Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 07 May 2009

Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts

7 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey


Ms Heather Floyd )
Mr Mukesh Sharma ) ArtsEkta
Ms Nisha Tandon )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

We are happy to be joined by Heather Floyd, Mukesh Sharma and Nisha Tandon, representatives of ArtsEkta. Nisha will lead the presentation.

Ms Nisha Tandon (ArtsEkta):

Thank you for inviting us to tell you about the background of ArtsEkta. I will explain why and how the organisation was founded and outline the difficulties that we face. Heather will talk about the programmes that we have delivered and the partnerships that we have developed. Mukesh will talk about the economic impact that our organisation has made.

ArtsEkta is the first minority ethnic arts organisation in Northern Ireland. It started in August 2006, so it is very young. The word “Ekta” is Sanskrit and means “uniting” and “bonding”. ArtsEkta supports minority ethnic artists throughout the island of Ireland. At the end of 2005 and in early 2006, we held extensive consultation with many organisations, groups and schools in the private and public sectors.

There is a lot of international art that is being appreciated and used. We asked ourselves how we could set up something to help and support the minority ethnic people in Northern Ireland. As a result of the consultation, we realised that there was an urgent need for such an organisation. There has been a rapid change in the make-up of Northern Ireland society, which has included more minority ethnic people becoming involved in the economy here.

ArtsEkta delivers multi-ethnic arts programmes in schools, community groups and youth centres and with public and private organisations. Currently, we have a core of 12 minority ethnic artists who deliver our day-to-day programme. Another 20 minority ethnic artists are involved in our festivals and special programmes through the media of dance and music. Our board has six members from various backgrounds: community arts, education, business, finance and health. We have a core of 30 to 35 volunteers who support delivery of our special programme of festivals.

One of the key challenges that we face is the issue of funding. Our projects mainly relate to cultural diversity and section 75 issues. When we ask for funding, one Department shoves us on to another, saying that it does not fund the arts, so we have been directed to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for support.

However, even without core funding, we manage to deliver programmes that are in demand. We organise Northern Ireland’s biggest international festival, Belfast Mela, as well as the Festival of Colours and Divali extravaganzas all over the Province. However, it is a little difficult for only one project manager to sustain and programme all of those big projects.

Our future strategies include helping and supporting minority ethnic artists; continuing our good work on cultural diversity, which combats racism through the medium of art; and introducing more international links and bringing more travel and tourism to Northern Ireland.

I will now ask Heather to discuss the programmes that ArtsEkta delivers and the partnerships that it has developed.

Ms Heather Floyd (ArtsEkta):

I will discuss the cross-sectoral impacts of ArtsEkta’s work. As with the work done by many community-arts organisations, our work straddles and impacts on a range of sectors, including the community and voluntary sector. Over the past three years, we have worked with around 30 community groups throughout the North. We also impact on the education sector and, during the same three-year period, we have worked with around 200 schools. Obviously, we also impact on the arts sector and festivals. The current Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tom Hartley, always points out that there are 80 festivals each year in the city of Belfast. ArtsEkta delivers three of those festivals, and Nisha has just referred to those.

During the past year, ArtsEkta has also programmed work for the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Féile an Phobail — whose representatives you have just heard from — and the Lord Mayor’s Carnival. We have used those festivals as a platform on which to raise the profile of minority ethnic artists as well as the issues that are faced by people from minority ethnic communities who live here, and that has been useful for us.

As regards deepening and enhancing its impact, ArtsEkta is also a member of a few other key forums, which include the Minority Ethnic Arts Forum, which was formed around two years ago; the Ballymena Inter-Ethnic Forum; the Black and Minority Ethnic Network; and the Community Arts Forum. ArtsEkta uses all those forums to promote, develop, and share learning from its work.

Locally, ArtsEkta is embedded in the community sector. I will give examples of the type of groups with whom we undertake long-term programmes. An Droichead on Belfast’s Ormeau Road has merged the Irish language and culture with those of Belfast’s newer communities. ArtsEkta ran a multicultural arts programme with various strands, including dance and music, at An Droichead for quite a long period.

