Today’s news from the Arts Council of another round of in year cuts to its 32 core clients is not unexpected. However, it is a serious blow to arts organisations already having to operate with reduced resources. This latest cut of 7% (which equates to £13,240 in our own case) arises out of a further cut of £870,000 (8%) last month to the Arts Council by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Arts and culture in NI appear to continue to be disproportionately hit by government cutbacks.

Clearly, in the light of this reduction, difficult choices will have to be made by all those arts organisations affected. Projects and programmes will be forfeited and jobs may be lost. In the end, audiences will be all the poorer for lack of arts programming, including educational, developmental and outreach initiatives that are vital in ensuring that all our people have access to the arts. This is despite the growing weight of evidence that demonstrates that public spending on the arts brings significant social and economic benefits for society.

The new Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival (formerly the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s) has itself come through a challenging period and has recently reconstituted itself as an independent charity with the ambition of creating an annual civic event of contemporary arts and culture of international stature and appeal. We have enjoyed generous and continuing support from all our stakeholders, including the Arts Council and the fruits of this investment can be seen in our programme, which opens on 9th October and features 134 events from 23 countries over 24 days. Like colleagues elsewhere in the arts sector, we work very hard to ensure we create high quality programmes and projects that are appealing and relevant to our audiences. Together we will continue to press our case to the policymakers at Stormont for adequate financial recognition of the role that arts and culture plays in rebuilding NI society and promoting all that is good about our country abroad.

Richard Wakely

Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival

7 October 2015