Arts and Culture Sector: Support

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 28th September 2020.

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Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 28th September 2020

4. Mr McHugh asked the Minister for Communities what plans she has to support the arts and culture sector. (AQO 754/17-22)

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question. He will be aware that the Executive announced £29 million of investment to support our culture, language, arts and heritage sectors. This is additional to the £5·5 million creative fund previously announced. These sectors make a substantial contribution to our local economy, the quality of our lives, our health and well-being, and the shaping of our standing as a place to live, work and visit. They have a vital role in delivering social renewal for communities and, indeed, the economy. My Department is finalising proposals for a suite of funding schemes to maximise the impact of this very welcome financial support in these most challenging times.

Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin

I am sure that all Members are only too aware that it is those at the grassroots level who are really suffering throughout the whole of the COVID crisis, particularly in terms of loss of earnings and so on. How can the Minister ensure that that support to the grassroots within arts and culture is delivered?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. I have literally just come out of a meeting with Minister Dodds on this very issue of people who are involved in events, music, sound and all that background stuff, as well as looking at some of the bigger establishments. What I want to say is this: arts and culture are an evolving thing. People who are recipients of Arts Council funds are still getting their funds, but there are other groups who have been doing really, really great work, particularly since March, and taking the lead who have not got one penny of public funds. We need to ensure that they are looked after as well.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I very much welcome the injection of funding for the sector. Minister, what scope is there for co-design to ensure that all sections of the sector have their needs addressed?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question, because it is really important, in relation not just to NDNA but to this process going forward. The weakness is that there is no arts, culture and heritage strategy — none whatsoever — and so we are all in a big queue, hoping to join that queue, put in an application and get something. That is not a good way to do business. If we accept — and we do — that culture, arts and heritage not only help people but generate the economy, then they need to be put on a proper footing. I have met a group of musicians who are looking at a music strategy. I spoke to some freelancers who need to be supported as well. They have all said that, long term, they need to see an arts and culture strategy in the same way as there is one for sports. For me, that is a big weakness.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I ask the Minister, why is there no culture strategy and how will she ensure that the creative and cultural funding reaches artists and organisations who have lost entire income streams as a result of COVID?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

An arts and culture strategy was about to be produced, but then the Assembly collapsed. So there is one sitting there that is three years old, but some of the people who contributed to it are saying that it is not reflective of what was there three years ago. I can try to help as many people as possible, but I also want to ensure that those who have never received or had any recourse to public finance or public money are serviced as well. If we just look after the big institutions, there is nothing left for anyone else. I am sure the Member would agree that that is not a satisfactory position.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Like everyone else, I was delighted to hear the Executive announcement last week that the arts were finally getting funded. Well done to you, Minister, for your role in that. Now that you have got the money in, the focus is going to be on how you get the money out. It is vital that that is done in a fair and equitable way that gets the biggest bang for your buck — or our buck. Can or will consideration and assistance be given to those musicians and singers who have suffered throughout COVID, but who were dealt another blow last week with new rules on hospitality that have virtually prohibited them from earning money in that way?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

That is exactly what I want to try to do as best I possibly can.

The health regulations and restrictions that we have had had to bring in as a result of the global pandemic have prevented theatres from opening their doors. Certainly, performers and maybe even one- or two-piece bands who make their living that way faced a double whammy last week, as the Member said. A fund is already available now if the Member knows anyone who needs it. The Arts Council is looking to help people in that situation until the end of October. We need to ensure that we help as many people as possible over, I imagine, the next few months, particularly those who have had no recourse to public funds at all.

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker. You noticed me bobbing up and down several times. I thank the Minister for her answers so far. Indeed, the money is very welcome. Certainly, as a Committee, we have been lobbied now for what seems like months for that money to become available. The Minister mentioned people who have never received a penny and have had nothing from any funding stream. How quickly are we likely to see that money begin to be rolled out?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I am certainly looking to finalise the potential schemes this week, talking to Executive colleagues next week with a view to it going straight out into some of the arm's-length bodies (ALBs), and then looking at ways in which we can try to open up applications to others who may never have gone to ALBs before. The Member knows this, but it is worth mentioning that we have also got museums and libraries involved in this. It is crucial that not only do we keep doors open right across the piece but that, in particular, we support the groups that have emerged that are doing brilliant work to keep people mentally well and physically fit, providing enjoyment and entertainment. A lot of those people are young people from marginalised and deprived areas. They need our support.