/ TheatreNI News

Celebrating the NI Creative Industries with Equity and TheatreNI at Belfast City Hall

We were delighted, alongside Equity, to welcome over 140 representatives from across the theatre and performing arts sector, local and national politicians, leading policy makers, arts and cultural practitioners and representatives from community and voluntary group to Belfast City Hall,on 4th of May, to celebrate the economic contribution of arts and culture and to promote Northern Ireland’s successes and its future potential to be a leading centre for the theatre and performing arts, film, television, music, live entertainment and digital sectors internationally.

You can also view coverage of the event on Focal Point Community News (Thursday 10th of May) with NVTV by clicking here.

Our Executive Director, Niamh Flanagan, opened the event – you can read her speech in full below:

Our pledge board as signed by our attendees at Belfast City Hall on the 4th of May.


4th May 2018

Good afternoon everyone. You are all very welcome. It’s so great we are all here together to celebrate our industry and sector. Thank you for coming. What a privilege it is to work with you.

Thank you also to our distinguished guests Simon Callow, Gavin Robinson, MP and Sinead Ennis, MLA

To our colleagues in Equity, Louise Mc Mullan, Lorne Boswell, Adam Adnyana, Marlene Curran, Christine Payne (General Secretary, Equity), who you will hear from later and their President Malcolm Sinclair. It has been great working in partnership and I thank you wholeheartedly for your foresight, your wisdom and your support for us and for the workers who make up the incredible industry that we work in.

To our TheatreNI Board members, our indomitable Chair, Louise Rossington and our Development and Administration Officer Sarah, who make many things possible with their willingness to pull out all the stops on an incredibly small budget!

Thank you to our principal funder the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, to our Development Officer Gilly Campbell and to Research and Policy Officer Matthew Malcolm for providing figures.

Thank you to the Halifax Foundation who also support TheatreNI’s work, through funding our Young Critics Programme.

Thank you, Belfast City Council, for your generous and continued support of TheatreNI activities and especially to Dr Naomi Doak and Aisling Milliken and her team for helping to make this event happen.  Also, to Eimear Henry and Christine O’Toole.

Thanks also to our colleagues in ArtsMatterNI.

TheatreNI Executive Director, Niamh Flanagan

I’m Niamh Flanagan, the Executive Director of TheatreNI, the representative body to support and develop theatre and the performing arts for all in Northern Ireland.

Today’s event is important. It is a day to celebrate our sector, to celebrate the contributions we have already made as part of the creative industries, and also to acknowledge and celebrate the significant contributions we can make in the future.

Our arts and culture sector plays a vital role in supporting the wider commercial creative industries including film production, advertising, design and crafts, and the showcasing of the  creative talent overseas.

This is a multi-million-pound industry. It is an engine of economic growth with excellent returns on the investment from the public purse. Simply put, it is great value for money for all taxpayers.

Recent research from Nesta, and the Creative Industries Council, shows that the creative industries across the UK are driving local and national economic growth:

  • Employment in the UK’s creative industries grew by 11 per cent on average during the last three years.
  • This is twice as fast as other sectors.
  • If it continued growing at this rate, the UK creative industries could create 900,000 new jobs between 2013 and 2030.

Gavin Robinson MP (DUP) speaks at our event in Belfast City Hall.

Figures from our own Department for Communities in 2013,show that:

  • The NI creative industries accounted for 5% of the NI workforce
  • This amounts to 43,000 jobs contributing £797 million to Gross Value Added (GVA). 2.4% of Northern Ireland’s total GVA.

The aggregate turnover of business in the UK arts and culture industry was £12.4bn in 2011, according to the Centre for Economic and Business Research. (Source: Create, Arts Council of England).

Cultural organisations and practitioners contributed £27bn to the UK economy in 2015, a 15% increase on the previous year. This represents the fastest growth of any of the sectors covered by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (cultural, digital, the wider creative industries, gambling, sport, telecoms and tourism.)

Public funding for the arts in NI makes up just 0.1% of the Northern Ireland budget. In the whole of the UK its just 0.05%, of Government spending and yet it delivers a return of £5 in taxes for every £1 invested. This significant return for a very modest investment is just one of the reasons why the creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK economy.

In the Republic of Ireland in 2011, the arts sector contributed €307m in taxes. State-funded arts practitioners and organisations generated a turnover equivalent to more than twice what they received in investment/grant aid. (DCSDC Strategy document, 2018).

