Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 26 February 2009

Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts in Northern Ireland

26 February 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Mr Nick Livingston )
Ms Roisín McDonough ) Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Ms Lorraine McDowell )
Ms Nóirín McKinney )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

Good morning. I welcome Ms Roisín McDonough, Ms Nóirín McKinney, Ms Lorraine McDowell and Mr Nick Livingston from the Arts Council. The Committee is grateful for your early submission, Roisín. Thank you for accommodating us in the way that you have done.

Ms Roisín McDonough (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

My senior team is with me this morning. Mr Nick Livingston is the council’s director of strategic development; Ms Lorraine McDowell is our director of operations; and Ms Nóirín McKinney is the council’s director of arts development. We will all make a contribution in the course of our presentation.

I thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee. We spent considerable time pulling together as much evidence as we could in answer to the Committee’s questions. That is still a work in progress, and we are happy to return in future if there are any further issues or questions that we can help members with. Nóirín McKinney will address points 1 and 2 of the terms of reference for the Committees inquiry.

Ms Nóirín McKinney (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

The Committee will be aware that Northern Ireland is still renowned for having the lowest per capita spend on the arts in the UK and Ireland. That, of course, has had a direct impact on artists and arts organisations here. For example, we have just made decisions on the 129 applications that we received under the Annual Support for Organisations Programme (ASOP). The total value of those applications was £13·5 million, but the funding budget that was available was £10·1 million. The paper that we submitted to the Committee sets out in more detail the gap between the need for funding and the money that has been available from the Arts Council over the past number of years. That is still a critical problem.

It is difficult to directly compare spending on the arts in many European countries and regions with that of the UK. That is because of different systems of support for creative and cultural life and the way in which they are defined in different countries and, even, in different regions of the UK. The ranges of legal structures and cultural policies that exist also have an effect. We have set out the arts spending per capita in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, because those figures can be more easily and readily compared.

There are other innovative sources of funding. To put the issue in context, we felt that it was important to set out the current sources of funding. We have included a list that members will be familiar with. The Arts Council is the primary funding source for Government expenditure on the arts, followed by the other Departments, and, obviously, local authorities. Box office income through ticket sales and merchandising is another main source of funding, particularly for performing arts organisations. Many such organisations run membership schemes, patronage schemes and fund-raising events. However, those sources of funding, by their very nature, are transient or short-term, and cannot replace core funding.

Given the cocktail of funding that makes up the arts sector in Northern Ireland, it is difficult for organisations to offer full-time or part-time positions, and the sector relies very heavily on voluntary support, which is another source of invisible subsidy. Arts organisations have reported that almost 2,400 individuals work in a voluntary capacity in both formal and informal roles. That is critical to and has a huge impact on the sector.

There are risks to current funding. The Department of Education and the Department for Social Development (DSD) are reviewing policies. That will probably have a negative impact on arts funding. Members will be aware that the Department of Education funds the Creative Youth Partnerships (CPY), and we recently received confirmation that that funding will continue for another year.

Mr McCarthy:

That is good news. That group visited the Committee recently and was concerned about the funding.

The Chairperson:

Will the Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) fund the Creative Youth Partnerships?

Ms McKinney:

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s money is ring-fenced, but we were awaiting a steer from the Department of Education on its future position. That Department will provide £50,000. However, there is less good news, because it is reviewing its community relations policy through which the Arts Council receives — and has done for a number of years — over £200,000. We have used that money to fund much of the traditional arts sector, because it is under their Cultural Traditions programme. We are still awaiting the news that that funding is likely to be reduced substantially. That has had a negative impact on our overall funds for 2009-2010.

DSD’s review of the neighbourhood action plan might cause organisations such as the Greater Shantallow Community Arts to lose vital finances. Again, given that it is such a fragile ecosystem, all those small amounts of money can have a negative impact, and many of those organisations have asked us to replace that funding. We are simply unable to do so. Local government has experienced unprecedented financial pressure, and we are aware that Belfast City Council, for example, has to review whether it is able to organise large-scale cultural events in the city. It will be disappointing if the council has to cancel popular events such as Opera in the Park. The recession might impact on box office receipts and the levels of discretionary spend by the public. We are waiting to see what impact the recession will have on the arts.

Furthermore, under the review of public administration (RPA), we will work closely with local authorities to maximise the transferred amount of funding for the arts and to ensure that, when the money transfers, it is ring-fenced for the arts and does not become lost in general provision. We have much work to do in order to address those pressures.

Sponsorship is important. Our submission outlines the Arts and Business definition of sponsorship. Importantly, Arts and Business conducts an annual survey on private investment in the cultural sector (PICS), which revealed that the arts accounts for 18% of the UK’s total sponsorship market. In 2007-08, Northern Ireland received 1·2% — £8·5 million, which includes in-kind support, from the UK private investment total of £687 million. Therefore, those are small amounts of money.

The £8·5 million comprises investment of £3·9 million from business, £2·2 million from individuals and £2·3 million from trusts and foundations. Funding is, unfortunately, on the decline, and business investment has decreased by 8·9% since 2006-07. Business investment accounts for 47% of the total private investment in Northern Ireland. The business sector is, therefore, extremely important.

