The news that the Department of Social Development DSD is to totally cut the Laganside Events Fund may lead to hard times or the cancellation of many festivals in Belfast’s eclectic Cathedral Quarter.
Those organisations that took funds from 2011-12 include Belfast Pride and Outburst the Queer Arts Festival. Also included are Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Festival of Fools, Black Box Events, Open House Festival, Belfast Children’s Festival, Out to Lunch Festival, Summer Sundays and Culture Night.
As the above list shows the groups benefiting from fund were diverse and covered many aspects of Belfast and the wider Northern Ireland community. DSD decided to tell these groups that the funding would cease from 31 March 2012 to give them time to find alternative funding. But as ant fundraiser or organiser will tell you, the planning and financing of an annual event will have started as soon as the previous event finished. Festival of Fools happens in April and have been told that some of the funding they were relying on has been taken from under their feet with less than 2 months notice.
A statement from a spokesperson at the DSD said:
“Due to funding pressures within the Department’s budget we have had to close the Laganside Events Grant from 31 March 2012. We have notified those organisations which usually apply for this grant in order to provide time for them to identify other potential funders for events planned for later this year.
“The Department remains committed to promoting the Laganside area and has earmarked £530,000 to support the initial operations of the new MAC when it opens in April 2012. We also have a funding commitment of £100,000 to support the work of the Cathedral Quarter Steering Group.
“The Department will also continue to accept applications for the Laganside Community Activity Grant during the 2012/13 financial year. This grant enables local communities to use the amenities in the area.”
The new MAC does look good, but it is rather establishment like the Lyric, the Opera House or the Ulster Museum. One of the things I loved about working in Edinburgh was the eclectic mix of its festivals through the year. Of course there were the Fringe and International Festival in August but there were others spread throughout the year, some big and some small. That was a sense of what the Cathedral Quarter was becoming. The Quarter plays some part in the Belfast Festival but it carries on its bohemian role beyond that brief part of the year. The MAC magnificent though it looks (and I have yet to be inside) when it opens in April will not be able to compensate, sponsor, nor accommodate all the various festivals that are being affected.
The Cathedral Quarter has been a buzzing part of the city in recent years. If this lack of funding causes some of those events to scale back or cancel for 2012/13 it may make it harder for them to pick up and carry on once they can sort out alternative funding. The cut this late may have been a result of dallying that the Assembly took to finalise their budget. But to pull funding this sharply, so completely, so late in the planning cycle of many is bound to have consequences.
We will have to wait and see just how disastorous this will be to the lifeblood of the quarter. But in the meantime many with a diversity of interests are up in arms at the sudden withdrawal of this funding from DSD.