more with the same amount of money. They ask us how on earth we think that they can do that. Our response is that we absolutely appreciate the difficulties that they face; however, this is a target that has been handed to us by the Government in order to justify funding for the arts. We happen to think that it is not a particularly considered target, and we are on record as saying that. We talked to the Department about that figure and whether it was appropriate, meaningful or achievable and how it could be delivered. We raised fundamental questions; however, we were directed to meet that target, and the only way that we could begin to meet it was to pass it on to our arts organisations. I am sure that the Committee has heard some of what those organisations had to say in about that.

Mr Shannon:

The community arts organisations were very clear about that. They said that they can achieve those targets, but only with extra spending.

Ms McDonough:

I agree with you that extra resources are required.

Mr McNarry:

Unionist members of this Committee started this inquiry with, and still possess, a clear perception that unionist communities are way behind in realising their potential in working with the Arts Council. We heard from a number of organisations that identified themselves as being from a unionist background and said that they were not aware that they could access Arts Council funding. Jim has been saying that as well. What is the Arts Council doing to proactively target those groups from unionist communities that do not have a history of accessing Arts Council funding?

Ms McDonough:

I will ask Damian Smyth and then perhaps Joan to address that issue.

Mr McNarry:

Do you realise, or do you accept, that our perceptions exist?

Ms McDonough:

We fully appreciate those perceptions. We are aware of areas of weak infrastructure and low levels of participation in certain communities. We are endeavouring to deal with that. It is a developmental issue: people need not only financial resources but support to enable access to, and the development of, programmes of activity. We have endeavoured to adopt that twin approach. Damian and Joan will speak about their experiences in that regard.

Mr McNarry:

I respect Damian’s view on this, but are you actively seeking an increase in funding to deal with the gap that you say you are aware of in unionist communities? Are you actively saying that that is a target, and that more money is needed specifically for unionist communities?

Ms McDonough:

We are looking at that issue. Previously, I advised the Committee that in the autumn, the council will look at the issues that affect areas where there is weak community infrastructure and weak access to the arts. That would be differential —

Mr McNarry:

You are being evasive.

Ms McDonough:

No, I am not being evasive.

Mr McNarry:

I am asking you directly about unionist communities.

Ms McDonough:

Yes, we recognise that there are issues that are associated with the Protestant, unionist and loyalist communities with respect to access to the arts.

Mr McNarry:

Thank you.

Ms McDonough:

We are also saying that those issues are not exclusive to those communities.

Mr McNarry:

I understand that.

Ms McDonough:

We do appreciate that point.

Lord Browne:

What is the rough breakdown of funding to the different communities — the ethnic minority communities, the unionist communities and the nationalist communities?

The Chairperson:

Members are obviously exercised by this point. Dominic wants to contribute.

Mr D Bradley:

Two groups from the Protestant/unionist community gave evidence to the Committee on one day, one of which was from County Antrim. They were very positive about the support that they got from the Arts Council. They mentioned Damian’s name, and said that he could not have been more helpful. On the other hand, another group that gave evidence said that they perceived that there was a bias among arts funders against Protestant/unionist communities. There you have two different perceptions from within the one community; one very positive about the Arts Council and the other, possibly, feeling quite alienated from the process.

Mr McNarry:

Dominic is right.

Mr K Robinson:

The group to which Dominic referred is from Cairncastle. I know that it is very appreciative of the work that Damian did and attempted to do on its behalf. Its representatives also told me that it had difficulty in accessing where help lay, how to access that help, who to approach and what mechanisms were in place. As Damian will probably confirm, their major complaint was a lack of knowledge about how to get into the system. Once the group was in the system, it found it to be helpful, but it lacked knowledge of how to do that.

The Committee, particularly the unionist members, feels that the unionist/Protestant/loyalist community has an endemic lack of knowledge of how to access the system and that that community has been self-sufficient. Last night, I went into Belfast, and I estimated that around 1,200 musicians were walking around east Belfast. Where on earth would more than 1,000 musicians play on one evening? I suspect that limited public funding is available for that, whether from the Arts Council or elsewhere. I did not even take into account the amount of money that had been expended on uniforms; I simply looked at the instruments and thought that an astronomic cost must have been involved in accessing them. I wondered where those musicians got the money from; they are self-sufficient.

Ms McDonough:

They are not.

Mr K Robinson:

Belatedly, they are now accessing funds.

Ms McDonough:

They can access the Council’s musical instruments for bands fund.

Mr K Robinson:

Please expand on that.

Ms McDowell:

The bands scheme has operated for a number of years, and, after it was temporarily suspended, it was reintroduced in 2002. Since then, the Council has given £2 million to the band sector, and, before then, we gave £1·5 million. Therefore, the Council has provided £3·5 million specifically to buy instruments.

Mr K Robinson:

Having acquired the instruments, what mechanism is in place to allow the bands to increase their technical expertise? Much of their evolution appears to be because of the knowledge in their community. One band that I saw last night would not have been out of place at Trooping the Colour. That is the standard that can be reached.

Ms McDowell:

I do not have definitive figures, but we can provide them later. Through our small grants programme, the previous Awards for All programme, and, to an extent, Lottery project funding, we also provide tuition costs for the bands to bring in outside help and expertise to raise the level of the quality of their music making. When we give grants for instruments, we look at the quality that they already produce, and we speak to them about bringing in expertise.

Mr McNarry:

Did those funds go specifically to bands from a unionist community or to bands generally?