ArtsEkta delivered a full programme on two different topics — well-being and identity and health — at the Concorde Community Centre in Wheatfield, north Belfast. That was delivered through dance and music. It was enhanced by a multicultural arts programme that ran with the after-school group in the centre. We also delivered a lengthy drama programme with the National Deaf Children’s Society that was called ‘Passage to India’ and was complemented by a dance programme and an artistic and cultural awareness programme.

That gives you some idea of where ArtsEkta sits in the broader picture and its impact on a range of different levels. I will now pass over to Mukesh, who will discuss ArtsEkta’s economic impact.

Mr Mukesh Sharma (ArtsEkta):

Our work in the arts sector has an effect on other aspects of life in Northern Ireland. I will run through those quickly. One such aspect is employment. Nisha mentioned that we work with over 20 different artists across Northern Ireland — at least half of those artists are unemployed or seek benefits from agencies because they do not have work. We give them work in the community with schools, colleges and projects with senior citizens and disabled people.

Every year, we obtain sponsorship from companies across Northern Ireland. That has become difficult this year because of the global recession. However, we are making headway in that respect. That sponsorship allows companies to benefit from the exposure that they get from the festivals that we produce, and it gives them direct access to the community on a one-to-one basis.

We have worked with health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland to deliver projects on different aspects of well-being, such as healthy eating and exercise. We have asked Diabetes UK and Chest, Heart and Stroke to be available at our events, thus showing our support for their objectives.

Recently, we launched a DVD. We established that there is a lot of racism and sectarianism in hospitals among doctors, nurses and patients. Therefore, we have launched a DVD that uses drama and art to tackle those issues, and that will be used as a resource in the health and social care trusts. That is our most recent arts project.

This year, Belfast Mela has an underlying theme of the environment and recycling. Belfast City Council will use that festival as a vehicle to engage with the community and let it know the importance of those things. The Port of Belfast has an ongoing theme of recycling, and that will also be in evidence at the festival.

We work closely with Invest NI. A lot of Asian companies are either looking at becoming established in Northern Ireland or are already established here. When the companies’ representatives come to Northern Ireland on a reconnaissance mission — if that term is appropriate — we meet them, alongside Invest NI, and discuss the issues that people from India or other parts of Asia will have if they decide to settle here as a result of the companies’ investment. We also show what we have to offer those people culturally.

In relation to tourism, we work with organisations in the Republic of Ireland. Those partnerships mean that when we hold events here, reciprocal visits are made and that brings in tourists. The Belfast Mela attracts hundreds of people from the Republic of Ireland every year. The artists that attend and perform at our events stay here, spending nights in hotels and spending money in restaurants.

As Heather mentioned, we do a lot in the education sector. Some 75% of our time is spent in schools and colleges, working with children and breaking the ice of new cultures in Northern Ireland. We give children face-to-face opportunities to speak to people through the arts and to learn dance. We do not necessarily teach them dance, but we let them engage with other people to see the future of Northern Ireland. PSNI and HM Revenue and Customs are involved in all our festivals, which gives them a direct opportunity to engage with the public. Every year, through our festivals, we attract in excess of 20,000 people, all of whom have direct access to those services at those events. I am sorry for rushing through this; I know that time is limited.

Mr McCarthy:

Thank you for your submission and congratulations on the work that you have done. In your submission, you referred to the “social economy strand” as a way for arts organisations to generate additional income. Will you elaborate on what that entails? How can arts organisations in Northern Ireland be assisted, financially or otherwise, in developing a social economy strand?

Mr Sharma:

I can refer only to the experiences of our organisation. We are in the throes of putting together a website that will be launched within the next six weeks. That will sell arts products, artefacts, carvings and costumes from around the world to anyone who wishes to buy them. That is one aspect of the social economy strand of our work.

We also charge for those services that we provide for which we have not been funded. We have been approached by companies that may be launching an annual report or celebrating an anniversary and that would like our artists to perform at the event. In order to generate income, we let people know that we have the facility to carry out workshops, for which we charge a fee. Those are two sides of the social economy that we are trying to boost.

Mr D Bradley:

Your submission states that, in many cases, your organisation falls between a number of stools when seeking funding, and that it is pushed from pillar to post, with no Department taking responsibility for its work. What effect is that having on your overall funding? Does your organisation include more recent newcomers rather than the longer-established ethnic minority groups?

