£421.82 For The Arts or is it 13p?

13p per person per week for the arts.
£6.76 per person per year for the arts.
£421.82 per person per lifetime (18-80.4) for the arts

On the face of it, 13p For The Arts is a worthy and well run campaign, and of course those within the industry should campaign against cuts being imposed, I do however feel that the figures presented are far too simplistic. Naturally, the arts industry is one of creative thinkers, so when presented with £1.38m worth of budget cuts, the best and brightest available came up with a catchy title, some well designed graphics and also roped in some of our most publicly noted individuals. I am a supporter of the arts, you are too, we all are. Whether you know it or not, if there’s a local band you like, there’s a good chance that The Nerve Centre in L’Derry or the Oh Yeah Centre had some involvement in their early existence. If you enjoy a play or a musical, even a panto at the Grand Opera House, the arts affect everyone.
So too do street lights, gully emptying, road maintenence, winter gritting, hospital beds, A&E departments, hospices, teachers…the list is as varied as our society. So why should 13p For The Arts be any less affected by cuts? I have heard the whole scale of reasons, from how much it benefits society as a whole, how much it brings people together, how “it really isn’t that much money…” which is where my problem comes.

As someone within the hospitality industry, we have a strong link with the arts, venues I have run have hosted countless gigs, trad sessions, poetry readings, play recitals, I’ve even regularly let bands use a function room for rehearsal just for what I refer to as “Good Business Karma.” I love going to the Theatre and would struggle to cope day-to-day without Music (although weirdly, I absolutely abhor musicals). I’m not alone, and even the Belfast Telegraph has got behind the campaign, although considering how much of their weekly print run features reviews and event listings alongside local interest stories along with the arts, this isn’t that surprising. It’s all a bit too simple. So I’d like to take a deeper look at it.
Arts 2
Arts 1

40,000 people are employed in the arts

…that’s mightily impressive…the hospitality sector has more, and we don’t have our own dedicated government department (in fact it could be argued that the hospitality industry has a department dedicated to restricting it). The hospitality industry is not subsidised or held aloft by grants.

Ulster Bank Festival at Queens 2012 generated £577,180 Tourism Revenue

Well done. This financial year, the festival is being funded by the NI Arts Council to the value of £189,150 or an entire years worth of 13p’s per week from slightly more than the entire population of Coleraine.

1 Day – How long the arts budget would sustain health, social services & public safety

this is a very ambiguous figure, I see how they mean it to be read, however if as part of cost cutting measures, the DHSSPS suggested shutting down all Health Dept buildings, hospitals, doctors, hospices for 1 day…how many people would sign THAT petition

4 Days – How long the arts budget would sustain the justice system

Once again, suggest removing policing for 4 days a year and we’ll see which campaign has more backers.

This is just based on their stylish graphics…lets look further.

The NI Arts Council who are behind the 13p for the arts campaign, have an executive of 5 members, led by Chief Executive Roisin McDonough. Lets ignore the 13p per week, lets look at the £6.76 per year (because nobody really counts per week), she is paid just shy of £80,000 p/a, which is £6.76 from just more than every single citizen of Cookstown and Downpatrick. The 5 members of the executive board are in total paid £295,000 per year…or £6.96 from every person in Ballymena and Armagh COMBINED. Obviously they do a fairly high profile and important job and jobs need paying for, but the proposed cut of £1.38m isnt even enough to cover the 2012-13 wage bill of the Arts Council as whole (£2,119,474). To cover the entire wage bill for the 48 members of staff for the NI Arts council, you would need to take £6.76 per year from every person in Londonderry, Lisburn, Newtownabbey, Bangor, Craigavon, Lurgan, Portadown, Newtownards AND Banbridge….combined

In spite of earning a salary nearly 4 times the Northern Irish average, the chief executive of the NI Arts Council still doesn’t have to pay to enjoy the arts, she received approximately 62 complimentary tickets for events in the financial year 2013-14, including 9 different performances at the Ulster Bank Festival at Queens in the space of 11 days. One of which was 2 tickets for Jose Carreras at the Waterfront Hall…ticket value, £260. £520 that could have been perhaps sold to a person who wanted to contribute to the arts and enjoy a concert, went as a freebie to the CE of the Arts Council, spare a thought for the other staff member who also received a freebie ticket who had to enjoy it alone and in a cheap seat (£50). In fact £775.50 worth of free tickets went to employees for the festival, although to be fair to the rest of the staff, £627 of that was for the Chief Executive.