Pictured: Clare Bailey (MLA, Green Party NI)

The sector contributes significantly across all government priorities and in helping them achieve their outcomes.  We already know this and it is supported by considerable evidence and robust research.

Our arts and cultural sector contributes to not only jobs and the economy but to the health and wellbeing of our citizens. Participation helps create more engaged citizens – something we need now, more than ever.

Evidence shows that participation contributes to community cohesion, reduces social exclusion and helps make communities stronger and safer.

Learning through the arts can improve attainment and cognitive abilities and help to develop important transferable skills.

Sinéad Ennis, MLA (Sinn Féin) speaks at our event in Belfast City Hall.

The sector also makes a significant contribution to our Tourism industry:

  • 42% of all spending by overseas visitors to the UK involved engagement with arts and culture.
  • 83% of overseas visitors said that interest in history and culture is very important when choosing Ireland for a holiday and almost 89% expressed satisfaction with the history and culture experience they have had. In 2011, 10m inbound visits to the UK involved engagement with the arts and culture, representing 32% of all visits to the UK and 42% of all in-bound tourism-related expenditure. (Source: The Value of Arts and Culture to the People and Society, Arts Council of England).
  • Exports of services from UK-based cultural organisations grew by 13.6% in 2014, in line with the general growth in exports from DCMS sectors during the same period.
  • In 2008, 9.7 million visits to Liverpool were calculated to have been motivated by the cities European Capital of Culture status, generating an additional economic impact of £753.8(Source: Arts Council England Evidence Review).
  • More than 1 million people visited Derry in 2013 when it enjoyed the status of UK-Capital of Culture. 41% of attendees surveyed at key events were from outside the city, whilst 22% of local people surveyed came from the city’s most deprived areas. (Culture for Cities and Regions: Derry-London Derry first UK City of Culture)

Pictured (L to R): Gemma Mae Halligan (Amadan Ensemble), Kelly-Anne Collins (General Manager, Young at Art) and Dominic Montague (Writer and Creative Facilitator, Kabosh)

We are a resilient and entrepreneurial sector but one which could be damaged irrevocably if investment support is further constricted. We should be very proud of what we have here and what we can achieve in terms of employment, making world leading content and discovering the vast amount of talent born here.

Much of this sector’s success relies on enterprise, innovation, talent and dedication of individuals, of the self-employed and freelance workers including actors, technicians, arts managers, directors, producers and other practitioners, many of whom are here in this room today.  We need to realise and unlock their potential.

Their work has been applauded and awarded at the highest levels in this industry. It has been seen by audiences from Cullybackey to Belfast to Enniskillen, Strabane; in South Africa Rwanda, Sarajevo, across the East Coast of America, and the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe. Figures from ACNI, show that 16 organisations alone in the drama sector generated over 7260 activities, 289,856 engagements measured through box office/ ticket sales and 68,000 estimated engagements.  That’s quite incredible.  The figures for the broader arts sector engagement are equally impressive.

Claire Hanna, MLA (SDLP) in discussion with practitioners at our event in Belfast City Hall.

We are leading the way in terms of creating work for young audiences. As part of the 2018 Belfast Children’s Festival, for example, national and international buyers attended events and performances including programmers from South Korea, China, USA, India and Malta, alongside buyers from ROI and each of the 4 ‘home nations’. Two thirds of these delegates had never been here before this visit. Following the showcase, a commitment has been secured from IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for children’s theatre work) to present a ‘Spotlight on Ireland’ profiling performance work from both North & South of Ireland in IPAY in Philadelphia. 

So, hurray to all of you outstanding people, who it is my privilege to know and often work with. Thank you for sharing your creativity, your skills, energy, entrepreneurialism, passion, commitment and professionalism to this sector; to this industry, this region and beyond. We value you and your contribution deeply and salute every one of you.

Pictured: Equity General Secretary, Christine Payne – encouraging our attendees to join Equity and TheatreNI as members, and in advocating for better support of our sector.

Unfortunately, your work and contribution has been continuously undervalued and the investment/funding which makes your work possible eroded.

Our sector has suffered years of disinvestment. This is especially apparent when you compare us to investment in the arts in England, Scotland and Wales and the Republic of Ireland. They are fully aware of the return on investment, are fully cognisant of the talents, contribution and skills of their artists and their potential. They recognise this through investment:

In the Republic of Ireland, the spend on the arts is £13 per person per year,

The spend in Scotland is £10 per person per year.

