We are pleased to learn that our Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI) core funding will remain at standstill levels for 2015/16. Whilst this will be subject to the outcome of forthcoming discussions with the remaining Festival stakeholders regarding this year’s event, following the recent announcement of withdrawal of funding from Queen’s University, it demonstrates a commitment by ACNI to explore potential opportunities for future editions of the Festival.
However, we are also saddened to learn that valued colleagues and partners in the arts sector are also receiving news of funding cuts from ACNI, arising from an 11.2% reduction in their own funding from the NI Executive. The impact of the budget cuts from the NI Executive is having a devastating effect on artists and arts organisations, reducing the nature and range of events on offer to the public and ultimately undermines the case for NI as a great place to work, live and visit. We therefore continue to join with colleagues across and beyond the arts sector 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.
Belfast Festival has not approached the Culture Minister for additional support but instead have accepted an invitation from our external public sector stakeholders to meet with them next week to decide possible ways forward for the event. We appreciate the Minister is also addressing cuts to her department and we look forward to discussing with the Minister the outcome of our stakeholder meetings and the options for developing Festival for the city.
Belfast Festival learned today that Queen’s University is ending its financial support for the event (representing 13% of total income for 2014/15) from the end of this current financial year on 31 July 2015. The background to this decision is both the significant cuts to the public purse, which have impacted upon the University’s finances and a recent strategic review of the event, which endorsed the need for a redesigned and refreshed international arts event for the entire city and which has been welcomed by the remaining public stakeholders.
Festival is grateful to its other stakeholders for their commitment to discuss potential opportunities and options for future editions of the Festival and has accepted an invitation to meet early next week.
Festival Director Richard Wakely commented, “Whilst this is disappointing news, it nevertheless represents a genuine opportunity to work constructively with our remaining public and private stakeholders to explore the redesign and re-launch of Festival as a city wide event of international stature and significance for 2015 and beyond. This journey is made possible by the achievements we have made in the last two editions of Festival in 2013 and 2014, re-establishing our artistic credentials at home and abroad, increasing our audiences by 28% in 2014, adding annually £2million to the local economy and returning the Festival to good financial health. We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with our public Stakeholders including Arts Council Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast City Council and British Council and hope to announce the future of the event and dates for this year’s edition in the coming weeks ahead. Festival is also grateful to Queen’s for its support over the last 52 years and appreciates the difficult economic background against which this decision has been made.”
Festival Stakeholder Statement
Belfast Festival stakeholders have just learned of the Queens’ decision to withdraw its annual funding for the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens and it is regrettable that this long-standing relationship is now at an end. The remaining funders of Festival will meet early next week to discuss the options for the future shape of Belfast’s only international, showcase arts and culture festival.
Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s is sad to note the death of Tony ‘Chas’ Emmerson, Assistant Director of the Festival from 1964-1969. The brother of Michael Emmerson, Chas played a key role in the development of the Festival from being a student festival in 1961 and 62 to being a fully-fledged professional festival, rivaled only by Edinburgh in terms of prestige and six across the British Isles.
Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Chas was a year behind his older brother Michael and followed him across the Irish Sea to Belfast in 1962. Reading Modern History, Chas, like Michael was devoted to the arts. Putting on two Festivals in 1964, the Emmerson’s completely changed the ambition and scope of what could be achieved in the arts in Belfast. The first two Festivals featured fascinating artists including Anthony Burgess, Alex Haley, and Patrick Kavanagh for example with music from artist now internationally celebrated such as Julian Bream and Humphrey Lyttleton. The Festival also saw itself as a platform for local talent including Seamus Heaney and Stephen Rea and reflected the political upheaval prevalent at the time.