Arts Sector

Members' Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 16 April 2024.

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Photo of Sian Mulholland Sian Mulholland Alliance 10:30, 16 April 2024

I rose in the Chamber a few weeks ago to congratulate local homegrown talent on their nominations for the BAFTAs and the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) awards. Just last night, actress Laura Donnelly, who, incidentally, studied drama and theatre studies at the very same drama department as I did — that is my tenuous link — was nominated for an Olivier award, having previously won that prestigious award.

I hope that many were glued to the BBC last night, as I was, for the return of the amazing 'Blue Lights'. From Ballymena man Declan Lawn, the writer and producer, to Hannah McClean playing Jen, to the exceptional performance by Cushendun man Seamus O'Hara as Lee, the links to my constituency of North Antrim are strong, as Annie would say. However, as we celebrated World Art Day yesterday, that positivity was not felt right across the board in the arts sector. Notably, the Waterside Theatre announced its closure, with four staff being made redundant. It follows other production and theatre companies that have had to take similar action recently. For too long and too often, the arts sector has had to do too much for so little. Ironically — I am not being dramatic when I say this — we are on the precipice of the decimation of our arts sector. At last month's meeting of the all-party group on arts, we heard that artists with decades of experience are having to leave the sector because they cannot sustain both their families and their careers. Either that or they are moving across the border or across the water, where public expenditure on the arts massively dwarfs our pitiful offerings. Every Member in this Chamber will have heard those statistics.

Every time I reference the arts and arts funding on social media, I am met with, "But what about health? But what about social housing waiting lists? What about issues with our education system? Typical Alliance, focusing on the cushy arts". Let me be clear: this should not be an either/or endgame. The arts are not a hobby or a nice wee add-on to pass the time or even an interest solely of the middle classes any more. They are a key driver of economic success in Northern Ireland, contributing millions to our economy every year and employing over 3,500 people, yet the percentage of public funding that they receive is absolutely pitiful. The arts can be life-changing and, as I have seen with my own eyes, life-saving.

I am making a plea today to the Minister for Communities and the wider Executive to please give the arts a lifeline. Having had more than a decade of real-terms reductions in funding, it will be a death by a thousand cuts next time. A cut, no matter how small, will represent a huge swathe of shelved productions, artists moving elsewhere and a society bereft of those to tell their story.