Belfast Festival at Queens is dead … long live Belfast Festival (without QUB funding)

Belfast Festival NOT At QueensQueen’s University, Belfast have today announced that they are ending their financial support for the Belfast Festival.

The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens received 13% of its funding from the university, which also hosted many events on its premises over the last 52 years.

While QUB blame the significant cuts to the public purse and their finances, the also point to the results of a recent strategic review of the festival “which endorsed the need for a redesigned and refreshed international arts event for the entire city and which has been welcomed by the remaining public stakeholders”.

The remaining festival stakeholders will “meet early next week to discuss the options for the future shape of Belfast’s only international, showcase arts and culture festival”.

Festival Director Richard Wakely put a bright spin on news that must have left him gutted:

Whilst this is disappointing news, it nevertheless represents a genuine opportunity to work constructively with our remaining public and private stakeholders to explore the redesign and re-launch of Festival as a city wide event of international stature and significance for 2015 and beyond.

This journey is made possible by the achievements we have made in the last two editions of Festival in 2013 and 2014, re-establishing our artistic credentials at home and abroad, increasing our audiences by 28% in 2014, adding annually £2million to the local economy and returning the Festival to good financial health.

We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with our public Stakeholders including Arts Council Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast City Council and British Council and hope to announce the future of the event and dates for this year’s edition in the coming weeks ahead. Festival is also grateful to Queen’s for its support over the last 52 years and appreciates the difficult economic background against which this decision has been made.”

In recent years the Belfast Festival programme has become slimmer and focussed more on bringing artists and shows to Belfast that are of a scale or stature that they would not otherwise be able to be seen here, rather than just producing entertainment that can be found in the many other excellent local festivals.

The university’s withdrawal of funding flies in the face of arguments put up by academics like Prof John Brewer that the public university needs to put engagement and social good at the heart of its ethos, rather than becoming bursar-led.

Update – QUB pro-vice chancellor Tony Gallagher being interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra …

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  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    It could just be the subjectivity of art, but I’m more inclined to see something at cathedral quarter arts festival I’d go to rather than queens. Perhaps in these times of artistic austerity there could be a consolidation.

  • SDLP supporter

    Without more data about the amounts, it’s hard to comment meaningfully. But it’s hard to believe that Queen’s could not find some savings to fund this. They might start with salaries at the top: as I recall, the Vice Chancellor, distinguished man as I am sure he is, has a salary of circa £250K plus a very nice house at Lennoxvale+liveried staff+chauffeur-driven car+perhaps other perks. Ridiculous that he has a package probably worth twice that of David Cameron. There’s plenty of fat to be trimmed off the public tab.

  • The 52 week long Belfast Festival of Children, Fools and Film in the
    Cathedral Quarters (and elsewhere) including Ideas, Politics, Science,
    Country and Western …

  • PaulT

    Just to point out Queen’s say it’s not the 20k a year it gives that’s the problem, rather it’s that Queens are liable for any losses, apparently there was a big one a few years ago.

  • PaulT

    Then again, opportunity for unionists to do that Pro Israeli Southern Gospel music concert thing they always wanted to do

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-12845245

    Even if the Festival can’t be ‘saved’ …………

  • Gopher

    In the first instance I dunno why money is taken out of my pocket via taxes that prevents me attending events of my choice to fund Queens to put on crap that I dont. Obviously there is a bit of fat there in Queens something to look at in this round of cuts.

  • Mister_Joe

    This is a pity. I was at Queens shortly after the Festival was started and it was the Queen’s Festival. I saw many great productions over the years I was there and some afterwards.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Sad but the funding can be replicated from another source. It has to be said that the Queens Festival quality has declined in the last 20 years anyway. It has competition from other Belfast festivals too.

  • £120k a year (plus covering any deficit)

  • Dan

    Now yer talking

  • Practically_Family

    Ah well, the other 367 Belfast festivals will just have to pull up the slack.

    They’re the only thing we have you know.
    The only light in the darkness.

    13p etc!

  • whatif1984true

    I agree the quality has declined but more importantly the diversity of performers/performances has also narrowed. (I am not alluding to racial diversity). Whilst I applaud attempts to engage those who have never attended the festival, I would welcome any information available on just exactly who attends the festival ( A B C etc/geographic spread).

    Today we have the release of the Programme for the Belfast Film Festival. Where if anywhere do we see information on who attends. Does the Festival publish how many tickets are sold and how many tickets are issued free.

