30 Sept 2022

Durkan slams Department for Communities on Arts funding disparity

SDLP hit back at People Before Profit accusing them of ramping up "political division for political gain"

Mark H Durkan: "It’s clear that the arts and creative industries have been among the hardest hit in terms of the pandemic, it’s restrictions and the impact on livelihoods."

SDLP Foyle candidate Mark H Durkan has criticised the persistent failure of the Department for Communities (DfC) and its successive Ministers, to tackle regional imbalance within the Arts Sector.

Mr Durkan stated that the latest example of the department’s “gaslighting” on regional inequality comes as officials neglected to attend a meeting with Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Councillors were denied the opportunity by the Department's 'no-show' to discuss with them the Arts Council's allocation of £19 million to Belfast organisations compared to just £1.7 million to Derry and Strabane.

“Regional inequality within the Arts Sector not only exists but persists despite the department’s continued gaslighting on this issue,” said Mr Durkan.

“In October, I tabled an amendment to the Arts and Creative Industries Private Members Bill, relating specifically to the disparity of Arts Council funding allocations. Evidently, lessons have not been learnt rather they’ve been ignored completely.

“It’s not only disappointing that DfC officials didn’t even bother to meet with council to discuss the scandal of the Arts Council allocations, it is a slap in the face to the arts sector and creative within Derry and Strabane.

“It has been widely acknowledged that Arts Council investment is concentrated in Belfast, generally within organisations deemed 'too big to fail' discriminating against smaller arts groups outside of this geographical 'sweet-spot'.

“Failure to deliver in the North West is an issue the department would wish to sweep under the carpet and the cynic in me can’t help but deduce that their non-attendance so close to an election was politically motivated.

“It’s clear that the arts and creative industries have been among the hardest hit in terms of the pandemic, it’s restrictions and the impact on livelihoods.

“The industry is a significant employer in the north but more than that arts and creative industries make a substantial contribution to our economy, communities and health and well-being.

“The sector will be key in the regeneration of the economy and society post pandemic. An efficient and indeed sufficient long term strategy so important.

“The second city and previous City of Culture demands and deserves its fair share. Tackling regional inequality must be at the core of all arts strategies going forward as must the model of co-design, which will provide the best guarantee of fairness.

“Minister Hargey gave a commitment to tackle inequality as a key consideration of the renewed Culture and Arts Strategy. It’s time organisations here feel the benefit of those promises.”

In response, a Department for Communities spokesperson said: “The responsibility for the allocation of funds for the arts rests with the Arts Council, within a policy framework set by the Department.

“Assessment of individual applications and decision making on artistic merits is properly, a matter for the Arts Council.

“Since 2020, the Department for Communities has invested more than £50m to safeguard our creative talent and the sector for the future. Work on implementing the recommendations of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Taskforce is well underway.

“The local arts sector makes a critical contribution socially, creatively and economically. The Department recognises this and is working on a new Cultural Strategy in partnership with  the sector.  

“Equality, diversity and inclusion underpin the work ensuring all will have equal access to culture, arts and heritage.”

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