The Lyric welcome the announcement this week from the Department for Communities of £4m support for the arts and culture sector. We were delighted to welcome Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and actor Sean Kearns to the Lyric on Wednesday morning to discuss the announcement. We look forward to working with the Minister and all departments in the NI Executive on shaping our “creative future” together.

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has announced a major £4 million lifeline for the arts sector as part of the Executive’s June Monitoring round. The additional funding will provide a much needed boost for arts – including musicians, performers and cultural workers, arts venues and museums as they rebuild for the future following the devastating impact of Covid-19. The Minister is pictured with Claire Murray, Head of Development and Marketing at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast and local actor Sean Kearns.

This announcement comes after a prolonged campaign over the last few weeks which saw the senior team at the Lyric join colleagues right across the arts & culture sector in Northern Ireland to appeal to the NI Executive to make a significant and immediate financial intervention to ensure the sector survives the Covid-19 restrictions and is in a position to help the region recover economically and socially.

The grouping, which includes the Arts Collaboration Network, arts venues, freelance artists & workers, theatre producers, community-based arts organisations and Festivals & Events, has sent a Recovery Plan Executive Ministers and on 25th June they addressed the Dept for Communities Committee at the Assembly.  Representatives were joined in the Stormont session by actor Sean Kearns, one of NI’s most successful stage actors. Each stressed the impact the Covid-19 crisis is having on the wider arts sector.

Sean Kearns told Stormont MLAs:

“The impact of Covid-19 was like an off button being switched on our industry. I was in San Francisco touring the Sting musical, ‘The Last Ship’ and was lined up to perform in stage productions of Good Vibrations in Belfast and then in the USA throughout most of 2020. All of that work disappeared in one moment and as things stand there is no indication of when stage or screen acting will begin again. My experience is just one example and has been repeated thousands of times across Northern Ireland and beyond. Remember too that for every actor or musician onstage there are scores of technicians, stage crew and behind the scenes workers.

“The arts sector in Northern Ireland has provided unquantifiable benefits to our citizens, to visitors and to those who work in our venues, our theatres and festivals. Prior to Covid-19 the arts sector was already feeling financial pressure but yet our output continually outshines other regions. That is something we can be proud of but is something which cannot continue to exist without Government support. Now is the time to act to save our arts and cultural sector.”

Margaret Henry of the Arts Collaboration Network told the Committee the arts and culture sector in Northern Ireland is “right at the heart of our society.”

“Our work supports the regional economy, drives tourism, contributes to the health and wellbeing of our community and brings people together in an inspirational way. Can anyone imagine life without the arts in this part of the world? That is what we are facing in the absence of a meaningful financial intervention by the Executive as outlined in our paper which outlines the five key asks that will allow Northern Ireland’s arts sector to survive in the pandemic. We also need to urgently begin a recovery plan and we want to see a Northern Ireland Cultural Taskforce put in place to drive that planning.

“We are determined that the arts and culture sector not only survives this crisis but can be safeguarded in the long term for the good of all, and as a vital part in the recovery of civic society in Northern Ireland.”

As the only full-time producing theatre in Northern Ireland, and the biggest employer of theatre freelancers here, the Lyric will continue to work hard to advocate for long-term support for the entire arts and culture sector and its workforce.

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Along with the Lyric and other venues, the Arts Collaboration Network have sent a paper to Ministers which sets out 5 ask of government that will help Northern Ireland’s arts sector service the pandemic.

  1. Immediate Hardship Fund for individuals within the workforce to support and sustain the freelancers and self-employed artists who create so much of our work and who have fallen through the gaps in existing government support;
  2. Support for the self-employed and employees through the continuation and extension of the Job Retention Scheme & SEISS Scheme;
  3. Stabilisation Fund for arts organisations;
  4. Rescue Fund for venues;
  5. Cultural Sector Recovery Plan which is co-ordinated across the sector including the creation of a NI Cultural Taskforce.

It is estimated that £24million is required to sustain the sector through a prolonged closure period.