Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 26 March 2009

Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts in Northern Ireland

26 March 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 Will Chamberlain, Belfast Community Circus School
Ms Ali FitzGibbon, Young at Art
Mr Joe Kelly, Young at Art

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

We will hear from Belfast Community Circus School, so members should declare membership of district councils, or any body that funds arts organisations, such as an education and library board.`

Mr McCausland:

I am a member of Belfast City Council and a member of the Belfast Education and Library Board.

Mr Shannon:

I am a member of Ards Borough Council.

Lord Browne:

I am a member of Belfast City Council.

Mr McCarthy:

I am a member of Ards Borough Council.

Mr K Robinson:

I am a member of Newtownabbey Borough Council.

Mr P Ramsey:

I am a member of Derry City Council, and a director of the Millennium Forum Theatre.

Mr McCartney:

I saw the Festival of Fools, but I have no interests to declare. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

I am a member of Omagh District Council.

A copy of the written submission from Belfast Community Circus School is in the members’ information packs. I invite Mr Will Chamberlain, director of the Belfast Community Circus School, to join us. He will speak for 10 minutes, after which there will be an opportunity for questions. We will then hear from Young at Art.

Good morning, Will. You are very welcome. If you could make a 10-minute presentation.

Mr Will Chamberlain (Belfast Community Circus School):

This is, perhaps, not the most conventional presentation. I am going to ask the Committee to play a little game of ‘Let’s Pretend’. I am sure that you gentlemen do that all the time in various forms, but we will do a quick warm-up. I am aware that this might fall flat on its face. However, as a professional clown for 12 years, I am quite used to that, so I can cope.

The first scenario is 1985, and I am a street performer. Now, that is not ‘Let’s Pretend’, because I actually was a street performer in 1985. The Committee can choose its role: it can be a Government Department somewhere in the world, or a retro ‘Dragons’ Den’. I am coming to you as a street performer. I have had quite a good show on the road with a few friends. We then decided to do a tented tour and we lost about £50,000.

However, I am coming to you because I have an idea about how to make the show much bigger and better. All I need from you — in 1985 — is £500,000, and I will spend it wisely. It is now over to the Committee, as the Government Department or ‘Dragons’ Den’. Thumbs up or thumbs down, please?

The Chairperson:

Or a scrutiny Committee, even. We like to regard ourselves as a scrutiny Committee.

Mr Chamberlain:

I am asking you to ‘Let’s Pretend’ that you are a different Department. You are a direct funding body.

The Chairperson:

I have no difficulty with that, but I am going to pretend that I am part of a scrutiny Committee. [Laughter.]

Mr P Ramsey:

Could I suggest that you put your proposal in writing, and we will then go through it? [Laughter.]

Mr Chamberlain:

Those are good answers. You have, effectively, just squashed the birth of Cirque du Soleil, which now has a multi-billion-dollar-a-year turnover. The initial investment came from the Quebec Government to a street performer who had no significant track record. It is now a global operation.

The Chairperson:

How much do you want, Will? We will have to give it to you. [Laughter.]

Mr Chamberlain:

I should have said that you would have received 1% in return for your investment. That 1% is what Cirque du Soleil dispenses in charitable giving every year.

The second ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a little bit more complex. For this one, I am the CEO of a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) that specialises in ICT, and I have come to Invest NI. The Committee can choose to be the ‘Dragons’ Den’ if it prefers, because it is something that —

The Chairperson:

You are a CEO of an SME, and you are interested in ICT —

Mr Chamberlain:

No, I am not interested in ICT — it is our specialist area — [Laughter.] — and I am coming to you for an investment in an employment training programme that will deliver —

The Chairperson:

In ITP?

Mr Chamberlain:

I had not got that far. The programme will deliver employment to all the graduates, and within three years, at a conservative estimate, the investment in the training will be repaid in the tax take from the employees. Therefore, that is quite a safe bet. As Invest NI, you have invested numerous times in IT projects, but this is one with a difference, because it is about not so much the employment and the tax take, but the nature of product. We specialise in software development — educational software, gaming software and marketing software.

After the training programme is completed, all the graduates are employed and they will contribute to the economy of Northern Ireland in a number of ways. They will support tourism, because they will create mobile, interactive platforms in each local authority area, which will enhance visitor experience and contribute to the perception of Northern Ireland as tourist friendly.

Gaming is a big area these days, so the games created by our graduates will be played every year by 200,000 people in Northern Ireland. Within a few years, we will be exporting our graduates’ gaming expertise to Australia, America, Europe and, occasionally, to the Middle East. Quite an interesting proposition, I think, so far.

However, the graduates will also create the software that supports social networking, but with a difference, because this social networking program also promotes the physical engagement between young people in a totally safe environment. That engagement will also support community development, help young people to develop confidence, and promote tolerance and diversity. So, that is all quite good.

The final thing that our graduates will provide for Northern Ireland is innovative educational software that will provide youth work of the highest quality and deliver benefits through personal development with regard to life skills and creativity — and deliver on TSN (targeting social need). That, basically, is my pitch. I am asking for £125,000, and you can have a 100% stake. So, what do you think?

Mr K Robinson:

You did not refer to drunkenness in the Holylands as a benefit of this, I notice.

Mr Chamberlain:

We claim to deliver only what we deliver. We can deliver a programme that works with the young people in Botanic primary school at the top of Agincourt Avenue, where we did a project last week, but we cannot deliver to the students further down the road at the moment. With research, development and investment we can work on that.

