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The Arts

Arts Council Briefs Stormont Committee on Impact of Pandemic on the Arts

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland appeared in front of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Communities Committee (Thursday 1 July 2021) to discuss the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the arts sector here.

Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, was joined by other senior members of the Arts Council’s Executive to discuss the positive contribution the creative sector makes to the economy and society. Also under discussion was the pandemic’s impact, after over 14 months of lockdown,  on income and revenue generation, employment, and the need for continued investment in the arts sector, as well as additional emergency funding needed for organisations and individual artists.

During the pandemic, the Arts Council reported they awarded an additional 3,370 grants to artists and arts organisations, totalling £26million. Members of the committee heard how, thanks to funding from the Department of Communities, these vital funds had provided a critical lifeline to artists and organisations whose income and work were devastated as a result of the pandemic.

The Arts Council evidenced recent research, surveying the impact of the Emergency Funding on Artists and Organisations*. Highlighted within this evidence was the pressing need for ongoing additional funding for the sector if it is to survive the ongoing impacts of COVID.

Key findings from Emergency Funding for Artists and Organisations survey included:

  • 9 out of 10 artists said the grant they had received had protected their job in the creative industries
  • 85% of artists agreed or strongly agreed that their immediate financial stress had been relived
  • 69% of organisations said they used emergency funds to maintain engagement/keep in contact with audiences
  • 85% said their organisations scale would have reduced without funding
  • 55% organisations said that they were able to continue trading in 2021/22 but that “there is uncertainty about its longer term sustainability”
  • 95% organisations still need support to guarantee long-term financial sustainability

Communities Committee Vice Chair, Kellie Armstrong MLA, thanked the ACNI team on their excellent and detailed presentation and said the committee would be writing to the Minister seeking her proposed actions following the work of the Cultural Taskforce, as well as her plans for the distribution of £13m for the arts and culture sector from the Barnet Consequentials. 

Kellie Armstrong  also commented:

“I think it strikes me how much we have missed the arts and how much we will depend on the various pathways for the arts as we come out of COVID and how much they will help improve society’s mental health”.

Members Fra McCann and Pam Cameron, voiced their concern for the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of arts and cultural workers themselves affected by lockdown.

Following the meeting, Roisín McDonough, Arts Council Chief Executive commented:

“It was encouraging to be able to attend the Communities Committee today and to hear members voice their support for the arts sector and acknowledge the many benefits the arts bring to our lives.

“There was also great concern shown by members for the mental health and wellbeing of our artists and going forward we hope to work with a range of organisations to provide the additional help and support they need. 

“Last year was an exceptional year, presenting greater challenges than any of us could have imagined and while there is hope for better days ahead there can be no doubt that our artists and cultural sector will need continued financial assistance in 2021 and beyond if they are to survive and be sustained. We remain hopeful that the Minister and her Department will continue to support the case to the NI Executive for the arts, given the value they bring to our society and to our economy, as they plan to reopen, make the most of outdoor spaces and welcome back audiences.”

*Please note, the Arts Council’s survey into the Impact of Emergency Funding For Artists and Organisations will be published later this summer. Key insights from the report are included in the infographic included here.

Belfast City

Spectacular Ogham Grove Opens Tonight In Cathedral Quarter

Cathedral Quarters Writers’ Square will tonight (September 17) be transformed into a spectacular installation from the creative team for CNB21 Presents: The Ogham Grove.

From 6pm tonight through until Sunday evening visitors can experience an interactive celebration of the ancient druidic language, with massive representations of trees, sounds and lighting weaving a path of learning about the language and the chance to win prizes.

Ogham Grove replaces the previous city centre based programme of street based activity and pop-up events.

Although the plans for this year are monumental in size, Culture Night Belfast and CQ Trust director Susan Picken said visitors should not expect the same on-street celebration as years gone by.

Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre. The impact of COVID has led to a major review of the event however.

Susan said: “Culture Night 2021 will be much smaller in scale and scope and will take the form of an on-site installation that people can drop into and enjoy over the course of the weekend – this different format will allow us to focus on safety as well as making sure everyone has a great time.”