The spend in England is £13 per person per year.

Our investment stands in around £5 per person per year.

Pictured L to R: Roma Tomelty, Malcolm Sinclair (President, Equity), Christine Payne (General Secretary, Equity), Gavin Robinsin MP (DUP), Simon Callow, Niamh Flanagan (Executive Director, TheatreNI), Louise Rossington (TheatreNI, Chair), Sinéad Ennis MLA (Sinn Féin), Padraig Murray (President, Irish Equity)

Instead of investment, our arts budget has been cut by £23 million since 2012, some of our independent theatre companies have been cut completely or have been left to produce work on minuscule levels of investment.

I ask those of you in this room who are responsible for investing in our sector to look to the achievements of the sector with the resources we have. I would ask you though to look, for example, at some of the other productions which have toured globally. If you wonder whether you should invest in theatre and dance and the performing arts to the same extent as other jurisdictions, then look at productions such as Riverdance, (which is still touring) and Druid Theatre Company’s production of Waiting for Godot.

Look at what Warhorse has done for the National Theatre, UK and the creative economy –  9 million people have seen the production to date.

Look at what Black Watch did for Scotland. Since its very first performances, this outstanding and relevant production has been seen throughout Scotland in venues ranging from a disused hydro-electric laboratory in Pitlochry to the Highland Football Academy in Dingwall. It has received standing ovations and enjoyed sold-out performances – playing to tens of thousands of people across three continents, it has won 22 awards including four Laurence Oliviersand claiming the National Theatre of Scotland’s first US award with the New York Drama Circle naming Black Watch Best Foreign Play.

Pictured: Actors Maggie Cronin and Christina Nelson.

I would ask you not to underestimate the talent that is in this room. The arts sector and the theatre and performing arts sector has the potential to create these high-level productions and be of similar value to the economy and broader society as those high-profile productions mentioned above in terms of a return on investment, not to mention their contributions to raising the profile of the place from which they come. It’s not possible to create this without our independent theatre companies and our venues and the whole sector being supported.

Our venues, large and small are also regenerating and animating our cities and towns. They too have the potential, working in partnership, to deliver far reaching social, economic and environmental change and deliver on a host of policy objectives and outcomes in Government terminology. The MAC alone for example, currently contributes £9.7 million a year to the local economy. It’s also important to look at the long-term success of venues such as the Chapter in Cardiff, The Mac Birmingham and their impact on their city.

With investment and true Northern spirit, the smaller Live Theatre in Newcastle and the visionary Jim Beirne are now also developing property on the Waterfront in Newcastle.  They have formed the NGCV consortium which has brought ten venues, of different sizes together to lead on various initiatives to benefit the area around Newcastle Gateshead.  Some of the most incredible achievements have been driven and been responsible for some of the most powerful and effective actions where the arts and the arts centres have been harnessed as a driver of economic development and of area regeneration. 

Pictured (L to R): Our TheatreNI Chair Louise Rossington signs our pledge board along with Equity’s President Malcolm Sinclair.

There needs to be further investment in activity to drive increased outcomes and sustainability.

Investment in the arts ecology, in skills development, in the talent, in the artists, in the actors, and in our venues, at a very modest marginal cost, will have compelling outcomes which can be realised and measured in the shorter term.

Looking to the future, Nesta’s research predicts that interpersonal, cognitive and systems skills will be in especially high demand by 2030.  These skills are also the defining features of many creative occupations. Evidence from Ofsted has shown that creative subjects are effective at teaching and developing these skills at the primary and secondary level.

Unfortunately, our education and skills system is predicated on employment models of the past rather than the workforce of the future. Access to creative and technical learning is in jeopardy. Entries for GCSEs in creative subjects have fallen and current entry rates to creative subjects at Key Stage 4 have fallen to the lowest in a decade. Pathways for students into these occupations remain uncertain.

Pictured: Some of our attendees sign our Equity and TheatreNI pledge board.

We need investment in these subjects in schools and in further education to enable these young people to unlock their talent and contribute to society. This needs to be inclusive, diverse and provide equally for children and young people of all abilities and talents.

Belfast born and educated, Anthony Boyle, one of the Lyric’s Drama Studio graduates is treading the Boards in New York in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child to much acclaim. There are plenty more Anthony Boyles among us here today and out there in our schools and communities.

