NITB Cuts #LightsOutNI

Dear Gerry Kelly, Alban Maginness, Nelson McCausland, William Humphrey, Carál Ní Chuilín and Paula Bradley,

I am writing as a concerned constituent. Last Friday saw the withdrawal of the NI Events Fund (managed by DETI / NITB), this fund supported events that are key economic drivers. Indeed in order to be eligible for funding each event had to demonstrate that for each £1 invested, the event would generate £3 direct spend in the local economy. Hotel beds, restaurants, bars, artists, arts managers, musicians both established and emerging will all suffer as the result of this short-sighted decision. Jobs will be lost.

Closed hotels, closed bars, closed restaurants, closed galleries, and an empty events diary – is this the type of city that PWC or HBO wants to invest in?

And …. Even if large multinational companies with large salaries do create jobs in Belfast, I fear there is another problem that is being over looked. Brain drain. Young, highly mobile, highly qualified professionals will not stay in a lights out Belfast. Why would you want to work for PWC, earn £40,000 a year – but have no cultural or social opportunities open to you when you finish work?

High net worth individuals work really blooming hard, so when they have down time they want to spend their hard earned cash on gigs (Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Out to Lunch, Open House – to name just a few), on meals out, on champagne, they want to go to the theatre (Belfast Festival), to see an art house films, to take part in sporting events like Lap the Lough. They want their Children to have access to world-class opportunities from theatre, to film, dance to play (Belfast Children’s Festival) – to a world-class integrated education. All of which create jobs.

A culturally dead, Belfast / Northern Ireland will fail to keep and indeed attract highly educated professionals to fill these jobs. Culture is a key economic driver; it’s why big companies choose to set up offices in new cities.

I have worked with many of those organisations affected by these cuts, Young at Art gave me my first job in the arts, I train with Belfast Circus School, and I recently worked for Culture Night providing tours to community groups who had not attended the event before. I’ve seen first hand how hard these organisations work to produce world-class events on frugal budgets. Staff work night and day, often on meagre salaries (and often on temporary contracts) to create a more cohesive and engaged society. These organisations are central to creating a ‘shared future’, rather than being curtailed by the need to bring catholic and protestant communities together – they do something more effective – and indeed economically more important – they create organic shared spaces – they create a vibrant city centre culture – a space for culture to be debated, challenged, questioned and developed – a space for imaginations to be sparked – friendships formed.

When I heard of these latest cuts, I like many or my peers, asked a really important question – what is there for me in Northern Ireland? ….. Increasingly the answer is very little. Nights like Culture Night make me love Belfast, they make me proud of the creative talent that has changed the city centre from a no go area, to a creative, vibrant and cosmopolitan city.

So as my elected representative, I ask: What are you, and your party colleagues going to do to protect the arts organisations, events and festivals that have been affected by this cut?

Culture, my culture, your culture, their culture is often debated and discussed in Northern Ireland, but it’s predominately framed around green and orange issues. So again, as my elected representative I ask you, what are you going to do to protect my culture? *

*My culture, that of festivals and events, of gigs, and eating out, of going to pub with friends, or going for Brunch on a Sunday – may be considered bourgeois, middle class and elitist by some. But my culture, that of a young professional seeking to live in a vibrant, creative and cosmopolitan culture – is an economic driver, not an economic drain. Unlike the culture, of flags and parades, and policing my culture does not cost the tax payer money, it contributes to the public purse – so, why now, when the country is in crisis attack the one culture that has the potential to create jobs? Why strike this over worked, under funded creative ecology a fatal blow?

I may not go on to the streets and riot – (not really my scene!), but I like my peers do have a vote, and whilst some still vote on green and orange issues, many don’t. When it comes to the next election, I will be voting with those that represent all of Northern Ireland – all ‘cultures’, all people, those that create jobs, rather than cut them to get headlines and score points against other political parties.

I very much look forward to receiving a reply to this email, and hope that you will join with me in condemning this cut, and urge Minister Foster to reinstate the NI Events Fund immediately.

Yours sincerely,

Oonagh Murphy

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