Ormeau Baths Gallery to close!

The Arts Council has decided to close the Ormeau Baths Art Gallery. One concerned artist writes with an appeal to protest it tomorrow at 1pm outside the Gallery itself in Ormeau Avenue. Tomorrow is also the scheduled closure date!!

Local art enthusiasts will know that the Ormeau Baths is the only Gallery in Northern Ireland that can be said an equal- in facilities, quality and sophistication- to those on the mainland or in Dublin. It has long and close links with the Fine Arts course at the University of Ulster, and at the moment is hosting an exhibition celebrating the work of 25 years of Master of Fine Art graduates. No other gallery in the Province or, indeed, the country has the will or the facilities to provide this platform for us, and for other new and emerging artists living here.

At the moment, launching oneself as an artist from Northern Ireland is imperceptibly hard- without the Ormeau Baths, its facilities, its support and most importantly its annual Perspective show, we are- to put it bluntly- screwed. The only other galleries willing to give exhibition space to students are obscure, non-central and despite their best efforts, badly funded and semi-derelict.

The protest is happening outside the Gallery at 1 pm on Wednesday.


The Arts Council at a hastily convened meeting on 13th February informed the Chair of Ormeau Baths Gallery that the Council would be withdrawing funding from the Gallery with immediate effect.

Ormeau Baths Gallery is the most significant venue for visual arts in Northern Ireland and is one of the largest specialising in contemporary visual arts in Ireland. In the 10 years since it was established OBG has raised the profile of Northern Irish visual art practice both at home and abroad, and has presented the work of major international artists to audiences in Northern Ireland. Its closure will have a significant effect on the arts community in Northern Ireland as well as the image of Northern Ireland internationally.

This extreme step is the culmination of a series of actions taken by the Arts Council which date back to the Board of Ormeau Baths Gallery’s decision in December 2003 to withdraw from the Arts Council’s proposed City Centre Arts Centre to be sited at Talbot Street. OBG’s decision was made after careful consideration and taken in the best interests of the visual arts sector.

It is indicative of the way that the Arts Council conducts business that our decision prompted a senior member of the Arts Council executive, to instruct staff to “make life difficult” for Ormeau Baths Gallery. Ormeau Baths Gallery unwittingly presented the Arts Council with an opportunity when a number of administrative and procedural errors were identified in our draw down of Lottery funding, a situation which is not uncommon among comparable arts organisations but one which led the Arts Council to take prolonged and disproportionate action against Ormeau Baths Gallery.

During the last two years Ormeau Baths Gallery have put in place stringent financial control mechanisms and have been reporting monthly to the Arts Council who have been releasing grant income on a monthly basis.

Ormeau Baths Gallery has co-operated with the Arts Council throughout this process, in order to build confidence and re-establish a constructive working relation between the two organisations. The executive of the Arts Council have however continued to undermine the Board and management of Ormeau Baths Gallery and have sought to create an impression to its own Council that Ormeau Baths Gallery was a cause for ongoing concern.

The Arts Council in a letter from the Chief Executive dated 9th September 2005 sought further reassurances and requested that a “complete restructuring of the Board and staff restructuring” be carried out. The Board of Ormeau Baths Gallery accepted this proposal and was in the process of implementing this request when the decision was made to withdraw funding.

The Arts Council have cited non-compliance to this request as the reason for withdrawing funding, and make reference to a letter from the Director of Ormeau Baths Gallery detailing a timetable for implementation. Ormeau Baths Gallery, having changed its Memorandum and Articles of Association, was about to place a series of public advertisements to call for new Board members, a process which would be conducted by an external recruitment agency. The letter indicated that when in place this new Board would appraise management and staffing structures and institute necessary changes by November/December 2006.

It appears that the Arts Council could not accept the logical chronology of this approach. The Arts Council did not impress upon the Board of OBG that this would result in the withdrawing of all funding but instead were unavailable for discussion, despite repeated efforts to contact them to progress the recruitment process.

The Arts Council’s emphasis on staff restructuring would now appear to have less to do with a wish to enhance staffing provision at the Gallery as was articulated to OBG, but rather a continuation of a two year long process to discredit and remove both the Board of Ormeau Baths Gallery, Hugh Mulholland its Director, and his staff.

The manner of the enforced closure of Ormeau Baths Gallery and the effect this will have on the arts infrastructure of Northern Ireland raise serious issues of confidence in the Arts Council and its executive. To register your support for Ormeau Baths Gallery or question how this decision sits with ACNI’s Visual Arts Funding Policy which states that the Council:

“wishes to see Northern Ireland develop as a centre of excellence for the production, presentation and critical analysis of contemporary visual arts. It encourages quality, innovation and experimentation to develop a culture in which visual art is respected and valued”

  • Was there this morning – and was told I was the last official visitor to the gallery as they locked the doors behind me and said they were now closed!

    I couldn’t believe it – I don’t know any of the individuals involved – either at the gallery or at the Arts Council so I have no opinion as to the legitimacy of the closure – but am stunned that this leaves practically no venue for contemporary art here in N.I.

  • henry

    Its pretty disgusting- whatever you think about the Ormeau Baths gallery its very low of the Arts council to attempt to demoralise the staff and force them into closure. I think the head of Arts Council should go for this….