So, why am I playing a game of ‘Let’s Pretend’? Obviously, I do not run a software company, but my organisation delivers all the benefits that I just outlined. We do not have mobile interactive programs for tourists — what we have are performers. I forgot to say that we enhance retail. We have performers who are brought in for their services from across Northern Ireland and beyond to enhance the experience of people who live in an area, to enhance other events in an area, to enhance visitor experience and, increasingly, to attract shoppers. The Committee will, no doubt, be delighted about, and aware of, the Belfast shopping festival — so, shopping is, officially, an activity that we can festivalise — to which we are being to contribute.

We contribute all the benefits that I outlined, but not through IT — through circus. I used this approach to demonstrate that the arts are not taken seriously, and, within the arts, the circus is still not taken seriously.

Yesterday, I was at a symposium organised by Belfast City Council — I know that the Committee Clerk was there — and it was a fantastic event. For me, it was very inspirational. Something that I learned there was that, with regard to skills, employers are looking for employees who are flexible and able to adapt. Those are the very life skills that the arts give people. For some reason, however, we are not shouting that from the rooftops.

The arts is the biggest-growing sector in the UK economy. Apparently, until late last year, financial services were No 1, but, for obvious reasons, that is not mentioned any more. The creative sector, therefore, is the biggest growth area, and yet, for the past four years, I have been trying to get funding for a training programme because demand has exceeded our ability to supply it.

The Chairperson:

To who have you made the funding application?

Mr Chamberlain:

I have not even made an application, Barry, because there is nowhere that I can apply. I have talked to the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL). I have talked to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Minister, Angela Smith, who was very helpful, but directed me towards DEL. I have approached the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Invest NI. I have put a proposal to the Finance Minister, who happens to be our local MP. There is no avenue for us, as far as I can determine. However, the last time that we secured funding through a one-off National Lottery programme, the result was a 1,000% increase in turnover in 10 years. Any business that can present such figures suggests that there is a strength to it, but we do not fit the right categories.

The Chairperson:

Well, allow us to ask you some questions.

Mr Shannon:

Thank you for your presentation and for the novel way in which you put it over. It does stimulate us all to start to think about what you have said. Obviously, one thing that you have tried to do is to target areas of social need, and you have tried to interact with community groups. I am disappointed, I have to say, that you have not been able to source funding, and perhaps that is really the issue. So, we are back, probably, to the Arts Council, and that is why this inquiry is taking place. Mine is probably an obvious question, but I am going to ask it anyway: do you think that the Arts Council should be helping to reach the community groups to target those areas of social need; and, for that reason, do you feel that the Arts Council is the body that should be helping you more?

Mr Chamberlain:

In answer to your first question, of course the Arts Council should be targeting social need as a priority. I feel that progress has been made over the past number of years — and I believe that I made that point in my written submission. When I first became involved with the Arts Council, it was more in an antagonistic way, demanding that community arts receive funding, and I think that that was even before the targeting of social need. The argument has now been made and community arts are now part of the family of what gets funded. I do not think, yet, that that runs sufficiently throughout every funded organisation. I think that, perhaps, the Arts Council could address that a little more. Some figures have been presented to the Committee on how much gets spent in super output areas by the Arts Council. I am unconvinced by those figures, which claim that 58% is in Belfast and 56% in Northern Ireland as a whole. I think that those figures need closer scrutiny.

Mr Shannon:

You have tried all the bodies — DCAL, DEL and so on — and you have, unfortunately, come up against obstacles and been unable to source funding. In my opinion, it seems to fall back on the Arts Council. Do you think that it should be trying to identify more sources of funding for you?

Mr Chamberlain:

Absolutely. It is rather sad that the Arts Council does not play a proactive role in identifying any funding outside its own remit. Sadly, we have probably missed a lot of boats in respect of European funding. Certainly, if one looks across at Gateshead and Newcastle, their cultural renaissance was brought about through a combination of the National Lottery and Government agencies linking in with European moneys; whereas, over here, we have, apparently, an expert on European funding in the Arts Council, but that has never seen results.

As regards the training programme that I would be proposing, it is other Government Departments as well that really need to stop looking at things with tunnel vision. There needs to be connectivity. What we are going to be contributing to Northern Ireland’s economy and society will meet the Department of Education’s objectives for youth work; the Department for Social Development’s objectives for community and capacity building; and tourism objectives. Therefore, responsibility should not fall to simply the Arts Council.

Unfortunately, as soon as the word “art” is mentioned, many other Departments simply say: “We can pass that particular buck: it goes there.” There is no proper collaboration on funding mechanisms. I have heard it described that when officials from four Departments are around a table, it is a case of “do not blink first”, because any suggestion of interest means that you are going to foot the whole bill. That mentality needs to change.

Mr Shannon:

That is great. Thank you.

The Chairperson:

If members do not mind, due to time restrictions I will ask Pat and Kieran to ask their questions together, followed by Nelson and Wallace, so that questions can be answered together.

Mr P Ramsey:

Will, you are very welcome. It is good to see you again. You refer somewhat to, I suppose, a more progressive approach that is taken by other European countries and regional Governments in securing European-based funding. Are there examples of that? You talked about the need of having the capacity or expertise because of the difficulty that is created by those funding programmes. Can you explain that further?