The brains behind the concept include creative lead Gawain Morrison, artist and prop designer Dylan McCaughtry, designer Neil Beattie, lighting designer Tomás FitzGerald and drum loop producer Damian Mills.

Gawain Morrison said that the concept of The Ogham Grove “draws inspiration from the ancient Celtic Ogham Tree alphabet which dives deep into the era where nature and myths intertwined”. 

This year, as well as experiencing The Ogham Grove itself, visitors will be able to take part in an accompanying interactive experience that will lead them through the Cathedral Quarter, and also take them on a journey of personal discovery.

According to Gawain the immersive nature inspired trail and competition will mean visitors can take something special away from the experience.

“For somebody who will be coming to this, the several points of access means it is going to be a very experiential and sensory experience,” he explained. 

“I hope that as visitors walk around whether it’s in the day or night, that they will take something away from it.”

Across the Cathedral Quarter area, there will be five zones each representing one of the five families of the Ogham alphabet.

To be eligible to win a prize, participants must find and scan a QR code found on one of the trail’s bespoke wooden plaques and take note of the lines of poetry displayed.

Prizes to be won include vouchers for restaurants, gift tokens to purchase your own pieces of art and tickets to shows coming up in the Cathedral Quarter and will be announced at the end of the Culture Night weekend.

This year’s Culture Night Belfast is supported by Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Translink.

To keep up to date with all the CNB Presents The Ogham Grove updates go to or follow #CNB21 on social media

Issued by Excalibur Press on behalf of CNB Presents: The Ogham Grove 

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The Arts

£5m Fund to Retain Skills in the Creative Sector

A £5million fund to prevent the loss of the talent and expertise of individuals and freelancers working in the creative sector has been launched by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey.

The Creative Individuals Recovery Programme, which opens at noon today, will provide a grant of up to £2,000 per individual eligible application including DJs, artists, performers, sound and lighting technicians, writers, events managers and many other professionals who have been impacted as a result of the public health restrictions on the creative sector.

There is evidence that the creative sectors rely heavily on self-employed and freelance individuals and that many have already left the sectors because of the pandemic, with those remaining facing jobs vulnerability and unaffordable costs relating to re-establishing their creative practice.

Minister Hargey said: “I have listened to the recommendations of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce, and I have also engaged with the sector. As a result I am today launching a support scheme to provide grants to individuals to encourage them to remain in the creative arts sector.

“The culture, languages, arts and heritage sectors have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 restrictions as they rely heavily on people’s ability to get together which is why the Executive has provided £13million in 2021/2022 to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

“There is a risk that self-employed and freelance individuals may be forced to leave the creative sectors as a result of the pandemic. As the sectors rely heavily on individuals, this could destabilise the sector and the benefits it delivers including social, economic and wellbeing. This new £5m funding scheme aims to prevent loss of sectoral skills for self-employed and freelance individuals and safeguard the sector for the future.

“This fund will help with costs of reactivating, maintaining and enhancing their creative trade, vocation or profession. It is designed to prevent individuals, and their talent and expertise, from leaving the creative economy; and help them re-establish their contribution to the important benefits these sectors deliver.”

Welcoming the funding, chair of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce Rotha Johnston said:  “Freelancers and the self-employed are critical to the recovery and sustainability of the creative and cultural sectors as a result of the impacts of Covid-19. Many have been deprived the opportunity to use their skills, perform or practice their art in the last 18 months. The Taskforce is of the unanimous view that support for individuals is essential to protect the viability of the sectors going forward. The Taskforce’s findings and recommendations have been developed following extensive engagement with people from across the sectors and our conclusion is that this public investment in culture, arts and heritage will deliver significant benefits to individuals, society and the economy in the short, medium and long term”.

The fund, co-designed by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) with the Department for Communities, will be delivered by the Arts Council. For information on how to apply including eligibility criteria please visit

D/deaf and disabled artists will be supported via a separate award via ACNI to the University of Atypical who regularly support this particular cohort, to ensure that artists with particular needs are appropriately supported through the application process.

The scheme is open until 12 noon, 6 October, 2021.

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