    When we heard about the cuts to Festivals and Arts, I wondered if arguments could be put forward showing the strength of public support. I approached the Lyric Theatre, I asked how many tickets are sold and how many productions they have in a year. They wouldn’t answer, they wanted to know how I intended to use the figures.

    There is part of the problem. Just because the Lyric gets maybe a £million per annum from the public purse we aren’t entitled to know basic information, unless or course, we promise not to tell anyone else. Why would they want to hide their success?

    Is it elitism that favours certain Arts over others? How can we rationally discuss whether the distribution of monies is balanced when all we often know is the lump sum given but not how many people have benefited.

    I would now fear what Queens’ long term attitude is going to be to QFT. I don’t know but I hope that QFT is safe. They had 100,000 people last year for almost 1500 screenings of over 500 individual films. 70% of those films were only shown at QFT. They at least are open about their success.

    Is it true that NI Screen part funds BBC productions. So the BBC already fully funded by the tax payer, gets more money from another public body (NIS) while NIS is at the same time cutting funding to Festivals etc. Presumably the BBC might go elsewhere if they didn’t get the money from NIS.

  • Thomas Girvan

    You would think that when you pay the boss £250k, p.a. he would be smart enough to be able to figure out a way to save £120k. p.a.!

  • Part-Time Commenter

    Let’s not forget that Ulster Bank have significantly reduced their sponsorship as well.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-26333997

    Belfast needs to better coordinate its myriad of arts and culture festivals. One would assume that pooling resources would achieve something of a much improved scale and quality. Perhaps responsibility for at least coordinating that should lie with Belfast City Council?

  • Practically_Family

    Yes “better co ordinate”, or possibly “decimate”.

    Too many fingers in not enough pie.

  • Part-Time Commenter

    Really? Has there been an audit of all existing festivals and the various pockets of funding they receive?

  • Belfast Festival

    You can find our 2014 Festival Review here http://blogs.qub.ac.uk/belfastfestival/files/2014/12/7631-Festival-2014-Review-V5.pdf and the 2013 review is here: http://www.belfastfestival.com/filestore/Filetoupload,431654,en.PDF As you can see it outlines our successes. (KOR for Festival)

  • Practically_Family

    Yes really. And no idea.

  • Part-Time Commenter

    So how do you know there isn’t enough pie?

  • Practically_Family

    Because I’m very clever.

  • Practically_Family

    Consolidation, yes. Or just a fairly swinging cut.

    The Belfast “festival” calendar is a never-ending circlejerk with an imperative to fill a bill rather than to provide a platform.

  • Kevin Breslin

    A university’s bread and butter is its students and lecturers and courses, at some point the arts community should not demand that students, lecturers and capital investment for STEM and indeed arts and humanities as well is sacrificed to austerity for an unprofitable arts festival. The capital investment provided by harvesting the festival could ensure we have the skilled entrepreneurs, specialist doctors and world class science researchers to ensure we have a growth economy that stops the austerity hurting our universities… Rather than harvesting medicine, science, language and business courses for a festival people aren’t going to attend.

    Raiding salaries is a populist arguement, but effectively will mean academic staff not merely “administrative” staff taking the fall. At least the admin is getting the uni money, and is paid well enough to ensure that the buck for the university not falling into bankruptcy and chaos stops with them, while the festival is causing the universities to lose money and has become a bit of a sacred cow to people who wouldn’t attend a single event but are happy to overwork low paid lecturers, raise tuition fees and reduce the standards of equipment and the knowledge base in order to have the event.

    Universities can’t be slaves to public conveniences and sacred cows.

  • Kevin Breslin

    HSBC is a broken bank, and Ulster Bank is one of the most broken banks of that broken bank. We have a festival based on one main founder with toxic banking debt and another on tuition loans that never get paid back due to youth unemployment and boomerangism … And the festival’s just adding more liabilities to both… No wonder it’s struggling.

  • Alex

    I am told that QUB in 2013/14 had 87 staff earning more than 100K p.a.and are increasing this elite higher paid layer all the time. Perhaps some cuts to senior management and some trimmings of the fatcats at Queens would help allow the university to contribute this paltry sum to the city that gives it so much in the first place!

  • Zeno

    Hey they took £180 million out of our pockets to refurbish a Rugby, Soccer and a GAA Stadium last year. The GAA one didn’t happen yet and the Soccer one will need millions more to fix the stand.