We’ve been inundated recently with calls for the Ulster Orchestra to be saved, well in 1 year, £616 worth of tickets were freebies for people working at the NI Arts Council, perhaps if those most involved in the campaign decided to start paying for tickets to things, the situation wouldn’t have to be portrayed as so dire.

Looking through the current job opportunities listed on the NI Arts Council website, is a £2500 funded role available to “Build peace through the arts” in Barnesmore…..Co. Donegal. I’m not completely familiar with all the nuances of the Good Friday Agreement, but why is the NI Arts Council funding an art installation in a different financial jurisdiction?

If the arts council do find themselves strapped for cash, they could always sell their 3 Steinway Model D Grand Pianos, worth an approximate listing price combined of over £200,000. or perhaps the infamous RISE (Balls on the Falls to you and me) could be sold for scrap metal…it cost £400,000 in the first place, I wonder if somebody kept the receipts?

Street lights in Northern Ireland are currently too expensive to replace, we can’t afford to change a bulb…how much would it cost? £2.3m p/a. It has been suggested that next winter we may not be able to afford to grit roads…£3.1m per winter(£6.96 per year from nearly 450,000 citizens. The 13p for the arts campaign has simplified a very complex area of the economy to try and drum up sympathy, the problem is, the arts are indeed a worthy cause, but perhaps look at the bigger picture before drawing your conclusion based on some snappy graphics and a catch tagline. Yes, the arts are important to society, but when we are struggling to keep schools staffed to operational levels, why are we spending £189,150 on arts projects for prisons….(£6.76 for every person in Newtownards….or £94 PER YEAR spent for each person in a Northern Irish Prison or Young Offenders Institute.

I’m not saying don’t fund the arts, I’m saying perhaps the arts should be as creative with solving the problem itself as they have been at imploring wider society to take pity on the situation, if an arts event wants some publicity right now, instead of paying for an advertisement or perhaps taking on a marketing company, photograph your cast with a “13p” placard and you’ll probably end up in some newspaper. And if you all want to buy me a Pint, it’ll only cost every citizen of NI £0.0000019

Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.

  • Ernekid

    Spending for the Arts is as vital for a healthy and well functioning society as spending on Health and Education. For little investment, you get big returns, not just in the financial sense but in the more intangible sense. If you want people to feel good about where they live and lead happier more fulfilled lives, then its important to spend on the arts. One of the best things that Northern Ireland has for itself is it’s fantastic musical and cultural heritage. If you want people to come and visit here, the easiest way is to invest in the arts to give them something to do.

    I’m not saying that the Arts budget couldn’t be spent better or resources couldn’t be deployed better but to defund the Arts budget will do lasting societal harm to every one who lives here.

  • Gopher

    I have to agree, I object to my freewill of deciding what is art being taken away from me by unelected quangos like the arts council. Like I said if your good enough and lucky enough you can earn money from your hobby, if your really talented it can become your job, if not then you just have to work to subsidize it like everyone else. Nobody pays my subs every year why should I pay for yours?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I’m not saying defund it at all, although when £200,000 could probably be raised by the sale of 3 pianos and we’re funding art projects in Donegal, the 13p campaign begins to look a little “poor me, poor me, pour me another”. First, look to yourself for help, then look to others.

  • Ernekid

    Those Pianos could be argued to be valuable state assets. Sure you could sell them but if they are being used reguarly why would you? If you want to attract the best musicians in the World then you need the best instruments. How do you attract a world renowned Classical Pianist if you’ve little better than a Casio Keyboard?
    You might make a quick buck by selling them off but you could make the same arguement for selling off the Artwork in the possession of the state but I don’t see anyone arguing for emptying the National Gallery.

    As for the Donegal Arts project I’m all for cross border spending. The example you give there is a project calling ‘Building Peace through the Arts’ an attempt to reconcile communities in divided border areas. If we want to move away from our divisive past then surely Arts spending is the best way to do it. It gets people to discuss their experiences and reconcile divisions and hatred. The Troubles effected the Donegal side of the border just as much as it effected the Derry side. Schemes like this bring people together on both sides of the border

    In a Post Conflict society it’s vital for us to find ways of moving on from our troubled past. If we can do it through the Arts then its a worthy way to spend money.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    “If we want to move away from our divisive past then surely Arts spending is the best way to do it.”

    Seriously? Away up to Stormont and let them know you’ve sussed it, art is the way forward. The pianos are NI arts council…..the arts council don’t host external events, I’m sure they get played but it isn’t the waterfront or the UO that have them….and 3 of them? Seriously?