It must be remembered that the small-scale level of private enterprise in Northern Ireland has limited the number of companies and businesses that can be approached for sponsorship deals. Large-scale corporations, or their headquarters, simply do not exist in Northern Ireland, and that too has a negative impact. The Arts and Business PICS survey does not cover only the arts; it covers the entire cultural sector, including museums and heritage. Therefore, that figure is diluted even more.

We gave the Committee our survey of the arts organisations that we fund directly. We gathered the figures on how much sponsorship they are able to raise, which further refines the information for the Committee. Our submission illustrates that, in 2006-07, sponsorship of our revenue clients was only £1 million, which is approximately 4% of their total income, and the top 10 of our funded clients received £436,000 of that amount, which is about 40% of the total.

Since the publication of that data, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s secured a major sponsorship deal with the Ulster Bank for a three-year period, and the Committee will be aware that the Lyric Theatre secured an individual donation of £1 million for its new theatre. Those are fantastic examples but, in a Northern Ireland context, they are exceptional.

Philanthropy in Ireland has been increasing, as the press coverage shows, and the figures suggest that there may be as many as 100,000 millionaires. Although the overwhelming trend is that individuals with high net worth are willing to fund the arts, they will not do so to the same extent as they fund other sectors. The arts sector is low on their list of priorities.

Trust foundations and charitable giving play their part: the Paul Hamlyn Foundation; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; and schemes such as Comic Relief and Children in Need are vital to the arts. However, the funding opportunities that those organisations choose are often project-based and time bound, and they simply cannot guarantee the long-term sustainability of arts organisations.

Published in December 2008, the report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, ‘Managing in a Downturn’ contains breaking news on the effect of the recession and highlights the widespread concern that most sources of income will remain at best static and that income from trusts, corporate foundations, and legacies in particular, will decrease. As might be expected, there is no good news in that report.

EU structural funding has been important to the arts in Northern Ireland, but the revised rules place priority on supporting countries that have, or will, become EU members from 2004 onwards. Therefore, the UK is no longer a priority for EU funding.

Gift aid is the key element of tax-efficient charitable giving in the UK, but there is little information on what percentage of that goes directly to benefit the arts. We do not, unfortunately, have that information.

We have studied some models of innovative approaches to funding. For example, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has diverse income streams. Its earned income is 40%, its endowment income is 40% and fund-raising accounts for between 10% and 15%. The museum focuses on exploiting its assets, which, in its case, are considerable, and does what is known as “sweating the asset” to the maximum.

The context in Northern Ireland is different; wonderful, extraordinary collections are available in the UK. Endowments in the USA will suffer because of the recession, and I heard only yesterday that Harvard University’s endowment, which is vast, has decreased by approximately 33%. We often regard with envy the funding of arts in the United States, but that decrease will have a big impact.

The move towards social enterprise, as opposed to charitable enterprise, is more relevant here. The creative industries sector operates with a very different model and focus, and, even though it is more entrepreneurial, it still cannot exist without public subsidy. The Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast is a very good example of a social enterprise organisation, but it obviously required Government funding to help set it up.

A number of the clients that the Arts Council supports have established a trading wing. Such examples include the Belfast Print Workshop and the Belfast Community Circus. They fully exploit the services that they provide to the community and can charge for those services. Other opportunities are seized by arts organisations, and they tend to be very imaginative; for example, through accessing vacant and derated commercial premises. Again, it is important to point out that those are short-term solutions to longer-term problems.

Mr Nick Livingston (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

The third item in the inquiry’s terms of reference is:

“To carry out a stocktake of the research which has been carried out to date, regarding the measurement of the economic and social benefits of investing in the arts.”

I congratulate the Committee for taking on such an ambitious task, because those objectives are very challenging. The arena is complex and, in the 20 years or more that I have been following the issue, there has been a substantial growth in the level of information that emanates from that.

Literature that primarily emanates from an advocacy perspective has been hotly disputed — often by cultural economists — for a variety of reasons, not least because the basis upon which the intervention was made was not always clear. For example, it is not always clear how the problem of time lag will be dealt with, how there is clear correlation and how we can attribute some of the findings in the studies to the claimed changes.

Looking at the scene across different jurisdictions, at times one will read such literature and almost think that it is a distraction from the underlying reasons why the public fund the arts in the first place — public value and the benefit that emanates from them.

Therefore, there are both theoretical and practical problems that are linked to that aspect of the terms of reference. I want to put it on record that there is a dearth of dedicated impact literature in that area in Northern Ireland. That is partly because we in Arts Council have been bounded and cautious about the extent of our claims, and I have highlighted some of the problems related to that, but also because we have preferred to capture evidence from the evaluation of our own funding and projects and the impact that they have had.

The Committee knows that there are many ways in which participation in the arts has brought improvements to quality of life and social cohesion. It has also helped to develop community relations and foster local identity. Therefore, in the portfolio, we have assembled a list of areas that the Committee might like to consider. Those areas are listed in section 3 of the submission.

We are aware of the increasing importance of the creative industries, which are increasingly being seen as part of a modern knowledge-based economy. There have been a number of landmark studies on the issue by Robert Cushing, Robert Solow of MIT and David Romer of Stanford University. Perhaps the best known one is ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’ by Richard Florida. Those studies have tried to develop theories and metrics on the issue. However, I cannot compress all those studies for the purposes of today’s discussion, so I will lift some key points from them.

