Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 30 April 2009

Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts

30 April 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon


Mr Joe Campbell ) Great Shantallow Community Arts
Mr Oliver Green )

The Chairperson:

We will now hear evidence from Greater Shantallow Community Arts. I welcome Oliver Green, who is the director of that group, and Joe Campbell, who is their youth intervention co-ordinator in arts development. I invite Joe to make a brief opening statement, and members will then have an opportunity to ask questions.

Mr Joe Campbell (Greater Shantallow Community Arts):

I am an artist working with Greater Shantallow Community Arts, which is a community arts organisation based in the outer north area of Derry that has been operating for the past 10 years. Also present today is Oliver Green, who is the founder and director of the project.

I will take this opportunity to respond to the Committee’s inquiry into the funding of the arts. Our response is focused on two issues that are outlined in your terms of reference; specifically, issues 4 and 6. Issue 4 relates to targeting social need (TSN), the encouragement of community engagement, and engaging with communities that have historically found it difficult to develop an arts infrastructure and, therefore, access arts funding. Issue 6 relates to the question of whether there are any other art forms that require more funding in respect of their impact on regenerating communities.

I will provide some background to our organisation and start with our mission statement, which is to enrich lives, promote the arts and artists in areas of high deprivation and to provide people with access to the arts, a platform for talents, and an opportunity to develop those talents, interact with their peers, and experience and participate in new things.

As I said, we have been in existence for 10 years. The outer north area has a population of approximately 40,000 people, which is one third of the population of the entire city of Derry, so we have quite a wide remit in respect of the amount of people that we can reach. We also have a wide network that includes other arts organisations, community groups and statutory organisations.

We use a wide range of art forms to fulfil our remit. Some art organisations concentrate on one art form such as music, drama or dance, but we cover the entire spectrum. That could range from a small music project, such as teaching a 14-year old to play the electric guitar, to bringing people of all ages out to a street festival where they can wear all sorts of costumes or take part in a civic parade. We have a few cameras and we encourage people to make films about their local area or local history, for example. We also carry out activities involving everything in between and right up to the fine arts, including sculpture, painting and drawing. Many of those activities are project-based and artist-led; that is the way in which we operate and those are the types of things that we do.

Regarding our structure as an organisation, we currently have four staff members, two full-time — that is, Oliver and I — and two part-time. My post is currently funded by the Department for Social Development (DSD), but that funding will run out next year and as far as we know it will not be renewed. Oliver’s wages are currently provided through Arts Council funding.

At times, we do not know where the resources come from to pay the wages for the two part-time posts; they are often made up from a proportion of our wages and other project moneys. We face an uncertain future in that respect. For four years, the organisation was funded by DSD, but that has now changed and that funding has been cut. Furthermore, this year we were unsuccessful when we applied to the Arts Council’s Annual Support for Organisations Programme (ASOP). Therefore, we currently exist on small-project moneys and operate on a knife-edge.

Issue 4 of the Committee’s terms of reference for this inquiry relates to targeting social need. Targeting social need and the encouragement of community engagement define what we do. Our remit is to place art at the heart of communities where people live and ply their trades daily; that is what community arts is all about.

In ‘Creative Connections’, the Arts Council’s five-year strategy, Rosemary Kelly states:

“Our mission is to place art at the heart of our social, economic and creative life. “

We want to know how that can be done. What are the practical mechanisms for achieving that, and how do we engage significant numbers of people in areas such as the Fountain, Irish Street, Creggan, the Bogside, or where we live, in Galliagh and Shantallow? How we bring people who, historically, may not have been exposed to the arts directly to the arts is a daily problem for us. As an organisation, we have no doubt that the creation of a cultural environment for all our citizens is a very worthwhile and morally justifiable objective, but how do we achieve it?

From our experience, the answer to that is one word: “centre”. That is, “centre” in every sense of the word. I mean a centre in the physical sense of a small, modest community-based facility where we can bring people in, in a dignified way, and where we can provide them with some form of activity. However, that facility must also be centred in the community. Our current centre operates from a small, two-bedroom, ex-Housing Executive house in Galliagh, which we have at the behest of the Housing Executive. We also use a glorified tin hut, called the “Four Block,” in which we run dance and drama classes, and the Arts Council currently funds two projects that are run from that tin hut.

Therefore, we carry out projects sanctioned by organisations such as the Arts Council, and we know how to apply for the money for those projects because we have been doing it for 10 years. Moreover, we have a local knowledge and understanding of people. We personally know hundreds of people in our area, and thousands — if not tens of thousands — others have engaged with us in our local festivals, which are the events that our organisation grew from.

