Northern Ireland

2015 in review: Arts in Northern Ireland

Sign depicting the Arts' Council's logo
Image caption The year 2015 was dominated by funding concerns for the arts in Northern Ireland

In the arts, 2015 has been a year dominated by worries about money.

With the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) set to be abolished in 2016, there is more uncertainty ahead.

The year began with the department cutting their grant to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland by 11%, or £1.38m.

As the Arts Council is, in turn, the main funding body for many arts organisations, this led to less money for a number of them.

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Image caption Protestors at Stormont in October said performances, shows and jobs were at risk as a result of the cuts

It was the beginning of a rollercoaster year as more cuts followed, which were then reversed, although further cuts seem inevitable in the 2016 budget.

The announcement in October that 32 of Northern Ireland's biggest arts organisations faced in-year cuts of 7% in their Arts Council funding led hundreds of artists, writers, musicians and actors to stage a colourful protest at Stormont.

Politicians from a range of parties turned out in support, and a number of protestors subsequently held a brief meeting with Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín in the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings.

It seemed she listened to their concerns, as a month later she found the money to reverse the £620,000 in-year cut.

However, just before Christmas, DCAL officials warned a Stormont committee that arts organisations would face closure if planned 5% budget cuts in 2016 went ahead.

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Media captionHundreds of his friends from the art world gathered to pay their respects to the playwright Brian Friel

In October, Northern Ireland, and the world, lost one of the greatest playwrights of his generation.

Although County Tyrone-born Brian Friel was a quiet man who shunned the limelight, his death at the age of 86 led to tributes from across the globe.

Meryl Streep, who starred in the movie of his play Dancing at Lughnasa called him "a tender dramatist, an insightful humanist and a lovely man".

Liam Neeson, who began his career acting in several of Friel's plays at Belfast's Lyric Theatre, called him "Ireland's Chekhov".

His death came only months after the first cross-border festival dedicated to his work took place in Donegal and Belfast.

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Image caption Game of Thrones, filmed mostly in Northern Ireland, has attracted a number of awards

On the small screen, Game of Thrones, mainly filmed in Northern Ireland, cemented its status as one of the most popular and lucrative TV series in the world with a host of Emmy awards, including for local crew members, sound mixer Ronan Hill and casting executive Carla Stronge.

There was also Bafta success for Northern Irish filmmakers Brian J Falconer, Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney, for their short film Boogaloo and Graham.

During the year, there were numerous reminders that the arts could create controversy.

In June, renowned flautist Sir James Galway, in Belfast to perform at a BBC Music Day concert, launched a stinging attack on the late Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley, telling the Nolan Show he had planted "thoughts of violence and no surrender in the heads of people who had no more sense".

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Media captionSir James Galway criticised the late former DUP leader Ian Paisley in June

Comedian Frankie Boyle's appearance at Belfast's Féile an Phobail in August led to protests from a group who claimed his jokes "mock children with disabilities".

Organisers subsequently apologised for "any hurt or offence" caused by booking him.

In November, a painting by the late Belfast artist Joseph McWilliams, which appeared to depict Orangemen wearing Ku Klux Klan clothing, went on show at the Ulster Museum.

The museum and the Royal Ulster Academy resisted calls for it to be taken down.

Image caption Derry-born musician SOAK was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize for her album Before We Forgot How To Dream

2015 also saw two of the most memorable concerts in Northern Ireland for many years.

Van Morrison returned to Cyprus Avenue in his native east Belfast for two unforgettable gigs in August, while in November U2 were back in the city for two concerts for the first time since 1998.

They played at the SSE Arena just a few days after attacks in Paris that saw 130 people murdered, and the band's set included a tribute to the victims.

Finally, Londonderry singer-songwriter SOAK, aka Bridie Monds-Watson, continued her rise, winning the Northern Ireland Music Prize as well as a place on the shortlist for the prestigious Mercury Prize, for the best album from the UK and Ireland.

It was a reminder that innovation and excellence in the arts survives, even in a harsh financial climate.

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