What has the Laganside Events Grant scheme been spent on?

laganside boundaryAfter an unexpected intervention on Thursday night, some of the data requested from the Department for Social Development was emailed to me at lunchtime on Friday. It covers the last three years of the Laganside Events Grant, specifying the organisations as well as the amounts they have received.

  • In 2009/10, the largest grant was awarded to Belfast Festival At Queen’s which received 22,650. (This is the last year I remember the Spiegeltent being set up in Custom House Square as part of the October festival.)
  • In 2010/11, the largest grant was £16,000 to the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
  • In 2011/12, the largest grant was £15,000 to the Lagan Watersports event.
  • Over the last three years, Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Open House Festival and Festival of Fools have been the top three beneficiaries, followed by Lagan Watersports, Cinemagic and the Black Box.
  • According to the statistics provided, the Laganside Events Grant gave out a total of £241,504 in 2009/10 (compared to the available pot of £250,000); £195,141 in 2010/11 (pot of £250,000?); and £196,100 in 2011/12 (pot of £250,000 – if Commmunity fund is subtracted). While the original press releases are not always clear in differentiating between the Laganside Events and Laganside Community Activity grants, it looks like the full amount available was not handed out in the last two years.

Not all organisations have successfully applied to the Laganside Events scheme over all three years. The table below is sorted by the average grant per year (descending). Note that there is some variation in organisation names across the three years, so I’ve matched them up by hand. (The 2011/12 entry for Northern Visions may actually equate to the Belfast Film Festival the year before.)

table showing three years of Laganside Events Grants from DSD

The colour coding flags whether in a second or third year of funding the amount of the grant went down (green), stayed the same (amber) or went up (red). In terms of encouraging sustainability, I would expect that repeat requesters get less each year unless there was a justified major expansion of their programme.

The data shows that for the majority of the events receiving grants of £10,000 or more, the value of the grants has been decreasing (or at worst, holding level) in subsequent years.

The withdrawal of the Laganside Events Grant was often summarised in media reports as “a cut in arts funding for the Cathedral Quarter”. Is that accurate?

Since the withdrawal of the Laganside Events Grant two weeks ago, certainly the loudest voice of complain (and celebration at the point of reinstatement) has come from the Cathedral Quarter Steering Group. But the grants were available for events right across the Laganside area, which also covers the Odyssey, Waterfront, St George’s Market, as well as the river itself.

I quickly tagged each event with a location to see how the money was split, using categories of Cathedral Quarter / partially CQ / Odyssey / other location / unknown (ie, I couldn’t figure out where the event had taken place).

pie charts showing geographic distribution of Laganside Events Grant by DSD over last three years

  • The proportion of the grant given to events held in Cathedral Quarter (including partially) fell from around 90% in 2009/10 to around 70% in 2011/12.
  • Very few events in St George’s Market successfully applied for grants.
  • Over time, an increasing amount of money has being granted to events held in the Odyssey (up to 8% in 2011/12).

Is losing DSD’s Laganside Events Grant a disaster?

Events can and do apply for funding from more than one public (or private) body. Belfast City Council, the Arts Council NI, the Tourist Board and Peace III are all potential sources of public funding.

The data supplied by DSD on Friday also listed other non-DSD sources of funding for the events that had benefited from the Laganside Events Grant. (As it is not clear whether this information was collated from application forms or post-event submissions, I can’t be certain whether this extra information is what organisers hoped to receive, or whether it is an accurate breakdown of what they did receive.)

The chart below paints a fascinating picture of the funding streams for many well known events. Public funding is at the left hand side; private funding at the right. (The chart only includes events which received more than £11,000 of public funding in 2011/12.) Note that ticket charges or gate receipts are not included.

Spread of funding across public and private sources for 2011/12 recipients of Laganside Events Grant from DSD

For many events, DSD (blue) contributes a relatively small proportion of the funding received. Many of the larger events received substantially more funding from the Arts Council, City Council and/or Tourist Board than they did from DSD Laganside Events.

  • 19% of the 2011/12 Laganside Events budget was spent on events that received no other public or private funding, including Lagan Watersports, NI Hospice, Belfast Custom Bike Show, Welcome Organisation, Chinese Welfare Association and Macmillan Cancer Support.
  • An event like UK Strongest Man (which goes way off the top of the chart) got less than 1% of its funding from DSD in 2011/12, and raised nearly £600,000 from private sources.

In future years, two kinds of events look to be most at risk from reduced funding opportunities. Events that rely almost solely on DSD funding (eg, Lagan Watersports) will need to change their funding/commercial models to survive. And events that are used to both DSD and Arts Council funding – mainly festivals – will soon not get anything from DSD and will also be subjected to the tighter limits of the Arts Council’s generosity now that their wallet is also lighter.

(The raw data is available for download.)

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