By Laura Shields, Arts and Entertainments Editor, @LauraShields86
On October 3rd the Northern Irish Tourist Board announced that Events funding for the year 2015/16 would not go ahead.This decision was prompted by “ongoing budgetary pressures across Government”. These cuts will affect a total of 63 arts and sports based events including the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Festival of Fools and Lap the Lough.
Following the announcement a number of public meetings have been held to discuss the impact of the cuts and propose ideas which may lead to reconsideration of funding. The first of these meetings took place in Black Box on October 4th with a more recent meeting occurring October 8th in the Oh Yeah Music Centre.
Speakers at the second meeting included Adam Turkington, manager of the hugely successful Culture Night. This event stands to lose up to one third of its funding, putting its future in jeopardy. Turkington urged action from attendees to make sure his event and many others would see 2015/16.The key advice given at this point was to support the Lights Out NI Facebook page and use the hashtag, #LightsOutNI.
While budget cuts have been an issue in many sectors, there has been a concern that tourism based events and the arts are seen as an easy target. To combat such notions Turkington is keen to impress that this is a sector that can “stand up for itself”. Kieran Gilmore, manager of Bangor’s Open House Festival asserted that the returned income for his event and many others within Northern Ireland is more than the funding received. For every £1 invested in NITB events, at least £3 of a return is made for the local economy.
Susie McCullough spoke on behalf of the NITB, relating her devastation at the news of the funding cuts. She explained how the Board bids for funding annually. The handling of the events sector for the upcoming year has illustrated the instability of such a system. McCullough provided a hopeful tone impressing her belief that MLA Arlene Foster would try her best to get some funding for the events budget believing a “strong case” had been put forwards.
During the meeting hand-outs were circulated informing attendees of “What you can do to help”. The advice ranged from writing to local MLA’s and the DETI Minister outlining your views, to encouraging local businesses and suppliers to join in the lobbying.
Speakers also included local councillors, businessmen, director of the Ulster Bank Festival at Queen’s Richard Wakely, and residents of Belfast, all of whom were keen to support action against the funding cuts.