  • chris

    I can’t believe the arts councils decision. It will remove an excellent art and cultural venue. The Ormeau Baths Gallery reflected a vibrant and creative space for people from across Northern Ireland and beyond to enjoy the talent of local and international artists. I definitely feel that it the gallery was symbolic of the regeneration efforts for Belfast as it provided a platform for fresh and innovative approaches to art. The Art’s Council needs to think outside the box when it comes to funding important initiatives such as these and more noise is needed from the people who want it to stay!

  • henry

    On the day of the closure of the closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery, some questions for the Arts Council.

    1. The Arts Council say they “agreed to help OBG to wind down its affairs in an orderly, business-like manner”. Is it orderly and business-like to give two days’ notice to the four permanent members of staff, and not even leave time to take down the current exhibition?

    2. The Arts Council say there were financial irregularities at the Ormeau Baths Gallery. Why then did a forensic audit, called by the Arts Council, clear it of any wrongdoing?

    3. The Arts Council say they are “actively exploring options with potential partners in the visual arts sector and are confident that the gallery space will re-open”. Given the alienation of the arts sector as a result of this sudden closure how can this confidence be justified?

    4. Given the Arts Council’s advocacy of an “arm’s length” policy towards their clients, why have they continuously interfered in the day-to day running of the gallery over a two-year period?

    5. The Arts Council has declared a number of reasons for the closure of the gallery including unsustainability and loss of confidence in the management. What evidence is there for any of these claims?

    6. The Arts Council says they are “saddened by the decision of the Chair of the Ormeau Baths Gallery to announce the closure of the Gallery”. How can they claim to be “saddened” when their own withdrawal of funding forced the Gallery’s closure?

  • idunnomeself

    Glad to see the Arts Council finally standing up to the Arts Sector and actually insisting public funds are correctly spent.

    Don’t know much about the specifics, but Artists need to see teh bigger picture, an unprofessional and poorly run arts sector will mean less money for artists in the long term. And none of us want that.

    And don’t pretend that artists don’t spend half their time bitching about each other’s funding anyway..


  • rojoy

    You dunno much yourself do you?

    The specifics you claim not to know about are in the press statements above. This has got shit all to do with mismanagement of public funds. The bottom line is the ACNI have been trying to make life extremely difficult for Ormeau baths staff for the last two years. They have done everything possible to get rid of the director of the gallery. Mainly because OBG refused to go ahead with arts councils half-assed Talbot Street arts centre.

    This isn’t necessarily about funding or the value of a contemporary art gallery, it’s about the bullying tactics of ACNI and the lies within their press statements.

  • Rob

    First time I tried to find the way in to it I ended up in Navigator Blue….

  • Needia

    Rob, I find the door beside the ‘Ormeau Baths Gallery’ sign works well.

  • jimi hughes

    as regards the situation yesterday with the closure of the ormeau baths and the earlier closure of NI Visual arts forum etc the arts scene is depressing at the minute . i would like to invite u all down to the conway mill gallery belfast tonite at 7 where i will be opening my own show Solitude , which like most of my shows recieves no funding , no support bar a few friends so if you want to see this place through my eyes come down for a glass of non funded wine ! jimi

  • Will try to make it to the opening – I like your use of this sad event as an opportunity for shameless self-promotion! 😉

    And on that note – check out the photos of the silent vigil on my website: lettertoamerica.blogs.com

  • jimi hughes

    hope to see u there , enjoyed lettertoamerica.blogs.com looks like quite an alternative to the mainstream media . jimi

  • tonic55

    Just think of what’s going to happen to OBG as a result of closure, restructure, new managment. I think it’ll be the last time we see the likes of Stan Douglas, Bill Viola, David Byrne (even though I didn’t particularly like that one), Gilbert & George the Annual Perspective Show, Family Art Days and even being able to buy a copy of magazines like Frieze, Eye, Contemporary in an environment that the people (not just the art sector) of Belfast can be proud of.

    Without vision we’re just part of the backwater this place could so easily become, and it’s the vision of individuals like Hugh Mulholland that has put Belfast on the map. With ACNI assistance of course but a grudging one.

    Ulster Orchestra granted over £1.8 million!!!! a year… mismanaged use of public money I’d say… it has been receiving Council money since 1966, i’d doubt they’re in the black … even though they are ‘professional’… how can we listen to trite about accountability and sustainability. Art is not about profit.

    This whole OBG thing sucks and the bullies at ACNI should bow their heads in shame. Next time (if) we have N.Ireland at the Venice Biennale who’s it gonna be representing us… Rita Duffy.

    Oh Shit!

    PS. Jimi… omg what were you thinking with that blatant plug for your show! Hope it went well though.

  • Needia

    “Next time (if) we have N.Ireland at the Venice Biennale who’s it gonna be representing us… Rita Duffy. ”

    Not funny, man. THAT’S NOT FUNNY.

  • jimi hughes

    I,ll represent NI at the Venice Biennale , why not !
    could do with a nice break out of here .i hear tracy emin throws a good party . also you have a good point about the magazines where do we buy them now and also papers . eg easons ballymena last weekend, whats the independant ? they didnt know there was an newspaper called the independant ( the english one ) so how can we hope for a good stock of mags especially art.

  • idunnomeself

    Actually I have plenty of experience of other such carry ons.

    Where when faced with genuine concerns about accountability artists jump to wild conclusions and wilder conspiracy theories.

    And the rest of the world thinks they are mad

    And the people in the Arts COuncil have a harder job convincing tax payers that more public money should be sepnt funding the arts.

    Too much time on your hands..