£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

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