Féile has been the big daddy of community festivals for some time now. For many years, I was involved in a local community festival and was part of a national group of festival organisers. Throughout this time and since, Féile has been seen as the event at the forefront of development and innovation in communinty festival matters. I remember when they did an economic impact assessment years ago, when making the direct link between a festival and an economic impact had not been contemplated before.
It is not surprising that the news that there has been a £100,00 funding cut has been greeted with dismay. Indeed Danny Morrison goes one further and tries to find an equation between the millions spent as a result of rioting last September and the reduction in funding. There is no equation and no logic to be found. Investment into ventures such as Féile build capacity within communities and provide an alternative to unproductive or violent behaviours.Bairbre de Brún has commented that:
This is not the way to reward community effort and entrepreneurship. The organisers of Féile an Phobail, and the thousands of volunteers behind the scenes must be applauded for their sterling work over this past eighteen years in putting West Belfast on the map, when others tried to denigrate and demonise this community.
And I believe she is correct. Tourism in Belfast has increased 400 fold since 1994, and the City Council see tourism as a stable and growing economic basis for the future. Part of the marketing package of Belfast is Féile, so it seems shortsighted to reduce funding and place it at risk. In many cases, the rationale is that such events should be self-funding and develop a delf-sufficiency, but this may not be wholly achievable in a deprived area such as West Belfast. To quote again from Danny Morrison on this area of the issue:
Given the historic deprivation in the area prices were kept at a minimum and all literary, political events and lectures were deliberately free. The events which made some profit – marquee concerts, comedy night, tribute nights – helped to defray the costs of some of the cultural events which had received only limited funding, but it was never easy.
The Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC) – which is funded by the Department of Arts, Culture and Leisure (DCAL) – likes to subsidise the occasional Elton John or Pavarotti concert in the grounds of Stormont.
Four years ago it refused to fund the Harlem Gospel Choir at Clonard Monastery for spurious reasons, including that it made no “significant contribution to promoting social cohesion.”