However, we lack the adequate resources and facilities to carry out that work, and we have a significant number of people living in those areas whose first experience of the arts was obtained in a tin hut. We have no fit-for-purpose facilities, no core staff, and can only survive from one year to the next. Much of our time is taken up completing endless applications for short-term funding schemes, very few of which we are qualified to complete because we do not have the relevant background. However, we try as best as we can.

Our organisation does not deal with third-level arts students — we deal with children, disadvantaged youths, senior citizens and all social groupings in between. Significantly, we are also major employers of newly-trained artists who have just left college, but no one seems to be aware of that. The only way that those artists can make any money is by participating in the community arts, and they queue up to see Oliver in the hope that they can get a little project and a little of the money that comes down, through us, from the Arts Council.

Those are local artists of all ages, not artists of international repute. They are students who have come out of college for the first time and who have no hope of getting their first project, or people who have come out the other end of a working life and who are prepared to come into communities and volunteer their services and experience. We create an opportunity for musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, film-makers and a raft of technicians, sound engineers, camera operators, recording engineers, lighting experts, set builders, costume designers — the list is endless.

We are a conduit for that and, in many instances, we are the first point of contact for those professionals, many of whom have degrees and experience of working in the private sector. We place art at the heart, by giving those people employment and by using our scant facilities. Therefore, returning to the Arts Council’s five-year plan, which I quoted from, we are strategically positioned to question how its mission will be achieved. We have outlined how we place art at the heart of life on a daily basis, but we have no money. We are bringing art down to where it matters.

Community arts needs more credence, more resources and more money. There should, perhaps, be a number of modest centres, which could be a model for centres throughout Northern Ireland. Those could be small places where people can do small things and, on the strength of that, achieve big things. There should be a few core staff who can build relationships over a long period of time so that, over ten or twenty years, people can be brought through the first stage and into the second, and then given the wings to fly out and represent all of us here.

We need to weave the arts into the fabric of society, right down into the very core, and they need to be permanently woven in as fixtures in the heart of disadvantaged areas. I do not mean inner-city areas where there are already quite a few projects up and running to service people. I mean to target people who will never see an opera or listen to an orchestra. If we had a van, we could drive them to such events. We could take them to the national galleries or bring them on little trips and then all have tea afterwards. That is another way that we can achieve that objective.

For us, “centre” is the key word. We need facilities that are physically centred at the heart of communities and at the centre of people’s lives. Community arts is a great vehicle for the arts to flourish where they should but, in our opinion, the argument for them has not been made in the real world.

Mr McCarthy:

Thank you for your presentation. You are to be congratulated on your work. I know the answer to my question, but I will ask it anyway. Is Arts Council providing sufficient funding for community arts? Obviously, it is not, but what do you suggest it does?

Mr Oliver Green (Greater Shantallow Community Arts):

We are not here to knock the Arts Council — we love the Arts Council. It has funded us for a number of years. It has not provided us with enough funding, but I understand the arguments that they have made that, on a per capita basis, not enough money is coming in.

Yesterday, I did some research on the funding of community arts. I can speak only for my local community, in Derry and the north-west. I wanted to know how much money the Arts Council has spent in the last few years so I obtained figures from the Arts Council’s website. Fourteen projects have been funded from 2002-08. That does not include this year’s ASOP programmes.

In its five-year plan, the Arts Council states that its mission is to bring arts into the heart of the community. I am sure that members have access to these figures; however, I will list some of the different projects and the amounts that they have been funded. The Playhouse in the city centre received £2∙6 million; the Nerve Centre, £2∙3 million; An Gaeláras, £2 million; the Waterside Theatre, £3∙4 million; the Verbal Arts Centre, £1 million; the Millennium Forum, £868,000; Foyle Gallery, £512,000; Context Gallery, £400,000; the Echo Echo Dance Theatre in the Waterside, £400,000; the Playhouse research centre, £400,000; Derry City Council £228,000. Those are the figures for 2003-08. The range extends down to Greater Shantallow Community Arts — we got £178,000. Those figures represent a swift and approximate calculation.

Those figures alone show that, between 2003 and 2008, almost £13 million was spent by the Arts Council in Derry and the north-west. If my calculations are even slightly correct, we are the only organisation among those that I mentioned that is designated as a community arts organisation, and the only one that is based beyond a quarter of a mile from the city centre.

Therefore, of that £13 million, 1·5% is spent on community arts provision. As of yesterday, the Arts Council’s website suggested that 97% of funding awarded in the Derry City Council area through the Arts Council’s programmes has gone directly to Londonderry’s most deprived areas. That leads me to ask — is our city centre deprived? It must be, because 97% of funding went to organisations based in the city centre.

We must act on the policies of the Arts Council and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and get out into the hearts of communities. Has that happened, or is the situation the same as it was between 2003 and 2008, with all the major resources going into city centre, main-venue-based funding? The value of community arts speaks for itself.