In your presentation, you talked about the higher value that is placed in Scotland, for example, in promoting that region as a powerhouse of the arts and a much stronger positive image. Is that through direct arts funding, or is it more of a tourism-related area?

Street theatre is, in many ways, a unique area of the arts, and your community-based circus is a unique and creative example of that. You also made the point, which is fundamental to our inquiry, that, as regards funding in other European countries, you have identified in your paper that there is a stronger relevance given to those with regard to the participation of young people and the creation of employment. Are there areas in Europe that we could examine with regard to the higher level of investment given to street theatre? Where do we go to see models of best practice?

My final point refers to a matter that we discussed earlier: that of showcasing some of our talent in Parliament Buildings. At some stage, some of your people could have an opportunity to come here to showcase their talent in whatever form that takes. Perhaps that could be arranged through the Committee staff.

Mr McCarthy:

In your submission, you referred to a perception that there is a ceiling on funding for community arts, which is far lower than for professional arts. Can you elaborate a little on that?

Mr Chamberlain:

I will deal with the latter question first. Although there is an understanding that community arts can be delivered with professionals, if you try asking for resources to give you professional-level production values, you would soon exhaust the community-arts budget.

There is an acceptance that art costs — quality art costs and high art costs. I choose those phrases because others use them, and I assume that you are familiar with them. However, there is also a sense that community art probably takes place in a community hall, tends to be cheaper and does not require as many professionals to be involved. Although excellent community art can be delivered at a low cost, we are not always given the opportunity to deliver excellent community art at the higher end of the cost range. In the past 12 years, there were probably only two examples of our sector being given such an opportunity, and, unfortunately, they were not great successes, but that is the nature of the arts. The arts should be about risk-taking, learning lessons from that and continuing to take risks.

I will relate to the Committee my experience of European funding. The Belfast Community Circus School is increasingly linked to Europe and has just made its first joint application under the Leonardo programme. For members who are not familiar with Leonardo, it is an educational, vocational training programme. It took seven European partners five days sitting around a table to agree the project and write the application, partly because it was a learning process for many of us who were involved, although we were fortunate that two people knew the system.

My point is that, in essence, applying for European funding will be complicated and complex and, without any support and guidance, scary. Speaking as someone who has spent half his professional life filling out grant application forms, filling out one’s first EU grant application — whether it is for Culture 2000, Leonardo or even Youth Action — is absolutely petrifying because, I know that when I did it, I had no idea of what it would feed into.

We need more support from the Government and not only from the Arts Council. There is an organisation based in Bedford Street — I can never remember what it is called — that is supposed to provide information and support and so forth, but I have been there and I found that the staff provide no help at all. We need someone with expertise to sit down with groups and explain how the application process works.

Our first EU collaboration with Aarhus in Denmark was on Culture 2000. That led to the Festival of Fools, but all the work for the initial collaboration was done by a unit of Aarhus City Council. That unit had been given a semi-autonomous role and a remit to support collaborative approaches in Europe. Nelson, I am not suggesting that Belfast City Council should make that its role model. My point is that the people in Aarhus applied their practical expertise. The Arts Council has a number of researchers; perhaps they could help by researching which bodies we can approach for help and signposting us to them.

There is a debate about how to free up resources from the Arts Council. I may be questioned about this suggestion later, but I want to raise it anyway. There is an enormous monitoring requirement on the Arts Council that is, in turn, passed on to its clients. A huge amount of human resources in the Arts Council and throughout the sector is devoted to meeting that requirement. Across the sector, one person could spend the equivalent of two years working on annual monitoring. That is only one aspect of what is required of the Arts Council, and it is a tremendous waste of time.

The investment in Scotland has been for both tourism and the arts, and a £450,000 marketing initiative for festivals there was announced this week. That will attract visitors but, importantly, it will also be an investment for the arts, because the more people who buy tickets for those festivals, the more funding the arts will receive.

In relation to street-theatre and circus models, if the Committee is going to look anywhere in the world, I would love it if it were to look at France or Spain. You might choose Spain because it has a slightly nicer climate, but the investment — both at municipal and Government level — is massive in both countries. A company called Royal de Luxe brought the Sultan’s Elephant to London in 2006 — that is a massive structure and I advise Committee members to look it up on Google as it is phenomenal. The cost of that company’s productions alone runs to millions of pounds, which equates to the entire budget for circus and street theatre in the UK for several years.

Mr McCausland:

I have two questions, the first of which deals with an area that other members may touch on in their questions. In relation to funding, you have stated that there should be a clean-sheet approach each year; how do you reconcile that with the aspiration for more three-year funding?

My second question — and I am aware that in the past you were the chairman of the Community Arts Forum and I asked you the same question some years ago — is that, if you view street and circus theatre as community arts, what is your definition of community arts?

Lord Browne:

I am a member of Belfast City Council, and I appreciate the work that you carry out as it brings a great sense of well-being to the city centre. In relation to funding, you have stated that your organisation receives £147,500 a year, yet on page three of your report you state that it receives £190,000 a year — will you clarify that? Secondly, will you give the Committee a breakdown of the contributions that your organisation receives from the public and private sectors? I understand that the Festival of Fools received money from Victoria Square.

Thirdly, I remember giving a rather boring and mundane speech on a stage in front of the City Hall, and what I would describe as an Oxo cube with a head poking out of it came by and made a lot of gestures at me. That improved both the speech and the atmosphere. [Laughter.] I have never seen it again — is that act still in your circus? I would like to see it again.