Ms Tandon:

There are newcomers in our organisation as well as the artists with whom we have an established relationship. We work with the existing sector here, which has five years’ experience of working with the voluntary and community sector. With newcomers, we give them an induction and look at their track record to see how they work with the community sector and what their background is.

As I said, we do all sorts of cultural diversity and section 75 work. It has been quite a challenge for our organisation to go to the racial equality unit here and request core funding. We do not meet its requirements, as it does not fund any arts projects. It pushes us towards the NI Arts Council, which has recently given us project funding. We are always working on projects, but there is no core funding available.

Ms Floyd:

It is difficult to plan ahead and to develop as an organisation because we are constantly trying to find funding on a project-by-project basis. We have had quite a lot of funding disappointments recently, which has meant that we have been unable to develop a few projects that were in the pipeline. That has been very frustrating.

Mr D Bradley:

So there is a need for core funding?

Ms Floyd:

Yes; there definitely is.

Lord Browne:

Thank you for your presentation. I have had the opportunity to attend the Mela festival on many occasions in Botanic Gardens. The work you carry out there is excellent, particularly in combating racism, which, unfortunately, is a growing problem, especially in Belfast. You indicated that your organisation receives a lot of funding from businesses. Are you finding it more difficult to attract funding from the private sector? Is there anything that the Arts Council or the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) could do to help community groups such as yours to access business support?

Mr Sharma:

Our organisation receives some sort of match funding from Arts and Business every time that we get business sponsorship. However, Arts and Business should allow organisations such as ours to make it aware of what we have to offer so that, based on its assessment of our products, it can offer businesses sponsorship opportunities. It is sometimes difficult for a small arts organisation to go to a business and offer a product for it to use or to advertise in. As we all know, businesses regularly receive such offers.

If bodies such as Arts and Business, the Arts Council or DCAL openly acknowledge that some arts organisations are carrying out events that could be of benefit to businesses, that is an endorsement that could possibly lead to arts organisations receiving greater support from the business sector. Arts and Business tends to rely on us doing all the work and it then supports us, but another side to its work should be to present opportunities to businesses.

Ms Floyd:

To add to what Mukesh has said about what the Arts Council can do, there was an issue over per capita spend, which is probably why the Committee is holding the review of funding of the arts. As it has been doing, the Arts Council — along with the arts sector, the community arts sector, DCAL and this Committee — needs to lobby for an increase to the per capita spend, as happened in the last Programme for Government.

Along with the arts sector, the Arts Council could be lobbying for an inter-departmental arts policy across all Departments. If every Department were to have a ring-fenced budget for the arts, that would help to increase the per capita spend on arts in the region.

Mr McCartney:

Thank you for your presentation. The explanation that you gave of ArtsEkta uniting and bonding was excellent. You mentioned employing 10 people — are they employed by ArtsEkta, or are they self-employed people who offer their services to you?

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

Mr Sharma:

They are self-employed. Around seven of them are from Zimbabwe, Mexico, other parts of Latin America or other areas in Africa. Prior to our engaging with them, they were doing bits and pieces of work. They are now regularly involved in work with us on a weekly basis. They are self-employed, but they could be earning between £400 and £1,200 a month. That is substantial, and it is enough in most cases because, as well as getting work from us, they get bits and pieces of work on their own. Their work with us allows them to advertise their talent and their products, and they get other work as a spin-off from that. Working with us gives them independence.

Mr McCartney:

One of the categories that you listed was health and well-being. Can you give us an indication of how the arts helps in that particular field? Furthermore, is there a language aspect to the education work that you do?

Mr Sharma:

The health and well-being aspect of our work started at last year’s Mela. Each year, the Mela has a different theme, and last year’s theme was health and well-being. We approached the health and social care trusts to see whether they would be interested in getting on board with the Mela, which they did. In the 12 months following the Mela, we carry its theme through in the work that we do with schools.

Health and well-being can be promoted through the arts in activities such as dance and fitness. We set out a series of workshops based on different parts of the world, in which we demonstrated how yoga is popular in India, the different types of foods that are eaten in India or in Africa, or the value of fresh fruit in countries such as Africa. Those are the sorts of thing that we emphasise.