First, the creative economy helps to reshape our thinking about the economic dynamic. Secondly, the relationship between the most successful cities and regions often attributes importance to drivers that rank talent and creativity highly. Thirdly, regions that attract investment often do so, not from a low-cost base, but because of the amenity of the place and the benefits that it brings.

The other point that I want to address is about how the creative industries have expanded to other areas such as film, advertising, production, branding and other forms of commercial manifestation.

These have presented all sorts of development opportunities for people working in the arts-sector organisations that we have funded. In recent years, we have seen those opportunities, and the demand for them, grow. Specialist centres in art, design, fashion and communication industries are now prominent throughout the UK.

An estimated 3,500 people are employed in the creative industries in Northern Ireland, which represents about 4% of the work force. Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK, not least because it cannot be disassociated with historically low levels of public investment in the arts.

I turn now to employment in our sector and its footprint. Our organisations report to us through the review of regularly funded organisations. In 2006-07, the 147 organisations that completed the return accounted for some 3,128 individuals; of those, some 2,300 were artistic staff. That is a combination of those working in a full- and part-time capacity. Volunteering is an important element in a sector that is in many ways under-funded as well.

I will touch briefly on our capital programme, the details of which are set out in members’ papers. We have been able to encourage the development of 13 cultural buildings in Northern Ireland; they are now established landmarks that play a prominent part in the communities in which they are located. They are not situated solely in the main conurbation of Belfast; three quarters of awards were made outside Belfast.

The arts have helped to establish Northern Ireland as a tourist destination, brought distinctiveness to the tourism product and helped to shape consumer perceptions about Northern Ireland. Vibrant local arts festivals offer year-round programmes, and I have mentioned a few of those by way of illustration.

Sending artists abroad reaps much wider benefits and projects a much more vibrant image of Northern Ireland. Projects such as the Venice Biennale, the South by Southwest and Smithsonian festivals have raised the profile of arts from Northern Ireland; they have also attracted significant interest in Northern Ireland as a tourist destination.

Regarding children and young people, we touched briefly on skills and employability. That is a key area that the Committee will want to turn to, and we have set out some salient points about Creative Youth Partnerships and the equivalent programme in England.

Moving briefly to the social benefits, there are some high-level impacts on healthcare, such as the Dreams Project and the work of the Arts Care initiative. We know that the Committee is particularly interested in regeneration. We have mentioned the large capital programme and the benefits that have attached to it: Armagh, for example, attracts several specialist programme activities, such as the John Hewitt summer school. Those activities are not located just in the main conurbations and cities; many transforming benefits have happened in small and rural communities.

The Arts Council takes its obligations on equality and inclusion under relevant legislation very seriously. It has introduced a premium payment programme, and I have explained some of the benefits of that. Many of the organisations that we fund offer rich examples of work that they undertake with people who have disabilities.

We will return to the Re-imaging Communities programme shortly. There are also projects which have been directed solely at ethnic minority groups.

Ms McDonough:

The reality of artistic practice over the past 20 years or so has meant that the distinctions between the different branches of the arts, including community and professional arts, have lost much of their definition and significance. They are much more fluid. Many practitioners would no longer recognise themselves as belonging to fixed categories of artistic practice.

Page 23 of our submissions lists a range of artistic activity. It is a fragile, hugely interconnected eco-system; therefore, a small loss in one sphere can have disproportionate consequences. We believe that it is the role of an Arts Council to support the pursuit of excellence and the integrity of artistic practice.

We have provided the Committee with a list of the programmes that we run, and with a graph showing the value of grants awarded and the pattern of distribution. The graph of “combined arts” on page 25 includes festivals, venues and cross-artform activity; therefore, although it may look as though combined arts has received a great deal, that figure denotes funding in all those areas. The graph was laid out in that format because all the Arts Councils in these islands have agreed a common classification system for the purposes of establishing, as best as possible, comparability.

Community-based arts activity runs as a golden thread through each of the classified art-form areas. I know that the Committee is particularly interested in community arts and arts based in the community; therefore, we have endeavoured to give you a pattern of the spatial distribution of funding in that area. You will want to know, I am sure, why community funding was so high in 2004-05 but greatly reduced in 2005-06. That is not because we reduced our funding to community organisations; rather when we award a three-year grant, it is denoted on the graph in the year in which it is awarded. However, as that grant runs for three years, it will give a slightly different picture.

The Arts Council is conscious of its obligation to target social need, and 56% of its funding goes to the 20% most deprived communities in Northern Ireland. We have amended all our application forms and scoring criteria to take into account the rural and urban split and delivery in disadvantaged communities.

Ms Lorraine McDowell (Arts Council of Northern Ireland):

There are several basic programmes addressing the areas that, historically, have been unable to access funding. Over the past few years, we have reduced the level of partnership funding that community groups must find to access funding. In many cases, the Arts Council funds between 90% and 100% of the cost, where previously it funded between 50% and 75%

The Awards for All programme has been running for several years; it is a joint scheme run by all the Lottery distributors. In the past five years, under that scheme, the Arts Council has given £2·7 million to groups, 59% of which have been outside the main areas of Belfast and Derry. As you may know, the Awards for All scheme is coming to an end, and the Arts Council recently launched its own small-grants programme, which will make its first awards at the beginning of April.