Mr McNarry:

What did you do with the costume, Barry?

Mr McCartney:

Perhaps you could bring it up here the odd morning. [Laughter.]

Mr Chamberlain:

I will answer the last question first. I think you may be referring to Maynard Flip Flap, Man in a Box. You will be delighted to hear that although he is based in England, he will be returning for this year’s Festival of Fools, which is sponsored, as you correctly said, by Victoria Square. Therefore, I can answer at least one question positively.

Going back to Nelson’s questions, he is quite right that there is an apparent contradiction in the suggested clean-sheet approach and the request for three- or five-year funding. Perhaps I should have thought through and expressed that point more clearly. Essentially, it is about the point at which funding decisions are taken. So, if you decide to take a three-year approach, then you will review the last three years. It is something that you can get very badly wrong. You have to acknowledge that certain organisations will go through periods of change involving, for instance, staff changes or restructuring. I am not for one moment suggesting that such organisations should be penalised for that, provided that they have a strong business plan and programme and it is clear that they are going to be delivering on that. However, I feel that, if not rewarded, inertia has certainly been allowed, and that has not necessarily been very healthy for the system.

I would not necessarily classify street theatre and circus as community arts. For me, community arts is about a process; that is, participation, the creativity of the individuals involved and their ownership of that process. An example of the community arts element of our work is when we work with young people.

Currently, we are working on a programme with the Lower Ormeau Residents’ Action Group (LORAG) and the Bridge Partnership, which are two different community groups that are coming together and taking ownership of that project. They took part in the St Patrick’s day parade a couple of weeks ago and are looking at creating a new name for themselves that is not specific to either community. They are shaping the direction of that project.

We are fortunate enough to have two years’ worth of funding from Children in Need that we can devote to that programme. The young people involved in it can input into the content of sessions as well as the devising of any shows or presentations. By and large, street theatre involves professionals delivering what is the ultimately accessible art form, but that process is more of a professional development than is the case with community arts.

Mr McCausland:

Do you regard a band as being a community arts project? A band is under the ownership of its members, who determine the process and virtually everything to do with it — it is totally democratic.

Mr Chamberlain:

The one area where a band does not necessarily tick the box is with regard to authorship. Generally, bands play other people’s music but, for me, the community arts movement is about having authentic, original expression from its participants. I am not knocking bands, because their function is to play music that is put in front of them. However, I would say that bands come under the category of music rather than community arts.

Mr McCausland:

Are you saying that something is not community arts unless there is creativity or something new?

Mr Chamberlain:

Yes; that is my working definition of it.

The Chairperson:

There should be an element of personal interpretation.

Mr Chamberlain:

The annual support for organisations that we get amounts to £147,500; that is our core funding from the Arts Council. The figure of £190,000 refers to the previous year and was the totality of the Annual Support for Organisations Programme (ASOP) funding — which in that year was £87,900 — as well as funding from a variety of lottery funds.

One of the reasons that our money went up quite dramatically last year was because long-term lottery funding disappeared and jeopardised our youth circus. As regards long-term funding, I am in a ridiculous situation with the Festival of Fools. We have £13,700 funding for next year for some staffing costs, but everything else is short term. If I apply for lottery funding this month, I will find out in September whether we have money for next year’s festival, and that is the longest-term funding that I can get. That would provide 50% of the necessary funding; the other 50% will come any time up to five weeks before the festival.

Apparently, we are in receipt of an allocation from the DCAL events growth fund, but I do not yet know what that is supposed to be spent on. I fear that we will not be able to spend that grant, because some of it will be for out-of-state marketing that we cannot book and produce in time for the festival. There are so many examples of when funding bodies have failed to understand that, if an organisation’s event or activity takes place at the beginning of the financial year, that organisation will not have time to use the money that it has been allocated.

Mr K Robinson:

Will, I notice that you were a member of the Arts Council — perhaps there is an element of poacher-turned-gamekeeper to your submission. You stated that the Arts Council operates a system that rarely admits new organisations, even if their merit outweighs that of organisations that are already being funded. Can you provide a specific example of that?

Mr Chamberlain:

In the past, there was an organisation that was not admitted even though it had scored higher than a number of the organisations that were already being funded. That happened because admitting that new organisation would have meant pushing another organisation out the exit door. There was not a case to say that any of the other organisations had failed to deliver and, therefore, a tough choice had to be made. Tough choices are not being made very often; it is easier to continue with the status quo.

Mr K Robinson:

Is it a case of people not wanting to disrupt the cosy club system?

Mr Chamberlain:

It happens as a result of the fact that, historically, the arts has been under funded. The Arts Council indicated that applications worth £13 million were made for the £10 million of funding that is available. I suspect that the demand figure is probably closer to £17 million. Every year, clients are told that there is no more money in the pot and that they should not bother applying for more. Those people then decide to forget ambitious expansion programmes and simply apply for the same amount that they received in the previous year.

The fundamental problem is that there is not enough money in the system. I was amazed when the Festival of Fools received core funding of £13,000 this year. I thought that no new organisations would be admitted, but I believe that one organisation is out the door this year. Over the years, there has not been a massive change in how much and for how long organisations have been funded.

Mr K Robinson:

Are we not, therefore, cosseting people into the grant culture? Rather than organisations relying on getting an annual grant, should they not be taking a more sustainable, long-term approach?