This year’s theme is the environment. For the 12 months following this year’s Mela, our workshops will focus on the environment and projects that are going on in other parts of the world, such as the recycling art that is going on in Latin America or in Africa. The aim of that is to make people socially aware of those different aspects of the environment.

Mr McCartney:

Is there any language aspect to your work, or do you focus on dance and culture?

Mr Sharma:

We focus mainly on dancing and culture. However, we work with the local Irish-language schools to try to promote understanding.

Ms Floyd:

In relation to health and well-being, recent research that was carried out by the Community Development and Health Network indicates that 98% of participants had increased self-esteem after being involved in the arts. The arts has a wide-ranging impact on participant’s health.

The Deputy Chairperson:

I am in the Chair because the Chairperson has excused himself for a few minutes.

I have heard of your good work. The reports are impressive and encouraging. How important is community integration to your work? What could the Arts Council do to further assist engagement in the arts by communities in Northern Ireland that do not have a long-standing tradition of accessing the arts, such as the communities that you represent?

Ms Floyd:

I will answer your second question on what the Arts Council could do to assist the arts in Northern Ireland. Community arts receives only around 9% of the core revenue funding that is provided by the Arts Council. That needs to be looked at quite urgently. Community arts needs to get a bigger slice of the pie. There are two separate issues. There is the big issue of raising the per capita spend, and there is the issue of the distribution of resources by the Arts Council, of which we would like to see more going to community arts. That is one thing that the Arts Council could do.

Ms Tandon:

On the topic of social inclusion and integration, our educational programmes are a medium for integrating Catholic, Protestant and new minority communities and giving them the benefits of learning from one another through the medium of arts. When we come out of a school having delivered a five-week or 10-week programme, we have completely changed the perceptions that the children or young people have and the stereotyping elements that they held in their minds. That has been very helpful to us, as an organisation, and to the people to whom we are delivering our services.

The education budget does not include enough funding to bring in organisations such as ours. Therefore, we sometimes deliver our services free of charge, simply to get us into schools and give them an example of what we deliver. After a short while, we find that the social inclusion programme helps and supports our long-term strategies.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Do you have any evidence that the children are taking home to their parents a message about changing perceptions?

Ms Tandon:

Yes, they are. For example, a 10-week programme will conclude with the parents being invited to the school, or we will do one more day with the parents and children together, in which the parents will see what the children have learnt and take that message back home or they will get involved themselves.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Members, I am very conscious of time — we are running over by half an hour. Francie and Nelson, do you have anything that you wish to contribute?

Mr Brolly:

I have a quick question. Where is Philip House?

Ms Tandon:

It is on York Street, in north Belfast.

Mr McCausland:

I am interested in the reference you make in your submission to social economy strands:

“such as selling of Art and craft products, charging for performances, workshops etc.”

I have two points on that. Do you feel that organisations and individuals in Northern Ireland get into the practice of just doing things and, because of that, customers and audiences get used to thinking that they are bound to get those things for free? There is not a context here of people realising that if someone is putting on a quality performance, the audience should expect to pay something for it. That would help to generate some income. I make that point in relation to the discussion about charging for performances and workshops and so on.

My second point relates to what you said about the lack of awareness of, and training on, social economy programmes. Who should be delivering those training courses and what should they include? Furthermore, to whom should those courses be delivered in order to build up that awareness?

(The Chairperson [Mr McElduff] in the Chair)
Mr Sharma:

We are already involved in those sorts of programmes, and we have found that, if we are putting on a quality programme and we charge for it, people will pay for it and will come to the event. For example, last weekend we had a world-renowned flute player from India performing at St George’s Church in Belfast and it was packed out. There were 450 people there, which is the maximum capacity of the place. Lord Browne asked me a similar question about the social economy aspect earlier. One of the other things that the Arts Council — or Northern Ireland plc, should I say — should be doing for the arts is training people on how to run an arts organisation as a business, because funding is getting tighter.

Many people are involved in the arts because they like arts. They like to dance, perform or paint, but they have very little knowledge or grasp of how to turn that into something that they can use to sustain themselves or their organisation. That is important when we look at the future of the arts in Northern Ireland.

The Chairperson:

That is the end of our presentation. Thank you very much.

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