(The Deputy Chairperson [Mr McNarry] in the Chair)

Under the distribution of grants by the Awards for All programme, traditional arts do very well; for example, through the funding of local Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann (CCE) and other groups. Amateur drama groups and amateur music groups also do well out of that programme. Since 1995, we have awarded grants of £3·9 million to the marching-band sector, 91% of which was allocated outside Belfast and Derry.

The STart UP programme was originally funded by DSD under its renewing communities programme, whereby we had £100,000 for a one-year programme; through our officers we provided developmental support and 100% grant aid to local organisations.

DSD funding ceased. However, we have found a small budget from our 2009-2010 resources and intend to resume that funding to seed-fund small organisations, which could move on to other schemes.

The Art of Regeneration programme looked at positioning the arts at the centre of society and meeting some of Northern Ireland’s social challenges through the arts; key themes were the environment, good relations and antisocial behaviour. In total, we made 10 awards worth £2·4 million to local authorities, both working together as networks, but also with a diverse range of delivery partners, ranging from traditional music schools to community safety partnerships and tenants’ associations.

Re-imaging was one of the main programmes that Nick referred to earlier. It is a good example of interdepartmental and interagency working, with funding from the Department for Social Development, the International Fund for Ireland, the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, and the Housing Executive. Re-imaging considered and addressed neighbourhood renewal areas, anti-sectarian and racist strategies.

Page 35 shows where the money has gone. We have supported 112 projects to date: 57 situated in predominantly Protestant areas, 20 in predominately Catholic areas, and 35 in areas that could not be classed as single identity. The effect of that programme is that there is now a great deal of work available throughout Northern Ireland, which can be seen in various areas — 49 of the programmes are in housing estates, 15 are on arterial routes, six are on main thoroughfares and 12 are on interface areas. Its effect has been substantial; we are proud of the programme and would like to see it continue. We are making efforts to secure funds to continue it beyond 2009-2010.

Ms McDonough:

As regards question 5, we are more than happy to support Research and Library Services in getting that kind of analysis to the Committee. We are pledged to play our part.

Finally, there will be a couple of sentences on question 6.

Ms McKinney:

We have tabled a new page 37 because the figures were wrong in the document, for which I apologise.

Question 6 focuses on whether respective art forms receive adequate funding. We have been holding independent reviews of each art form. The Committee will be aware that we made a presentation on the needs of the drama sector, and, soon after, we followed that with a review of dance, which has been published and is being implemented. We are out in the field doing visual arts and opera, and those are due to report, through council, by June 2009. We are looking at all those needs.

In the recent past, we looked at architecture and craft. There are some areas in which we feel that we do not need to undertake a root-and-branch review, because the sectors are doing relatively well and we are aware of their needs. However, continuing that programme of work across other areas will depend on available funds.

We have set out how well we have been able to meet the requested amounts of funds from each sector through our schemes. However, the whole sector is underfunded, and that is a critical problem across all the art-form areas. Some of the programmes that we mentioned earlier, which are coming to an end — EU and DSD programmes — are having a negative impact. The funding that we give, which is reflected in the table, does not describe all the developmental needs of those organisations and the potential to grow those sectors by any means. It is a hand-to-mouth existence. The areas of artistic quality, marketing and promotion, and education and outreach are just ripe for development, but we do not have the funds to do that.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Thank you very much for your presentation; there is much to digest. Those who have digested it fully will ask questions.

Mr P Ramsey:

Róisín, you are very welcome. The Assembly has an accelerated-passage procedure; you gave an accelerated presentation. You did very well, given the context and the breadth of material covered.

You must have been busy bees in your office. I take your point about the Re-imaging Communities Programme, and we all recognise that there is such a thing as cultural poverty. The Arts Council creates the capacity for confidence in communities; however, there is not enough money to go round.

We talk about the needs of the various Departments and particularly those of the voluntary sector in regard to the cocktail of funding available. Have other regions developed models of practice to mainstream the arts sector and make it easier to access funding? I imagine that the job of co-ordinating funding for the arts — let alone creating an interest in them among young people — is the main problem.

Is the Arts Council aware of any innovative approaches that have been used in other countries and regions for generating income for the arts, beyond central Government and lottery funding? Are there any best practice models? Are you aware of any other models or principles for the allocation of funding that overarch the two arts councils on the island?

It took a long time even to prepare the original brief, but the more we examined this issue, the more we wondered whether we were wise to do what we were doing, given that the VALCAL report failed because it could not find qualitative evidence. Can we get the evidence? We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we are mindful of the contribution that culture, arts and leisure make to communities.

Ms McDonough:

I am willing to have a stab at answering those questions.

The Deputy Chairperson:

There is no stabbing here. [Laughter.]

Ms McDonough:

Other European countries have different funding models. For example, many countries, instead of having arm’s-length bodies, have ministries of culture that directly fund museums and heritage organisations and perhaps national companies. However, those ministries tend not to fund the independent arts sector, including the community and voluntary sectors. Therefore, it is difficult to draw comparisons with other European countries. That is my first point.

