Tuesday 19 November 2019

NI Arts boards fulfilling remit

Sir -- I write with reference to Emer O'Kelly's article 'Arts Boards in Danger of Becoming Mere Parasites' (Sunday Independent, April 17, 2011), which attacks our present system for distributing public money to artists and arts organisations; and displays a shockingly inaccurate view of the board members, and the role and achievements of the Board of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI).

This very weekend we will be attending the opening of the new Lyric Theatre in Belfast and next year the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) new build, with its auditorium and gallery space will also open. The Grand Opera House too is now complete; as are the Crescent Arts Centre and the wonderfully restored Ulster Hall -- now home to the Ulster Orchestra.

Record audiences attended the first season offering from our new NI Opera company to see a fine production of Tosca set in three historic buildings in the city of Derry, which recently has been designated City of Culture 2013.

Also in the city, last year we reopened the newly refurbished Waterside Theatre, and the restored Playhouse along with the new build of Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin.

We can now also say that every person living in Northern Ireland has access to a dedicated arts facility in their locality thanks to an investment from the Arts Council's National Lottery resource over the last 15 years, which provided the vision and incentive that leveraged the additional required funding to build and sustain these venues.

This year we fought a successful 'Fair Deal for the Arts Campaign' during the Budget consultation period, which made a substantial difference to the public subsidy that will fund artists and arts organisations over the next four years.

This is hardly a record that suggests a board which is not fulfilling its remit. In fact the opposite is the case -- 13 members of the ACNI board are unpaid volunteers who spend, on average, 10 hours per month attending meetings, working on committees and fulfilling public engagements (these figures are published as part of our audited Annual Report).

However, as a board, we are acutely aware that it is hard earned public money that we distribute and the board works hard to ensure that our vision of a well managed, effective, efficient Arts Council which provides leadership and support to the Arts sector is delivered. The ACNI Board includes a number of practising artists; but also essential are the skills in governance, finance and management as well as the overriding passion for and belief in the importance of art and artists to society.

Finally, I would want to register our appreciation at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for the strong working relationship we enjoy with An Chomhairle Ealaíon on a number of cross-border programmes that truly enrich both parts of this island.

Rosemary Kelly OBE,

Chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast

Sunday Independent

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