Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín outlines the support measures that have been put in place and future plans to help our local arts and cultural sector who have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Seán O'Casey famously said “All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” This rings true today, when everything has changed, in our daily lives, in our work and in our play.
When we think of the Arts Sector it is easy to underestimate how it enriches our lives. The positive effect that the Arts has on our mental well-being and social interactions is immense. From nursery rhymes and stories on granny’s knee, the nativity or panto at Christmas, through to school or church choirs – these are all part of the fabric of our childhood and early cultural experiences. As adults, arts and cultural experiences are all around us – from music and film in our homes (along with family artwork proudly displayed on the fridge!), to performances and public art throughout our communities, towns and cities. All of these forms of cultural expression can help to lift us, to connect us, and to enrich us.
As Minister I am a champion of universal access to the arts. I believe that access to the arts is a right, not a privilege. This brings with it a responsibility to support the sector in a way which supports broad access to these experiences, both digitally and through live performances, when the public health advice allows this to be done safely.
This period of uncertainty has been difficult for everyone, not least the sector, both financially and creatively. For some, the impact continues to grow more acute with the passing weeks. Whilst none of us can predict the future, I have met with many in the sector, and have given my commitment to move forwards hand-in-hand with them through this period.
In March, at the outbreak of Covid, Minister Hargey asked the Arts Council to ensure that 50% of the £12.9m in annual core grants were paid up front to support 97 key organisations. I am continuing to support the sector with £1.5m in additional funds for individuals and small to medium-sized organisations. In June, I announced a further £4m to boost the recovery for musicians, performers, freelancers and arts and culture venues. I am grateful to the Arts Council for responding so quickly to ensure that these much needed grants are continuing to go to those in need.
One element of the £4m fund is an £1.1m initiative by the Arts Council, in collaboration with Future Screens NI, for creative sector individuals, including freelancers and the self-employed, to enable them to sustain themselves professionally and artistically, whilst adapting to new market conditions resulting from Covid-19. A fund for organisations will open later this month, helping to provide some resilience to arts organisations. Further information on eligibility and the application process will be published on the Arts Council website http://artscouncil-ni.org/.
Funding for Arts and Heritage in England has resulted in Barnett funding of £33m. We are preparing a bid to the Executive, to secure meaningful financial support here. We are listening to those working at grass roots in an effort to engage with a wide group of individuals and organisations. We have engaged subject matter experts from our universities and the Arts Council to provide sectoral research into the impact of Covid on organisations, artists and creative freelancers and suggest how we can help them build resilience in recovery.
We are working in collaboration with other Executive Departments, grassroots groups, industry organisations and others to make preparations for the future. We are listening to people from across the sectors to ensure safe re-opening of venues, when the scientific advice is that we can do so.
The Arts and Creative Sectors have adapted quickly to the changed circumstances created by the pandemic. I applaud the flexibility and creativity that they have shown – artists and performers have provided a vital public service throughout lockdown, producing fresh, relevant work which is accessible in new and innovative ways.
There is strong evidence that the Arts can have positive impacts on our health and well-being, it can relieve stress and can bring communities together. As we emerge from the past few months in dealing with the many life changes, the Arts and Creative Sectors are critical to our recovery.
We are indebted to individuals and organisations across the sector for all that they do. As individuals, we all know the pleasure of experiencing a brilliant tune, a beautiful painting or poem, an amazing performance. As a society, we must recognise and protect the value that the sector adds to quality of life – in terms of health and well being, education, and the economy. I am committed to doing my part to ensure that the sector can continue to create and to thrive – we need it now more than ever.
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