Funders, decision makers: Take the shackles of lack of investment off us.

Businesses, universities please partner with us more strategically and support our call for further investment

To the younger people just entering our sector be advocates/champions for your own future. Support our sectors’ efforts. You can’t produce your work if the cultural infrastructure which supports it no longer exists!

Pictured (L to R): Our TheatreNI Board Member Claire Murray (The MAC, Blunt Fringe), Actor Simon Callow, Niamh Flanagan (Executive Director, TheatreNI) and Marlene Curran (R & R Organiser, Equity) in the Rotunda at Belfast City Hall

Don’t forget TheatreNI’s next big gig – the All Island Performing Arts Conference in partnership with Theatre Forum Dublin who are here today. Thank you, Anna Walsh, for coming. It is in Belfast, 20th-21st June – APAC -It’s the largest gathering of our industry on this island.

Finally, to the funders politicians, policy makers, businesses, universities, and the rest who are in charge of our future, creating strategies and plans. Talk to us, bring us to the table, invest in us, invest in arts education in our schools. We should and need to be partners in the transformation of this place that is our home. Embed the value of culture and arts and our creative industries at the heart of government spending, with engagement across government departments. Raise the level of investment for the arts to at least parity with other regions and allow us to contribute fully across society. Our arts and culture ecosystem are interconnected and interdependent with other social and economic systems locally, regionally, nationally and beyond.

United, there is little we cannot do in a host of collaborative and partnership ventures. Divided, there is little we can do – that is not an option.

We have a responsibility to do our best for those coming behind us. Don’t inhibit the ambition in this room, invest in it. What would this place be without it?

We will rise, of that I have no doubt.  We could be the Silicon Valley for the arts, a creative hub of excellence.

We need to and must do better.

Thank you for listening.

I would now like to introduce our distinguished guest, Simon Callow

Pictured: Actor Simon Callow speaks at our event with Equity in Belfast City Hall.


Other notes

  • Cultural diplomacy: The GREAT campaign was launched in 2012 to harness British creativity, innovation and cultural assets to strengthen the UK’s international competitive position. At the beginning of 2014, the campaign was estimated to have generated £500m in the markets where the campaign directly funds activities. In March 2015, the campaign was forecast to generate up to £800m from its 2013/4 funding.Source: Culture and Creativity, DCMS report, March 2015.
  • For every £1 of salary paid by the arts and culture industry, an additional £2.01 is generated in the wider economy through indirect and induced multiplier impacts. (Source: The Value of Arts and Culture to the People and Society, Arts Council of England).
  • In its first year, the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate, south east England, made a £13.9m impact on Kent’s economy. In Wakefield in Yorkshire, the Hepworth contributed £10m to the the local economy.
  • The arts and culture sector has an important benefit on health and well-being. Those who had attended a cultural place or event in the preceding 12 months were 60 per cent more likely to report good health, and theatre-goers were 25 per cent more likely to report being in health than the average. People valued being in the audience for the arts at about £2,000 per year, which is higher than sport.
  • Sources: The Contribution of the Arts and Culture to the National Economy, Arts Council of England; The Value of Arts and Culture to the People and Society, Arts Council of England.
  • Creative industries Strategy, AHRC Cultural Value Project, CreativE Europe 2020 Tourism strategies, Economic strategies, the Peace Plans Inclusion projects, Investment StrategyNI, NI Screen Opening Doors Strategy, Innovation strategies
  • Rural Development, dept of Education business plan
  • Draft programme for government centring on 24 outcomes with Health and wellbeing the top outcome
  • Appeal for help in creating the links between departmental thinking to get the most out of the sector
  • Grants allow us to run our learning and participation programmes, to protect our lowest ticket prices, and to invest in the development of world-leading artists.
  • Belfast City Council – looking at innovative ways of increasing the spend.
  • The Government in England has created an £18m fund to promote the best of English arts and culture abroad and encourage collaboration and exchange.

ACNI funded organisations deliver projects and activities that are widely accessible to all:

  • Over 50% of these outreach activities occur in the 20% most deprived neighbourhoods;
  • 9% of performances are modified for people with autism, learning disabilities and sensory or communication difficulties;
  • 21% of the programme activities of funded organisations are dedicated to engage disabled people;
  • 13% of the programme activities of funded organisations are dedicated to engage ethnic minorities; and
  • 8% of the programme activities of funded organisations are dedicated to engage members of LGBTQ communities.