Mr Chamberlain:

The arts will never be sustainable without a public subsidy. We work tirelessly to create a mix of incomes. Apologies; I did not answer the earlier question regarding our organisation’s mix of public- and private-sector funding. Some 40% of our money comes from the private sector in the form of sales and sponsorship, and 60% of our funding comes from the public sector. We deliver excellent value for that 60%; indeed, we should get more money because we work on a shoestring budget, and I could do with having an evening to myself every now and then. The reality is that the public sector will always fund the arts. We have seen an increase in the demand for the arts from the general public.

Mr K Robinson:

Other sections of the arts fraternity have told us that they will give a return of £1·50 or £4 for every £1 that is invested in their organisation. What return could you give on a £1 investment?

Mr Chamberlain:

Such financial indicators and multiplier effects are crude, because they only measure the narrow economic impact. We have surveyed the audiences at the Festival of Fools since it began, and we believe that we deliver a return of about £13 on every £1 that is invested by the public sector.

The Chairperson:

Will, thank you very much for your submission and for taking part in the question-and-answer session.

Mr Chamberlain:

I will finish by saying: do not stop pretending.

Mr McCartney:

We make a living out of it. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

Before we move on to the next evidence session, I understand that both Pat Ramsey and Ken Robinson must leave — thank you both for attending this morning.

The next evidence session is with Young at Art. I welcome Joe Kelly and Ali FitzGibbon — chairman and director of Young at Art respectively — to the Committee. I apologise for keeping you both waiting — the previous witness, Will Chamberlain, had the Committee involved in a game of let’s pretend. [Laughter.] I would like this session to be based on reality, if possible. I will hand over immediately to Joe and Ali to make a ten-minute presentation, which will be followed by questions from members.

Mr Joe Kelly (Young at Art):

Mr Chairman and members of the Committee, I thank you for your invitation to submit oral evidence to this inquiry. My colleague Ali and I will both make introductory remarks.

In building a successful future for the arts in Northern Ireland, Young at Art recognises the central role of this Committee and our devolved Administration in making the right decisions for building and sustaining a thriving arts and cultural industry. The future success of the sector is dependent on the leadership of the Arts Council, a strengthened role for local Government and the effective work of DCAL and other Departments in recognising and supporting the work of our artists and our arts and cultural organisations.

The 2007 Keep our Arts Alive campaign — which was supported by this Committee — highlighted the need for improved funding for the sector. The primary rationale for increasing the per capita spend on the arts must be to provide adequate and sustained support to achieve the long-term goals of quality, engagement, accessibility and benefit for our society and communities. It must also establish Northern Ireland as a leading international example of high-quality arts practice and cultural enterprise.

Northern Ireland has a creative workforce of 37,000 people. The arts is one of the fastest-growing sectors in our regional and national economies, accounting for 8% of GDP. The Assembly’s Programme for Government has set a target of 15% growth in the creative industries by 2014. The arts is the core of the creative and cultural industries sector, as well as being the engine that drives it. Growth and economic success in the creative industries are dependent on a sustainable and thriving arts sector where skills are learnt and developed, and where creativity and entrepreneurship are nurtured.

Another key growth area of our economy is tourism, and at the heart of that is cultural tourism, which is increasing internationally, at a rate of 15% per annum. Importantly, the arts is a core provider of our cultural tourism offer, by telling our unique story, expressing our cultural personalities and showcasing an exciting, contemporary Northern Ireland.

Arts organisations are just the same as any other businesses, and Young at Art is a small business. We take our legal and governance responsibilities seriously and are concerned about pay levels and staff working conditions. We must ensure organisational and business compliance across a range of legislation, and we must balance our books. The most significant difference between an arts organisation and a commercial business is that we do not take profits; we reinvest back into our society, our communities and our industry.

The historic reality of public funding for the arts largely prevents the sector from employing through pay scales, rewarding performance or contributing to pensions. That raises significant issues in retaining staff and skills in Northern Ireland, which in turn undermines sustainability and growth for individual organisations as well as the sector as a whole.

Our sector is dependent on subsidy, most essentially for our core overheads and activities. If a secure funding base for those costs could be provided, it would be possible to lever higher levels of additional funding and sponsorship.

Young at Art and the Belfast Children’s Festival illustrate how the arts reach across the Assembly’s Programme for Government and deliver on a range of priorities and targets. For example, in May 2008, a Young at Art programme at the Waterworks in north Belfast supported community regeneration, community cohesion in sharing public spaces and bringing communities together, volunteering, development of access and participation, reduction in antisocial behaviour and training and employment opportunities.

Most clearly marked are the educational benefits in schools and community groups, where children and young people demonstrate improved levels of confidence, improved thinking skills, enhanced motivation and the ability to learn independently. Those intrinsic benefits are dependent on being able to attract and retain high quality, professional artists and other personnel in Northern Ireland who can develop and maintain audiences and support community access and participation.

Northern Ireland is a small place, and leadership is important. Through the Assembly, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is the sector’s lead body, needs to be strengthened in its role to lead the development of the sector and to work with and support the industry in setting strategic priorities for public funding of the arts across Northern Ireland.

Ms Ali FitzGibbon (Young at Art):

I will illustrate the key challenges for Young at Art as it works in the arts industry in the current environment. We have a challenge to deliver our activities to their true potential. Until 2006, Young at Art toured children’s events each year to venues across Northern Ireland, and we would like to keep doing that and keep working with our partners in local authorities. However, we cannot do that without additional resources.