  • Practically_Family

    Were I more erudite, I’d have written the same.

    Excellent piece.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)


  • It’s not going to come as a huge surprise that the resident Slugger arts nerd disagrees! There are some points you raise that I do agree with – the Festival at Queens is frequently outside of my budget, public subsidy or not, and were I not getting free tickets for some things I probably wouldn’t go. Why? It is no reflection on whether the productions are worth it – it is simply because I work in the arts and community education and I make buttons!

    There are other points, though, like this one: “why are we spending £189,150 on arts projects for prisons….(£6.76 for every person in Newtownards….or £94 PER YEAR spent for each person in a Northern Irish Prison or Young Offenders Institute.”
    I am unsure of the exact issue. Is it spending money on prisons full stop you are objecting to? Or spending so much money on prisons? Or is it the fact that it is art projects in prisons?

    I don’t think there is a lot of understanding of why arts projects are so important in settings targeted at socially marginalised or vulnerable people – whether this is a prison, community centre, residential care, hospital etc.

    I am all for art for art’s sake. But these types of publicly funded arts projects tend to have an instrumental value in these settings. People can become isolated, depressed, anxious, lonely, frustrated and hopeless. Engagement cannot fix all these problems but it can, tangibly and measurably, help. There is a stigma about accessing mental health care and many people have had negative experiences of education and are loathe to return. So they don’t want to go to a doctor, see a counsellor, attend group therapy or take part in classroom based education.

    Arts projects can be a very effective way to engage people, preventing them from becoming isolated, giving them an outlet to express how they feel and can act as a conduit into health service provision or education. Once people engage in any kind of project and their confidence grows they feel more comfortable accessing mental health care or going back to the classroom.

    Arts projects have been hugely effective in community development, cross community relations and in addressing the trauma, anxiety and bereavement caused by the conflict here. They continue to be hugely effective at engaging and supporting marginalised individuals, groups and communities.

    I should know – I have worked in community arts and education since 2007. I have also been a stay at home mum with very little money and I have gone out to Sure Start funded baby massage, cookery and sewing groups with my little boys. It certainly made me feel less lonely and I’m sure was very good for preventing me from becoming isolated and depressed, at home with two young children all day on my own.

    Is the arts “worth” it, compared to fixing streetlights? I think so. I respect that I might be in the minority on here, though.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I’m not saying the arts shouldn’t be funded. There is a certain element of it saying that art should take what it’s given and be grateful for it…but I very much would hate for arts to disappear. I do wonder though why so much is funded and not interest free loans….if you can’t pay back what you need to be given to run certain events, perhaps it shouldn’t be on in the first place. I exclude “social outreach” causes such as the surestart classes, but Belfast festival? There are 2 book printers given money….if you can’t make money printing books, you shouldn’t be printing books.

    Re prisons, 1: I feel funding for this shouldn’t be an arts issue, it’s the justice dept. I am not comfortably listening to the UO complain About having no operating capital whilst near £200,000 is spent on arts in prison. It’s prison. Read a book, take a foundation class, sit in your cell and think about what you’ve done. I don’t want my tax money being used to let prisoners explore their feelings through the medium of pottery or watercolours.

  • “There are 2 book printers given money….if you can’t make money printing books, you shouldn’t be printing books.”

    The only books that really make money are big, bombastic bestsellers – the Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings of this world. Most literary fiction authors, let alone publishers, earn very very little. Without subsidy a lot of local poetry / short stories / novels would never make it to print. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a worthwhile use of public money to you. But I guarantee I can find other, more populist events that were given funding that I would not, personally, find particularly worthwhile. I mean, the funding given to Titanic Belfast? An attraction I haven’t even visited yet because if it costs £15 to walk around, that’s £15 too much for me. “Oh but it brings in so many tourists”. Yes….and so do arts festivals! £30k on policing for the Carl Frampton title fight? If you can’t afford to pay for adequate security at your event then don’t put it on!

    To summarise, yes, the arts are given money for things some people find ridiculous. I would say that there is intrinsic value in art and it should be funded. But I know a lot of people will disagree. Fair enough. But look at the other projects we fling public money at and consider whether this puts the arts spend in perspective.

    “I don’t want my tax money being used to let prisoners explore their feelings through the medium of pottery or watercolours.”