We are happy to play whatever part we can and to conduct an international literature review of the different types of funding that are available in Europe. Indeed, we have already endeavoured to give you a hint of what it is like in America, where public subsidy for the arts is anything between 5%, 10% or 15%. That money is raised through income tax, endowments, and high-net-worth individuals. If one sits on a board for the arts in America, one is expected to make a direct financial contribution.

We do not have such a system here; we do not have the capacity to generate such funding. As I said, we are happy to work to support Library and Research Services and to conduct the international literature search on the different models of funding. We meet other arts councils regularly to exchange information; we also have joint funding schemes on aspects of our programming. Essentially, all the arts councils have the same characteristics, because they were born out of the same post-Keynesian model that said that the arts require public subsidy.

Of course, we always encourage our arts organisations to diversify their income streams as best as possible. Nóirín already described endeavours in that regard. We are very grateful for the money that we received for the creative industries; I am sure that you heard the Minister announce that we are processing 340 applications. Even the creative industries, which have a more entrepreneurial dimension, need public subsidy to grow from a micro-business to a standard small or medium-sized business.

It is a complex and difficult matter. I do not know how to answer your question. I do not think that there are even one or two simple — or even complex — transferable models, because the context in which we operate is very different from that of countries outside these islands.

Mr P Ramsey:

We can consider models of best practice in Europe or America. Can we genuinely, and from a distance, measure the outcomes of the culture ministry in Budapest, for example?

Mr Livingston:

That would be very difficult; the analytical framework makes it difficult to make comparisons. Interventions and the policies that drive them might be different; even simple things such as time lag would have an effect. There might be a delay between an intervention occurring and the change that is attributed to it being recorded. I imagine that it would present difficulties.

Mr McCarthy:

You have given us a comprehensive presentation. According to your written submission, the Republic spends twice as much — and more — on the arts, and that seems to have been the case for some time. Does the border make such a difference between the psyche in the arts in the North and in the South to cause such a vast difference in funding?

Ms McDonough:

Yes.

Mr McCarthy:

How could we get the powers that be here to come up to the mark? The needs of the South are the same as ours.

Ms McDonough:

There are a couple of elements. First, the advent of the Celtic tiger, which, sadly, has gone, produced a society with increased wealth, ambition and aspiration. Culture was seen as a driver of the wider economy, and the investment that was made in arts and culture was regarded by successive Governments as a proud example of a mature and culturally confident society on a world stage. Michael D Higgins, a former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, developed a strong policy of support for the arts, which has continued for many years. The situation has altered, and the Arts Council in the Republic has been forced to reduce its budget and its support for arts organisations. Nevertheless, the disparity between North and South exists.

Mr McCarthy:

I remember Michael D Higgins; he was a high-profile character. Should we have someone like him to attract more funding?

Ms McDonough:

As Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, he laid a strong foundation to build on.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Are you concerned, Kieran, that the Celtic tiger’s ceasing to roar will have a knock-on effect? Significant reductions are being made there, but will the loss of the buoyancy in the South’s arts sector be reflected here in that we do not need to compete with it as much?

Mr McCarthy:

Yes. It will affect us, because we are all in the same boat; we will have to cut our coat according to our cloth. It is disappointing that, in the twenty-first century, the arts are living from hand to mouth. Keep up the good work.

Ms McDonough:

Thank you.

(The Chairperson [Mr McElduff] in the Chair)

Mr K Robinson:

Thank you for your comprehensive presentation. Have you identified those communities that have historically received low levels of funding for the arts? When you allocate money for the arts, how do you take into account the need to engage with communities that have found it difficult to develop an arts infrastructure and access arts funding?

That question comes up again and again. Communities may approach their MLA and ask whether there is funding for an arts project that they wish to undertake. We may suggest the Arts Council; but community representatives’ reaction is often that they are not artistic and so should not approach you. I know that the Arts Council has amended its forms; however, community groups used to be daunted by enormous forms — not just from the Arts Council but from other bodies too. That frightened off many people.

Ms McDowell:

When identifying areas we consider the whole funding picture. We established the profile of our funding over a five-year period and asked ourselves whether any areas had missed out completely on funding. During the STart UP programme, we employed officers whose job it was to work in areas that had been identified as receiving low levels of funding. They worked with the community relations officers and local authority arts officers to identify groups that they could contact. You will see from the list of groups that we worked with that it does not necessarily reflect everyone’s perception of where the Arts Council’s money goes.

Our arts officers work constantly with organisations to identify groups that we have not funded before. I hope that our forms are not as horrendous as they once were; to some extent, we have standardised them. We have a group of officers and assistant officers who work face-to-face with organisations to help them to complete forms and to get them on the first rung of the funding ladder so that they can make progress.

Mr K Robinson:

Your officers go out and meet those groups, which is good since a hand-holding exercise is often required; one sees it in different facets of society. How do you hold the community’s hand through completing forms and helping them to know what to do with the funds that they might receive?

Ms McDowell:

We guide them through the process by talking to their committee, considering their strengths and weaknesses and helping them to identify people, apart from Arts Council officers, who can help them through the process. We offer help in governance, and we offer training in how to manage financial systems. We have people who study an organisation’s financial system, and they will suggest improvements if necessary. We also provide lists of artists who can help.