Mr P Ramsey:

You are very welcome. We can see your passion and commitment, which I would have known of even without you having come here today. There is no doubt about the contribution that your organisation makes to well-being, access and participation. I take on board what you said about the range of projects in Derry that have been granted funding. There is a debate around whether those projects are targeting social need and whether the people using those city centre organisations are from TSN areas. What other process for the allocation of money could be used, that would recognise the tremendous work that community art does in targeting social need and regenerating communities?

Some time ago, a few members of the Committee were in Derry and visited your organisation and saw its outputs. It is a pity that all the Committee members could not go, but perhaps that will happen at another stage. Can you put into context the benefit that young people get from participating in your programmes? As a Committee, we are carrying out an inquiry into the funding of the arts. However, we are also trying to get qualitative evidence so that we can ask all the Departments — not only DCAL, but the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Department for Social Development — why they are not putting more money into the arts. Can you give us a summary of the contribution that you are making to young people’s participation in the arts, many of whom have been marginalised or excluded?

Mr J Campbell:

Derry , in particular, has a rich tradition of music. I started off in a pick-up band, because there was money in it. Derry has much in common with Liverpool. Unemployment is so endemic that, with the amount of musicians in Derry, you could form an orchestra. When I bring a young guy in, hand him a guitar, and tell him that in a year’s time I want him to be gigging in a band and making money, suddenly he has a remit. It does not take a great amount of persuasion once you give a young person a skill. It takes a while, and not everybody dives at the guitar. Some of the girls who come in want to dance, because they see all their mates doing it. We bring those girls to competitions and take them out of Derry. It is a way out for young people.

Our work has much in common with boxing clubs or sports clubs. It is important that we get the young people into our centre and find out what it is that they like. We have identified what sorts of things that age group likes and does not like. For instance, they do not like painting — it is just not their thing. However, they like to dance and play music. That has already been identified. A lot of work has been done on that, and we can use that model to bring in as many young people as possible. It is an effective way of doing that.

Our centres only hold small numbers of people, which is frustrating for us. However, down the line, when somebody comes back to us, we can see that the experience that we gave them has had a noticeable effect on them. They may have stood on stage in front of one hundred people, or have been in a dance competition, but they come back to us full of the joys of spring because they have had that engagement somewhere else, which they otherwise would never have had. That is the value of it. The payback is when a young person says, “I want to do this” or “I want to do that”.

Mr Shannon:

Thank you very much for coming to the Committee and for your enthusiasm and energy, which has been obvious in your comments.

Mr Green, you mentioned community arts. Your figures show where there is need in the community, and where funding is going. Do you believe that the right balance is being achieved between community arts and professional arts? If not, how do you believe it could be improved?

Mr Green:

In fairness to the Arts Council, I suggest that it probably funds those with safe hands — facilities such as the Playhouse Theatre and the Millennium Forum. It is easy for the Arts Council to say that it knows what will happen in a particular centre because it has been built for that reason. In community settings, however, work is being done on the ground in different areas. Some of those projects are risky. They may not gain people’s maximum participation and, therefore, may not have high enough value on the Arts Council’s tick list. It might say, for example, that top creative artists are not involved.

The fact is that community arts are the first step towards engagement with the arts for many people. It is where they are inspired to go on further. Therefore, vehicles need to be created by which we can look at how to achieve maximum participation from people within their own environments.

Do I have a solution? I believe that community arts should be a designated art form. At present, it is not. It needs to be given proper prominence in the Arts Council’s thinking. If we want to reach as many people as possible, as fairly and equitably as possible, we must ensure that arts are available in highly populated areas, neighbourhood renewal areas and socially deprived areas. The way to do that is to create streams of funding that allow for core support for arts development in local communities.

Mr McCartney:

Jim touched on the balance between community arts and professional arts. The last group who we spoke to gave us an excellent definition of “community arts”, and Mr Campbell mentioned “centre” and “centred”. How would you define “community arts” to a funding body in order to convince it that it should be considered separately from other art forms?

Mr K Robinson:

Thanks for your presentation. Your enthusiasm and commitment came across.

There are many big housing estates in my constituency of East Antrim. We are submerged, in the sense that Belfast city centre tends to attract all of the funding from the generous gentlemen on either side of me. How do we get community arts projects off the ground? Community arts are well developed in one community in Northern Ireland. You put your finger on it straight away, Mr Campbell. There is something in Londonderry that lifts that community. As to whether it spreads right across your city, I am not sure. Certainly, there may be latent talent in my community in East Antrim. How on earth do we bring that talent out using that process? To return to the object of this morning’s exercise, how do we fund it?

