The Chancellor’s announcement is most welcome and we are delighted that the arts and cultural sectors in Northern Ireland are to get lifeline support; it signals just how important the arts are to our economy, to our society and to our mental health and wellbeing. We must view this injection of support against the context of the dire need the arts sector faces and the creative practitioners who work in it. The Minister for Communities is aware of the size of the need within the sector and the near decimation experienced by those working in it. As the primary funding and development agency for the arts, the Arts Council has estimated that the funded sector in NI is facing an estimated initial loss of box office income of £25 million, while Arts organisations have identified an initial deficit total of £5 million this year alone. We are aware too of the needs of our partners in local authorities which run arts and cultural venues as these have also been seriously affected.
The creative sector in Northern Ireland is projected to lose 20% (6,000) of its creative jobs and see a 23% (£300 million) drop in creative industries Gross Value Added*, while the funded arts sector currently supports approximately 7,500 jobs as per the Annual Funding Survey 2018/19 published by ACNI**. There is an urgent need to save those staff who have been furloughed as well as underwrite risk for the safe reopening of our venues and theatres which will welcome reduced audiences and will need help to breakeven on box office income in that context. We must encourage audiences back to the arts, invest in outdoor events in the interim and increase the digital capacity of the sector.
We must also ensure that support reaches the creative freelancers who are part of the arts environment and the wider creative industries and who have been badly affected by the loss of events and the closure of venues.
The initial emergency fund opened by the Minister and the Arts Council in April and May for artists was massively oversubscribed; applications outstripped the budget available by 3:1 and similarly the Organisations Emergency Programme has been placed under intense pressure in the face of a need that cannot be met by the funding available.
In summary, there are immediate survival needs along with a need for major reinvestment in the arts in Northern Ireland. This will enable the Arts Council to help our artists, musicians, freelancers, venues, theatres and core arts organisations deal with the immediate challenges faced by the arts sector as a result of COVID-19.
The Arts Council estimates that it could take up to a year-and-a-half for the arts sector to recalibrate itself after the crisis. This immediate injection of funding into the sector plus increased sustained investment will enable the Arts Council to introduce the stimulus measures that the sector so badly needs.
The Arts Council looks forward to discussing these priorities with the Minister and the Department for Communities.
* from Creative Industries Federation commissioned from Oxford Economics
** Official Statistics by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland http://www.artscouncil-ni.org/images/uploads/publications-documents/ACNI-2018-2019-AnnualFundingSurvey-Report.pdf