Ms McDowell:

The funds went to bands. We do not have information on whether the funding went to the unionist community.

Mr McNarry:

Dominic was right. Both the evidence sessions to which he referred highlighted the fact that those who managed to access help had a positive experience. I want that experience to be repeated. Damian is well-respected when people get to him, but the other experience is that people do not know about the help that is available or think that it is for them. They think that they are excluded from it and that they are second class. Have you heard that view expressed before?

Ms McDowell:

That has not been put to me directly.

Mr McNarry:

I was not asking you to jump into my politics, but we are dealing with those sorts of views. You can throw up all sorts of figures to show that you are brilliant and that you given money to bands, but I am referring to a whole culture that is wider than bands, and I am not simply talking about unionist/Protestant bands. Partly because of devolution and the work that MLAs are doing in their communities, groups that are new to the process say that they are not sure whether they can get on the ladder of Arts Council funding because the presence of well-established groups appears not to allow room for them. They also come away thinking, which might not be true in some cases, that the Arts Council is making it too difficult for them and that they are not wanted. We must knock that down.

You keep on talking about funding, which we understand. My point seems to be that you now have no more money to look after Protestant/unionist needs. How do you get that money, and how we help you to get it? That means how do we address those who say that it is the established people who are well known to the Arts Council and who have been working with it who get the funding, and we cannot get on the ladder? That is then reflected in community arts. That is how those people feel about the matter, and they are not all from Belfast.

Mr D Bradley:

This is probably largely an issue of capacity building in certain communities, and it is not confined to the Protestant/unionist community. Other smaller rural communities from a different background simply do not have the experience of dealing with the whole funding edifice. Until they get up to the door and get the door opened, they can struggle. That can create the impression that they are not welcome. Perhaps the Arts Council has to make a greater effort to communicate with those harder-to-reach communities and inform them about what funding is available and how to access it.

The Chairperson:

I need to allow the Arts Council to respond to the many issues that have been raised. Time is of the essence.

Mr Smyth:

I take into account everything that was said. Crucially, however, it is a matter of capacity, and that needs to be addressed in an interdepartmental way with regard to economic conditions and the self-confidence of communities and their organisations.

Mr McNarry:

Are we right in saying that there is a problem and a funding gap? It is not a question of simply throwing money at the problem. However, did you say that you will look at the issue in the autumn? Is there more than an element of truth in what people are saying?

Mr Smyth:

We work closely with the Ulster-Scots Community Network, which was formerly the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council. That is an umbrella group for more than 200 small cultural organisations across Northern Ireland. Very few of those organisations would be at a level in capacity terms to be able to make an application for funding, even to the Ulster-Scots Community Network or to the Ulster-Scots Agency. In working with the Ulster-Scots Community Network, we can begin to identify organisations that might be better placed to take that next step into a funding stream, which would help to develop their artistic —

Mr McNarry:

Are you saying that the Ulster-Scots Community Network is somehow a quasi-representative of Protestant/unionist opinion in Northern Ireland?

Mr Smyth:

Not at all. That is one area that has a clearly defined cultural and artistic remit, and which we can easily identify and begin to look for ways to support. Capacity issues exist that affect the Protestant/unionist/loyalist communities across Northern Ireland, which may not manifest themselves in cultural or artistic terms, but which may do so at some point, and, perhaps, soon. However, the Arts Council does not have the capacity itself, or the resources to build the capacity in those types of communities.

Mr McNarry:

You can, however, make a case.

Mr Smyth:

We can make a case.

Ms McDonough:

We can, absolutely, make a case.

The Chairperson:

We have to start another session in the next couple of minutes. Perhaps Joan will wish to add something to what has been said. I will then seek the agreement of members to write to the Arts Council about additional questions that the Committee wants tabled.

Mr K Robinson:

To make a quick point, ArtsEkta is an active organisation that represents ethnic communities, which sometimes run into brick walls. Given our current circumstances, can we place a positive focus on such an organisation? It has projects in the pipeline, and it has raised its capacity over a number of years. However, it is experiencing difficulties at the moment. I want to flag that up.

Ms Dempster:

I will address Mr Robinson’s point. It is my job in the Arts Council to consider social inclusion in organisations regardless of their background or ethnicity. If they feel socially excluded, I will bring them to the arts. We do that in a number of ways, primarily through small seeding grants, an example of which is the STart UP programme that we ran last year. Although it was a small project that cost £100,000, it punched well above its weight. In Northern Ireland, 20 projects were funded with small grants of about £5,000 and, as a result, some organisations are in negotiations to proceed to larger grants. However, that approach must be replicated across Northern Ireland, particularly in communities that, as my colleague Damian said, need to build their capacity. In my job, I engage in hand-holding and take groups through the application forms step by step. That needs to happen much more, but we need the capacity to do so.

Ms McDonough:

I wish that the organisation had 10 workers like Joan. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration; however, I wish that I had many more.

Mr Shannon:

Ten for the price of one? [Laughter.]

Ms McDonough:

Some development funds are required to address the issues that the Committee has rightly touched on. We share that perspective. We know that we are not reaching a whole swathe of communities that we passionately believe should have access to the arts. Moreover, we know that once the arts touch them, they will enjoy it and grow and develop accordingly.

The Chairperson:

I thank the team from the Arts Council for attending today.

Find Your MLA

Locate your local MLA

Find MLA

News and Media Centre

Read press releases, watch live and archived video.

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

Keep up to date with what's happening at the Assembly.

Find out more

Subscribe

Enter your email address to keep up to date

Sign up