In 2005, Young at Art brought international festival promoters to Belfast to see local artists perform. That visit resulted in local artists being invited to take their work to Denmark, England, Ireland, Serbia, China and Taiwan. We want the festival to be a marketplace that allows us to export our culture every year, but we cannot do that without adequate support.

Our programme in the Waterworks park in 2008 achieved so many things with children, artists and communities, but, without sufficient resources to build on that work, we have had to cancel that event this year. We face a real challenge to keep our core work going.

The Belfast Children’s Festival is the largest cultural festival for children in Northern Ireland. It runs over 10 days and involves more than 10,000 children and adults, over 170 events, 40 volunteers and 120 artists from at least seven different countries.

Our core funding from two funders will not cover the cost of three staff, as well as overheads, in the next financial year. The festival is dependent on project funding from the National Lottery. On top of that support, our fundraising bill for the 2009 festival is more than £120,000, which we have found from 21 different public and private sources, most of which have contributed less than £5,000.

Managing the demands of 24 different businesses, agencies and Departments with three staff, while delivering an exceptional international festival, is our biggest challenge. On top of that, many of the funding streams to which we must apply are based on allocating and reporting within one financial year, or have time-bound funding rounds. Several questions arise as a result of that. What do we do if we have to book something a year in advance? How do we engage in consultation and outreach if we do not know whether our project or event will happen? How do we overcome the challenge of such short-term planning and support?

We struggle with the true cost of finding other sources of income. We charge low prices — between £3 and £7 per ticket — we run free events and we offer support schemes for families and communities in need, because we believe that every child should have access to a high quality arts experience. However, charging low prices for tickets or offering free admission costs money, and the necessary resources are not there. Our challenge is to maintain accessibility while balancing our books. If we manage to secure sponsorship to help to support our costs, which in itself is a challenge, how do we control the commercial force that sponsors can exert on children and parents who take part in our activities?

Furthermore, we are challenged by a talent drain, and we need to invest in our workforce. The arts industry is made up not of large organisations with permanent staff, but of small companies, which have fewer than five staff and are dependent on freelance personnel.

As the amount of work for the freelance workforce reduces, more people will leave the industry or leave Northern Ireland, reducing the skills base further.

Mr J Kelly:

To conclude, Young at Art believes that, with the support of the Committee and the engagement of all stakeholders, there is a positive future for the arts in Northern Ireland. Young at Art could maximise its contribution to building that vision and delivering the benefits to the cultural, social and economic life of Northern Ireland if a baseline level of funding for core activities and programmes were committed to on a sustained, long-term basis — rising with inflation and the cost of living — and if consideration were given to how funding mechanisms can better support the various ways in which the sector works.

The Chairperson:

Thank you.

Mr McCarthy:

Thank you for your presentation. In your submission, you say that the arts sector:

“is suffering from an under-investment by other departments … for work that delivers a cross-government agenda … eg health, youth work, education.”

How do you reckon that we can persuade other Departments in Northern Ireland to invest more in the arts? Have you any suggestions about how we could get other Departments to contribute?

Mr McNarry:

I congratulate you on, and thank you for, your oral and written submissions. Do you think that there should be a review of the funding criteria? Should such a review concentrate on the size of an arts provider, or should it be opened up to allow smaller organisations to engage in the arts?

On the back of that, you said that you were a small business. Who do you compete with? Do you think that there is too much competition in the various sectors that are, perhaps, chasing the same pot of money and the same sources of sponsorship?

Mr J Kelly:

To answer the first question, the arts sector, intrinsically and historically, has worked with other Departments, such as the Department of Education and, to some degree, with the Department for Employment and Learning. We are beginning to look at cultural tourism with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. There is overlap, but the biggest issue that we face is advocacy — having the resources to be a strong advocate for what we do and how it contributes to the agenda. We understand it, but there are resource implications as regards how we speak to officers in other agencies or relate to other Departments. We have to put time and resources into building that kind of information and promoting ourselves. It is about identification and being able to put resources into making those arguments.

Ms FitzGibbon:

Very often, I believe that the most convincing cases can be made by bringing other Departments together to see the work that is happening, so that they can see for themselves what the benefits are. Certainly, with the Department of Education, seeing is believing. Perhaps there are ways that the resourcing of the core product that we are selling would help us to make a better case and to win people over.

Mr J Kelly:

To answer Mr McNarry’s question, Young at Art is fairly happy with the current funding criteria. It is a framework within which we work, and although it is not always possible to access the funds that we want, we are fairly comfortable with the remit that supports what we do. There are other smaller organisations in the sector. I know from the organisations that I have contact with, but primarily through Young at Art, that they can access small grants awards. I know that a lot of community organisations access small grants. I am not sure to what degree those grants meet their needs, but I am aware that the mechanism can work for us and for others. We are a small business; I will ask Ali to talk about competition.

Ms FitzGibbon:

Whether the criteria should be realigned in order to look at different kinds of organisations, funding one type of organisation over another or funding artists over organisations, the difficulty is that the industry cannot be picked apart; one cannot take apart an infrastructure and tear it to pieces. You do not go to the zoo to see one kind of animal. It is the same with the arts industry — it does not work like that. As an organisation, we work in different art forms and with big organisations and individual artists. We could not function if we did not have that mix, most of which has evolved from the grass roots up, which is also the nature of the industry.