Mr K Robinson:

Page 23 of your submission states:

“a recent illustration of this finely balanced symbiosis”.

What exactly do you mean by that word?

Ms McDonough:

The arts sector hangs together. There is a “symbiotic” relationship; that is a medical term. The arts sector is a living organism.

Mr K Robinson:

Does it require surgery?

Ms McDonough:

To use a health analogy, we would like a radical cash injection.

Mr K Robinson:

Will the patient recover?

Ms McDonough:

The patient would be alive and well and very well developed.

The Chairperson:

I prefer “the synergy of two art forms” to “symbiosis”.

Lord Browne:

You referred to the community arts sector, but the professional arts sector is also important. How do you decide how much to distribute to each? Do you monitor the figures from the professional arts community?

Ms McDonough:

In our presentation, we endeavoured to show the diversity in artistic practice. Many who work in communities describe themselves as highly professional, and that is a view to which we also subscribe. Professional artists of a high calibre also work in various community contexts. There is a mixture of artistic practice and engagement in communities, as well as community arts organisations that are concerned as much with the process of engagement and how people access the arts as with the product achieved as a consequence of that or the performance that is staged.

Therefore, the diversity of practice is huge. If people look at many of our festivals, they will gain an appreciation of the spread that exists. Some people may have a certain perception about professional artists and professional arts organisations. In our presentation, we have tried to give a sense that they are actually delivering services and are being funded to do that work in communities. As I said, almost 60% of our funding goes to the 20% most deprived areas in Northern Ireland. We are very pleased with and proud of that record, because some people still have a lingering perception, which you referred to, that the arts are not for them.

Indeed, the very term “the arts” can be off-putting. When one engages with some people to describe what the arts might involve, it enables and facilitates them to access certain aspects that they previously did not necessarily consider to be part of “the arts”. They simply viewed them as something that they enjoy doing.

The Chairperson:

Recently, someone told me that I was not really a patron of the arts and that I just liked to have fun, as if the two were mutually exclusive.

Ms McDonough:

They are not incompatible, and we know that.

Mr McCartney:

I want to expand on that, not to make a criticism but to give a general viewpoint. Sometimes people say that there are community arts that are not necessarily community based. A lot of community arts exhibitions might take place at a city-centre venue, but some people might say that they feel distant from that. Do you have anything in place to bridge that gap?

In another Committee, we are looking at budgets and have invited groups to talk about that. Where do you see the main gaps in funding in the provision of the arts? Do you have an estimate of the minimum amount of funding that is needed to fill those gaps?

There is a sense that a lot of repeat funding is provided. Do you set any targets for certain groups to bring sustainability to a project to run alongside their reliance on funding so that they can be weaned off that reliance?

Ms McDonough:

Your first question was on the perceived gap between community arts based activities in a particular geographical community as opposed to those that other arts organisations might run for educational purposes and for reaching in to those communities. There is no easy answer to that question in that we believe that when arts organisations reach in and do work alongside local people in communities, it can sometimes stretch their experience of the arts. That is very important, as is their own artistic practice in their local communities.

There should always be a healthy mixture right across the artistic spectrum, because that is how people learn and engage. That can be very pleasurable and very stimulating. Over the past six or seven years, I have discerned a trend of change in the orientation of many arts organisations and a recognition that they need to go in and work in local communities. Education, outreach and access are not simply bolted on by organisations; they take that seriously, and we have encouraged them to do so for a long time.

We have provided some figures on the gap. We reckon that, in any one year, the funding gap is anywhere between £3 million and £4 million, depending on the range and type of programmes.

Our bid was outlined in our ‘Time for the Arts’ submission, and it was for core funding. We were not looking at the additional schemes, such as Creative Youth Partnerships and the many other hugely important programmes that we run, including Re-imaging Communities. I hope that we have shown that the picture has not altered since we made that bid. We have had a bit more money; however, most of our money was backloaded into the third year of the comprehensive spending review, because there are a number of new venues coming on stream and they will require additional support.

We are concerned, though, that we may lose some of the gains that we made, particularly in year three, and we want to work with the Committee to ensure that that money is not pulled back to the detriment of the arts, especially given the fact that we are in a very different and difficult economic climate.

Mr McCausland:

Thank you for your presentation. It raises a lot of questions and contains a lot of information, and it is very valuable.

You mentioned 13 major capital projects, and your submission lists some others, such as An Gaelaras, which was funded through the integrated development fund (IDF). Does that not fall within the 13 major capital projects?

Ms McDonough:

The Arts Council co-funded it.

Mr McCausland:

Was that included in the 13, or is it an extra one?

Ms McDowell:

Thirteen is the total.

Mr McCausland:

How much money do you have in your budget each year for capital works? Is it a single tranche?

Ms McDowell:

Capital projects were previously funded through Lottery money. That has dwindled, so we now have a capital line under ISNI II, which shows investment over the next 10 years. For 2009-2010, we have a budget of £2 million, which increases to £4 million over the life of the ISNI. That £2 million is split between a number of programmes. We fund equipment, we fund —

Mr McCausland:

Out of the £2 million?

Ms McDowell:

Yes. We have to find money for equipment, public art, musical instruments for bands, and construction. That is the basis of it.