Mr J Campbell:

We have talked about private arts. I worked for a lifetime in stained-glass production, in small studios in Northern Ireland. The same model applies to most small businesses. We found that if we had a centre, it would be like a small business centre. It would provide a place of focus. That is how businesses grow. I worked in studios in Londonderry; in Maghera, which is a rural area; and in Belfast. Therefore, I have experience of the wide gamut of how commercial arts are managed. It is done in the same way as for any other business: it is driven by money, time and profit.

I do not see why that model should not be brought into a community arts centre and into community arts itself. We can focus on the fact that community arts can provide people with jobs, in the music scene or whatever. I have not got all of the answers, but that could be an answer.

Mr K Robinson:

Is there a role for local Government in driving that forward?

Mr J Campbell:

Yes, because of the skills involved. The skills involved in all of those would be very beneficial for anyone to acquire and would enhance anyone’s CV. There is lots of training. Take Photoshop and the growing digital divide; there is a prime example. It is about training in the basic use of digital photographs and creative software.

Mr Green:

People say that they want to bring arts to the heart of communities, and then they ask how to do so. One way is to encourage communities out of their homes to visit theatres and galleries. However, there is also first-step access — creating participation in the arts, which should not be just an audience sport. People should feel part of the arts. Every child and every person, no matter where they live, should be encouraged, and be able, to access arts in their own communities. That is what community arts provides that venue-based centres cannot. Within a local environment, community arts provides an opportunity for engagement. Sometimes that engagement is about local courses, projects, festivals or street theatre. It is really about being able to maximise the number of people who take that first step of engagement.

As we have seen, that first-step engagement with hundreds if not thousands of local people leads to involvement in other projects; it leads to a vision and aspiration do better in any particular art form; and for some it leads to a potentially huge career. I have seen examples of young people who were dragged in from school programmes becoming actively involved and forging a career in the creative industries.

There is a real need for us as a wider community to see the potential of creative industries and to realise that there must be a ground-up approach from the heart of communities from where innovation can come, not a centre-based approach. Time and again, we have seen from our own community that innovation can come from local people every bit as much as from lovely centres or art galleries.

Lord Browne:

Greater Shantallow Community Arts obviously plays an important role in assisting persons, particularly young people, involved in the creative industries in the development of their job skills and in getting employment. That is done with a small number of staff — two full-time and two part-time. I know that your group regards long-term, core-funded staff as essential in order to carry out its role.

Must the Arts Council and the Department rethink their priorities in distributing funding? How much does your group receive from the Arts Council? Is any money received from the private sector in sponsorship? If so, I am sure that it is very little. Do you try to achieve some form of sponsorship?

Mr McNarry:

The clear and factual evidence to the Committee is that the Arts Council has a monopoly on doling out most of the funding. Should that be revisited as part of the new mandate for community arts? Does community arts suffer from real or perceived elitism?

Mr J Campbell:

The answer to both questions is that Creative Connections is the Arts Council’s stated five-year policy. It is there in black and white, and it is a very socially-minded document. Therefore, yes, I think that the council should do that, but I do not know whether it does. I do not speak for the council and I am not going to denigrate it. I hope that that answers the question. I believe that there should be a greater emphasis on community arts, purely because it addresses the Arts Council’s remit.

Mr Green:

Last year we got £37,000 from the Arts Council, for which we are very grateful. It was not as much as we asked for or would have liked. The reality is that the money went towards running programmes and paying part of a salary. Is it enough? I do not believe so.

We were funded by the Department for Social Development. The letter that I got when it cut funding to us for the other four posts that we were running stated that it should be part of DCAL’s remit. DCAL told the Arts Council that it was in its remit under its funding programmes; therefore, we applied for core funding under ASOP.

Our feedback from the Arts Council was that our project was very good and the council was happy to work with us and had supported us for a number of years, but that it had a finite budget and had an established client list and had too little money in the pot. The Arts Council acknowledged that per capita the North of Ireland was less well funded than other areas.

There needs to be a stream, either through the Arts Council or directly through DCAL, to fund community arts and to identify its values. Community arts helps community regeneration and brings economic benefits through the potential for creative industries.

Mr McNarry:

You seem to be saying that £14 million is at your doorstep. I do not know whether the projects that are being funded there are elite, and I do not want to put you on the spot unless you can answer the question. However, is elitism making community arts second class?

Mr Green:

The simple answer is yes. We understand and recognise the value of the Ulster Orchestra and the many great centres that receive funding. It is aspirational for every young person that comes through our door. I would love to see some wee fellow from Galliagh playing in the Ulster Orchestra, but how is he going to get there?

The Chairperson:

Thank you for helping our understanding and contributing to the inquiry. Thanks very much.

Mr J Campbell:

Thanks very much for the opportunity.

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