Mr McNarry:

You also stated that it would be beneficial if the funding decisions were made on a three- to five-year basis. Do you know why the Arts Council does not seem to do that? Have you taken that up with it?

Mr J Kelly:

Two or three years ago, the Arts Council asked for applications for the core funding that it was providing. Exchequer funding was to be allocated to regularly funded organisations on a three-year basis. So, in principle, it has started to fund in that way.

Mr McNarry:

Sorry, did you say “regularly funded organisations”?

Mr J Kelly:

Yes.

Mr McNarry:

Are those pet organisations?

Mr J Kelly:

No; they are probably organisations that have been funded for some time or that have a particular place within the arts sector. The practicalities need to be worked out. Although three-year funding is available in principle — and is presumably dependent on the amount of funding that the Arts Council gets every year — the arrangement has not worked as smoothly as we would perhaps have liked it to. We look forward to it working a bit better. The principle is good, and we would welcome funding over three years — or, if possible, over five years — but there are clearly restrictions on that.

Ms FitzGibbon:

Many voluntary-sector organisations — and we are part of the voluntary sector as well as the creative industries — are funded in three-year cycles. Once an organisation has a proven level of benefit and impact, delivers a high level of service and high-quality work and has good management skills, we want to see the Government invest in it. That kind of multi-annual cycle is required to support such organisations. At the moment, I feel that we are constantly running to catch up every 12 months. We cannot see the commitment from Government far enough ahead to feel comfortable.

Mr Shannon:

Thank you, Joe; it has been all of 24 hours since we met at the event that the Chairperson was at yesterday.

The Chairperson:

The Creative Youth Partnership event.

Mr Shannon:

Your detailed submission, which is very helpful, mentions innovative sources of funding. You also refer to the fact that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) developed partnerships with other Departments in the past, and to the interdepartmental strategy on creativity. What action do you think that DCAL should be taking in that regard? What can DCAL do to help?

Lord Browne:

Thank you for your very informative submission, in which you express concerns about how the community festivals fund is delivered. DCAL handed over administration of the fund to the local councils in April 2008. How do you think the new arrangement is working? It is it a better arrangement, and do you see any ways in which it could be improved? Are there difficulties in that some councils are perhaps not being funded as they were previously?

Mr J Kelly:

I will deal first with the question on DCAL and partnerships. It is a matter of understanding the breadth of our sector and the ways in which it can deliver. The arguments need to be made and pursued. In the past, the Department of Education, for example, has contributed to funding within the arts sector.

One of the biggest challenges that we face is fully understanding how the arts serve the agendas of other Government Departments, policies and strategies: it is about resourcing and ensuring that the understanding is very clear. Once that is understood, a Department such as DCAL can look to see how it can take action. Regular meetings of an interdepartmental group would clearly allow some of those issues to be brought to the table.

Mr Shannon:

You mentioned 21 groups from which you receive money. Most of those amounts are under £5,000, so you must be overcome with paperwork. Ali, I suspect that you have a better idea than most about innovative sources of funding.

Ms FitzGibbon:

I have been fundraising for a very long time. About 60% of my working life is occupied by trying to work out a way of paying for the things that we imagine doing and that we believe have benefit.

The Chairperson:

Did you say 60%?

Ms Fitzgibbon:

Yes.

Mr J Kelly:

There are 67 applications.

Ms FitzGibbon:

Yes. Earlier, we had a discussion about sponsorship — because Joe is the chairman, I report to him on our activities. Our search for sponsorship for this year’s festival in May 2009 led us to have discussions with, and submit applications to, 67 different businesses in Northern Ireland to seek support from them. We secured seven sponsors, which is a fairly low return.

As well as experiencing economic difficulties, downturns and increased costs — that we, as a business, are also experiencing — there is a difficulty with how businesses in Northern Ireland approach sponsorship. They do not have significant marketing budgets, and they do not have an awareness of what sponsorship does or how they can use it to be cleverer about promoting themselves.

Businesses have commercial interests. To a certain extent, our interests are philanthropic — we want to deliver high-quality, innovative art forms to children and young people. We feel that the interests of businesses are sometimes not entirely at ease with the things from which we feel that our children should be protected. One of the biggest issues is the promotion of fast food to children and young people and whether there should be restrictions on that. There are restrictions on the kinds of businesses that we can approach to seek sponsorship: we obviously cannot approach Diageo, which has one of the largest marketing budgets, because we cannot take money from an alcohol firm. It would not make sense for the festival to be the Diageo children’s festival — it would also be illegal.

We have also looked into social enterprise, donations and raffles, but that takes huge amounts of time. If the business of the organisation is to deliver something, but we are spending more time trying to find the money to deliver it, something has to give somewhere.

Mr J Kelly:

The second question was about community festivals. So much of what we tried to illustrate in our responses to the questions in the inquiry came back to the fact that we could do this, that and the other if we had a secure resource base. In one sense, with the festivals and so on, we are really not that concerned about how money comes to us — it is about getting a secure funding base. In a sense, money is money. Ali has much more experience of the practicalities.

Ms FitzGibbon:

We cannot apply to the community festivals fund because we are not a community festival. As an organisation, we have no opinion about how the community festivals fund has been devolved to local authorities. I can see that it makes a huge amount of sense that a local authority makes decisions about the local festivals that are run by the local communities. Our question would be about the level of resourcing.