Mr McCausland:

As regards construction, is it right to say that you are talking about quite a small amount?

Ms McDowell:

Yes, and we would profile it. Given that we have a guarantee that that £2 million increases to £4 million over the life of the ISNI, we will have to start profiling in future financial years.

Mr McCausland:

Are you already committed to all that?

Ms McDowell:

The programme is open at the moment.

Mr McCausland:

When does it close?

Ms McDowell:

Off the top of my head, it closes in about two weeks’ time. At that point, we will know what the initial demand on the funds will be.

Mr McCausland:

Is there is only one tranche each year.

Ms McDowell:

Yes.

Mr McCausland:

Developmental issues and the issue of under-representation in certain sectors have been discussed by the Committee on various occasions, and they almost go into the “too difficult” box at times. I understand the point of sending out outreach or development workers to work with groups. However, sometimes one tries to deal with people, but there is no one to engage with, because the group is run entirely by volunteers who have difficulty maintaining their own programmes, never mind having to consider how to extend them — just keeping the show going is difficult enough. Often, the difficulty for them is the competitive process of funding, as they are in against the big boys. There is a need to not merely have outreach schemes, but to address the structural and systemic issues that led to underdevelopment.

Why is there underdevelopment and under-representation in certain areas? Why do people just keep doing their own thing without engaging with the arts establishment? That is an issue in many Protestant and unionist communities in particular. I remember a Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure meeting from some time ago; Ms McDonough was there, and underdevelopment and under-representation were on the agenda. I set up a working group, which met twice and then disintegrated, because nobody else seemed to have any interest in the issue. I remember turning up for the last meeting and there was no one else there. They forgot to tell me that it had been cancelled. [Laughter.] I got a complex after that.

It is not enough to acknowledge that funding needs to be increased, it is imperative that it is spread more widely so that the under-represented communities avail themselves of it. How do you build that into your programmes?

Before I came here this morning, I was talking to a group that is made up entirely of volunteers. They have managed to obtain funding for the past five or six years, but the funds were cut this year. Every individual on the group is a volunteer; they run an excellent programme, and it requires huge commitment, but the ground has been cut from under them. Somebody suggested that they apply for Lottery funding, but they do not accept Lottery money. How do you deal with those issues?

Ms McDonough:

There are difficult issues, but I do not think that they are “too difficult”. It does not fall into that category. The only thing to do is painstakingly chip away at it. As you know, Nelson, we have been trying to support local individual organisations as well as trying to work with some of the developmental and support agencies. The Arts Council cannot do it all by itself. The arts may well be but one potential expression of a wider problem. We have a part to play, and we are doing that. When one looks at our spatial pattern of funding across Northern Ireland and at some of the programmes that we operate, one will see that they are taken up by the type of communities that you have described.

There is always more to be done, because there will always be somebody and some section of community that is vulnerable, marginalised or disadvantaged for a range of reasons. We need to continue to engage with them, and that is why we have introduced our premium payment. We are the only arts council that does that. Anyone who is disadvantaged by having to care for somebody, by rural access or by a disability, for instance, will receive a premium payment on top of the grant. That payment will facilitate their engagement. We are proud of that premium, and we have been paying it for the past five or six years. We have been commended for it by the Equality Commission; we take such issues seriously. They are difficult, but we will, painstakingly, keep going.

Mr McCausland:

Have systemic or structural ethos issues led to that lower level of development and engagement in some communities?

Ms McDonough:

I do not know whether I am equipped to answer that, but one does see greater degrees of disaffection or disengagement in some areas; that is a general problem. There are specific contours of it in Northern Ireland, but one will find people anywhere on these islands and beyond who feel remote from the institutions of the state and from the Government. That is how citizens are drifting away from engagement. Trust is important, as is the building of direct contact and engagement. We suffer from that in Northern Ireland as well.

Mr McCausland:

I am not thinking of communities that feel disengaged from Government or society, but from the arts world.

Ms McDonough:

I have endeavoured to provide responses to that. We will keep going, because that is the right thing to do.

Mr McCausland:

That is the right thing to do, but is there not a more fundamental issue? Should we look at whether there are systemic and structural ethos issues that work to deter — or which have the effect of deterring — those communities from engaging?

I will give you an example. Gary Mitchell is due to appear before the Committee some time in the near future. He has expressed very clear views about how certain cultural perspectives do not receive the same representation as others in drama, theatre and broadcasting. That is what I am talking about — the lack of role models. If someone from a Protestant/unionist background looks around their community, they cannot see playwrights and so on who come from their background and who openly say “that is my community” — in the way that Gary Mitchell does.

I clearly remember being at a conference held by Forum for Local Government and the Arts (FLGA) in Enniskillen. Some people’s jaws nearly hit the floor when they heard some of the things that Gary said that day. The matter raises a question that must be considered. Yes, the Arts Council is right to do the steady, plodding work, but that may not be sufficient to compensate for those other issues, which are much more structured and systemic. Do you see those as issues that need to be addressed?

Ms McDonough:

You mentioned Gary Mitchell, who is one of our well-known playwrights, and we are very pleased to have supported his work. As the Arts Council has supported him, from our perspective, the work is of value. He is an important playwright, and we have rightly supported him.

