Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: 'Major crisis' facing arts industry post-lockdown

tHEATRE SEATS Image copyright Reuters

The challenge facing Northern Ireland's arts industry after lockdown has been described as "a major crisis" by a Queen's University academic.

Dr Ali Fitzgibbon, of the School of Arts, English and Languages, has said the sector requires "substantial interventions" in order to survive.

Theatres in England are set to welcome guests again this weekend but Northern Ireland venues are yet to do the same.

The Millennium Forum in Londonderry has cancelled its Christmas pantomime.

Its marketing manager Amanda Hamilton told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Business programme that the past six months have been the most challenging in her 20 years at the venue.

Image copyright Millenium Forum
Image caption The Millennium Forum remains closed and has cancelled this year's Christmas pantomime

"We've been through many things over this period, including a recession, but this has absolutely been the worst," she added.

"We still have 90 staff on furlough and we have no clear idea as to when we are likely to reopen.

"We are in the process of rescheduling all of our shows this year until 2021.

"We hope to be able to offer events to the public next year."

A recent blog from the Northern Ireland Assembly's research and information service estimates the arts sector employs 7,500 people.

'Workforce is 70% freelance'

Dr Fitzgibbon told BBC News NI she is concerned about those who work within the industry.

"The 7,500 figure represents the employees of funded organisations but we know 70% of the workforce in theatre alone is freelance," she said.

"This industry shutdown overnight and theatres take months to reassemble."

Seasonal issues are also a concern, explained Dr Fitzgibbon.

"You can put a show on for one week locally but that week is being financed by multiple grant sources and a 16-week tour in the UK or internationally, and with flights shutting down we have a major crisis on our hands and need substantial interventions."

Northern Ireland received £33m as part of a UK government support package for arts venues this month.

That money is yet to be allocated to venues.

Sophie Hayles, chief executive of the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, said social distancing means its financial model no longer works.

'Significant financial implications'

"On a normal evening pre-Covid, we were home to 800 people," she said.

"In the first quarter of this year we're looking at a loss of £150,000.

"The financial implications are significant and we're all looking forward to the outcomes of the various financial packages on offer."

Amanda Hamilton of the Millennium Forum has serious concerns about the future.

"The arts are the very last to be thought of and we really need Stormont and the government to look at us and the real situation we are in and the amount of people who are affected.

"The sector is not looking like anything this year. We hope we don't come back to a decimated industry but time will tell," she said.

Amanda Hamilton's interview can be heard in full on Inside Business on BBC Radio Ulster at 17:30 BST on Friday or on the BBC Sounds app.

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