Mr McCartney:

Joe and Ali, thank you very much for your presentation. I am interested in the funding priorities. Paragraph 9.3 of your submission states that:

“The arts industry is primarily driven by ideas derived from individuals and its content shouldn’t be defined by government priority.”

The last sentence of that paragraph states that the best art — the things that spread worldwide or affect people — comes from grass roots up, rather than top down.

Your submission also says that the Committee must:

“consider what the difference between community and professional arts sector is, if there is one?”

Do you have a definition of community arts? Nelson asked the previous witness that same question. Has a priority sometimes been placed on funding from the top down rather than from the bottom up? In other words, are the professional arts funded better than the community arts?

Mr McCausland:

Your submission says that every region has its own artistic personality that steers public bodies towards investment in particular art forms over others. What is Northern Ireland’s artistic personality? Do funding decisions reflect that?

Mr J Kelly:

Mr McCartney asked about our approach to community arts. The festival works in multi-art forms. We work with people in theatre, music, the circus and visual arts. The word “ecology” is important to us. We see little difference across it because of how we use it, how we interact with it and because of the audiences that we work with. Even though internationalism is an important flavour, it is crucial to our status as a festival that we can call on thriving sectors in Northern Ireland that we do not necessarily have to import. We need that local strength. We consider that an important ecology in itself.

Delivering quality is a priority. Therefore, we want to use the best people — namely professional artists, such as skilled and experienced dancers — to work with our audiences. Yesterday, we heard about a dancer who came from a London stage in order to work as a freelance dancer in Fermanagh. That dancer works in prisons, with young people in care and with a wide range of groups. The professionalism and experience that such individuals bring has been crucial to the quality of our audiences’ experience. Ali has some thoughts on that issue.

Ms FitzGibbon:

We mentioned funding from the bottom up rather than from the top down because when deciding on arts funding, consideration should be given to the creation of art by those people who create it. The priorities and growth should be driven by that rather than by a governmental priority that aims to find something that, perhaps, does not exist.

Certain countries in certain parts of the world are particularly well known for certain art forms, because either music, visual arts or theatre has bubbled up from under the surface. These islands have a strong history of playwrights and text-based theatre, from Shakespeare to Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness. That is an area for which this part of the world is known globally. We have become famous for many other achievements, all of which have, perhaps, been driven by the artists, who are part of a community and who work with and meet other people who go to school or college, and so on.

If the intention is to find something that is absent and to invest in it, it will not necessarily create good art. It might deliver on a priority, but it will not necessarily deliver the dynamism that the arts industry requires or deliver the necessary growth and development.

Mr J Kelly:

Nelson asked about Northern Ireland’s artistic personality and whether the funding decisions reflect it. We use the arts sector to help programme our festival. We use theatre, music, dance and visual arts — however it is expressed. Many groups do that, and we want to use them. We want to use groups that are indigenous to here as much as we can. We want that quality to be there. We are very proud of the fact that we are an international festival, so we have an international contribution.

Ms FitzGibbon may be better able to answer the question on funding decisions. However, we are able to call on local artists to be part of our festival, and, from year to year, we are more or less successful with that. By and large, we are able to access local people who produce art that we can use across a broad cultural realm. However, it is not always easy. I do not know whether the funding is supporting that, but we want to receive more funding so that we can benefit more from what they are doing and pull that into the festival.

Mr McCausland:

I am not clear why the artistic personality would steer public bodies towards investment in particular art forms.

Ms FitzGibbon:

The artistic personality of Northern Ireland is made up of the people who are creating those different arts in all their diversity and richness. The people who are creating it should be the people who are driving forward funding to where it is needed, rather than the reverse.

Mr McCausland:

Earlier, you mentioned creating or looking for something that is not there. You talked about the personality being determined by artists who exist at this point in time, and that that would have some impact on where funding was developed or directed. Is it not a basic human right for people to participate in the cultural life of the country? Therefore, if people are marginalised from, or have never engaged with, the arts, is there an onus on the arts world — and Government funding in particular — to target those people so that they are brought into that world and so that that right is acknowledged? There may be nothing there at the moment, but you must ask yourself why it is not there and how we address the situation.

Mr J Kelly:

Absolutely; interestingly, we have worked with some communities in north Belfast and around the Waterworks. We had a brilliant event last year — it was fantastic. We were helped by the weather, but it was a great place to hold it. That kind of outreach is important to us. It is about enabling communities. Through our own funding and activities, we try to create access to what we do. We do not just ask people to come to the festival: we go out to them to help create it, and, as far as possible, place it in their area.

Ms FitzGibbon:

We are currently working in the Shankill area with the early-years playgroups. There are 11 early-years settings in that area, and the playgroup workers did not feel that they had sufficient creative skills to support the children in the playgroups. We worked with them, and we brought in professional artists in to work with them. However, the whole endeavour has been about pump-priming their own skills and abilities, with the result that they now want to come back and work with us again. For us, it is about allowing them to grow and develop as they see fit and as they choose, but to continue to work in partnership to create a partnership of equals: we are learning about their community and their needs and that feeds into the kind of activities and events that we put on in the main festival.

The Chairperson:

I thank Joe Kelly and Ali FitzGibbon for their engagement this morning. As David said earlier, your written submission and presentation were very helpful.

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