    There are a lot of reasons people end up in prison. Some are societal, some are mental health related, some are not. If a painting / music / pottery group makes this man / woman / young person feel less depressed, angry, isolated, marginalised and worthless, or gives them some hope and aspiration for their future back in the community, then I’d say this is money well spent. Prison is not just punitive, it is intended to be rehabilitating.

    Ultimately, if you genuinely believe that it would be better if they just “sit in your cell and think about what you’ve done”, I can see this argument won’t hold much sway with you. Maybe this will – the risk of reoffending is extremely high for prisoners released back
    into the community who haven’t been rehabilitated or given any
    aspiration for the future. This means more victims of more crimes and
    then, ultimately, a higher cost of keeping that person in prison for a
    longer sentence. So, I guess that makes genuinely engaging / transformatuve arts programmes better value than the alternative.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I categorically do not believe that anyone in prison has seen the error of their ways thanks to creative expression. And I’m not really debating if the arts are worthwhile. The figures are not what they seem and there are priorities askew. You couldn’t afford to go to an event without a freebie….the ce could. Debate the facts in the article, not the value of art, I’m not questioning the concept of arts. Take some of the stark realities in my article, do you feel confident that the Arts Council are administrating the facilities and the arts that you hold so dear in the best possible manner?

  • “I’m not really debating if the arts are worthwhile.”

    By debating whether funding for the arts is worthwhile, I would say that inevitably it comes back to whether the arts are worthwhile in general.

    “there are priorities askew.”


    “do you feel confident that the Arts Council are administrating the
    facilities and the arts that you hold so dear in the best possible

    That is not for me to say. I have never had responsibility for managing budgets as large as that myself, and I have absolutely no background in finance, so I don’t really feel comfortable or qualified in saying whether money is being spent appropriately and on worthwhile projects. I doubt there is some kind of cloak and dagger “13p for the arts conspiracy”, in which the Arts Council are trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and pull a fast one (not that that is what you are suggesting either).

    Could there be greater economies and efficiencies in the arts budgets? I’m sure there could be. Could there be even greater economies and efficiencies in the OFMDFM budget? Definitely.

    When public money is at stake and most of us are skint and fed up with being skint, the scrutiny on how it is spent is – justifiably – intense.

    But strawman arguments that our public money is all going on watercolour classes for unrepentant inmates and expensive pianos by that reckless Arts Council, masked behind a misleading public funding campaign, is not really a fair assessment either.

  • hugodecat

    The proposed cuts to the arts will hit hard, many of the organisations effected at the end of the food chain are already do amazing work meeting cultural and social need on a shoestring.. ( its not been enough for years now. To simply put on a bloody good show – you are expected to prevent suicide or reduce domestic violence by putting on a programming of youth engagement workshops while you are doing it to get even a sniff of cash). However, the arts council itself and many of its core funded projects have fed well from the stormont trough for a little to long . measuring spending on the arts in nurses or spending on nuclear weapons in schools is now and always has been a lazy argument. I have sat on the boards of a few culture and arts organisations that would give their eye teeth for even a tiny portion of the sponsorship, core funding and media exposure offered to the chosen few. So yes , I agree. A certain amount of reality checking is needed in the arts sector, along with a considerable amount of root and branch reform. But hey the vast majority of the arts sector could be put out of business by these cuts..because mist of what’s left will be syphoned off for the chosen few events. Attended by the chosen few from the population who can well afford to buy unfunded tickets ..

    PS apologies if this is a bit if a ramble, written at work on my tea break

  • Nevin

    That 13p caught my attention. In a recent ‘Save the Ulster Orchestra – BBC – A Question of Equality’ blog on NALIL I noted that ‘for every £1 the BBC licence payers contribute to the BBC’s performing groups, they contribute 13p to the Ulster Orchestra’. Perhaps the DCAL minister could play the equality card?

  • ArtsCouncilNI

    Dear Belfast Barman(ager)

    Thank you for your contribution to the ongoing discussion around the No More Cuts to the Arts #13pForTheArts campaign. We are delighted that you have been able to follow the campaign so closely, and thank you for your compliments about the campaign being well run, and of course for sharing our info graphics with a wider audience. Any discussion of the arts in Northern Ireland is welcome and we would be happy to discuss some of your concerns directly with you in the New Year and to challenge the inaccuracies you have published too. We don’t know who you are but if you’d like to message us (email info@artscouncil-ni.org) we will be delighted to schedule a meeting.

    In the meantime once again we thank you for presenting your views and we wish you and yours a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and we hope you enjoy attending lots more publicly funded arts events in 2015.

    With regards

    The Arts Council of Northern Ireland