Mr McCausland:

Absolutely, but if I consider the world of playwrights, he is the only person that somebody from my community can look at and say, “Yeah, I can understand where that guy is coming from; he is from my community.”

Ms McDonough:

There are others; we are working with Jonathan Burgess.

Mr McCausland:

I am familiar with Jonathan’s work, and I meet him from time to time, but I think that he has experienced difficulties as well.

Ms McDonough:

The creation, development and support for talent is a complex process. We ring-fenced 20% of our individual artist awards so that they would be awarded to new and up-and-coming artists across all the art forms, including drama. As an arts council, it is important that we develop, nurture and grow new talent and that we have specific financial instruments that will help people to buy the time and space that they need to create their work. It is not always simply a case of those who are well known receiving repeat awards.

Mr Brolly:

I am tempted to ask whether you have a separate rate for Catholics and Protestants?

Ms McDonough:

No, we do not.

Mr McNarry:

I do not believe you. [Laughter.]

Ms McDonough:

The answer is a categorical no.

Mr Brolly:

You will not be surprised if I mention the Ulster Orchestra. It has half of the funding per head compared with that in the Twenty-six Counties, and we also have one-third of the heads, yet we are trying to maintain an orchestra that is probably quite expensive, and will probably be even more expensive in the next few years. Previously, I mentioned the possibility of having one orchestra, without diminishing what the orchestra offers, apart from concerts and servicing places such as Castleward and providing tutoring and coaching and so on. Given that most of the members of the orchestra are not from here at all — very few of them are locals — I would like to know what percentage of the Ulster Orchestra comes from anywhere near here.

Mr McNarry:

Where is “here”, just as a matter of interest?

Ms McDonough:

There are quite a few who live and work here.

Mr McNarry:

Which “here” are you talking about?

Mr Brolly:

Here, here. [Laughter.]

Mr McNarry:

Conor Murphy’s “here”?

Mr Brolly:

To finish asking my questions, fundamentally, are we getting value for money? Are there enough people participating or is the audience of a sufficient size to allow us to rationalise the funding? The table in your submission that details the amount of funding received from the Arts Council shows that the Ulster Orchestra gets the most. How much do we fund the Ulster Orchestra in comparison with the rest of the organisations in that column of the table?

The Chairperson:

Ken has a supplementary to that question.

Mr K Robinson:

Your presentation refers to impact studies and mentions that every £1 revenue subsidy that the Ulster Orchestra gets equates to a £1·90 attraction of funding. How does that equate to other regional orchestras — for example, in Scotland and Wales?

Ms McDonough:

I do not have those particular figures. As you know, there are four full-time professional orchestras in the Republic: the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra; the RTÉ Concert Orchestra; the Irish Chamber Orchestra; and one part-time “gigging” orchestra, Camerata Ireland, which operates on an all-island basis. There is also our own Ulster Orchestra.

The funding that is given through RTÉ is different. It is true that our own orchestra gets money from the BBC, but we are their principal funder. There are many issues surrounding that. The first is that each of the orchestras that I described has its own particular target group that it relates to. They all have different functions, so to compare them would not be comparing like with like, as each is distinct in what it does. The Ulster Orchestra employs 80 people and has a turnover of approximately £4 million.

I know that when people think of the orchestra, they tend to think of middle class and middle-aged or elderly people going along to a concert on a weekend, either in the Ulster Hall or the Waterfront Hall.

Mr McNarry:

That is not true — I go to them. [Laughter.]

Ms McDonough:

The orchestra is very conscious of that image. However, the Ulster Orchestra was able to provide me with an amazing list of work that it does outside of the concert confines. Concerts are but one aspect of its work. The work that the orchestra does is very impressive, but the fundamental question is whether Northern Ireland wants to have an orchestra. The fact is that it is not possible to tinker with an orchestra too much — if its membership goes below a certain number it is no longer viable. Therefore, the issue is not that the orchestra is bloated or over-funded by us. In fact, the orchestra really struggles. Our guidance to all arts organisations — although it seems a far-fetched fantasy — is that they should try to have six months reserves in their coffers, in order to withstand stormy weather. However, that is simply impossible.

Mr McNarry:

If they would form into a football team they could get their own stadium and get their own concerts, according to what we heard in our previous session.

Ms McDonough:

The other thing that I wanted to say is that players in the Ulster Orchestra are the lowest paid in the UK.

Mr Livingston:

If one considers the organisations that have generated income through a diverse range of other activities, such as sponsorship and trusts, it is clear that the Ulster Orchestra is the most enterprising in that category.

Mr P Ramsey:

My question does not need to be answered today. You talked about your budget being stretched, and we all know of the pressures on local authorities and DSD, as well as the pressures that have been created by the removal of labour-renewal moneys, peace moneys being more focused and the withdrawal of Lottery funding. Can you quantify the pressure that that is putting on the existing budget? Perhaps you can come back to the Committee on that at a later stage.

The Chairperson:

You can note that question for now.

Ms McDonough:

We will note that and come back to it. Thank you.

The Chairperson:

I thank Roisín, Nóirín, Lorraine and Nick for a very engaging session — they have started off our formal inquiry into the arts and they will be back, thank God, to hear more.

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