Out of Touch

Following the Arts & Business Awards NI awards, the script of the speech given by the Chair of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland was circulated. Today’s Belfast Telegraph carries a story about calls for his resignation. As the piece online does not provide his full text or the full statement I gave when contacted, I’m publishing them here (the highlighting is my own).

Mr Edmund’s speech (provided by ACNI):

‘Thank you Wendy and thank you to Arts & Business Chair, Martin Bradley, and Chief Executive, Mary Nagele, for the invitation to speak this evening, and for the opportunity to acknowledge, on behalf of the Arts Council, another year of achievement by the growing number of local businesses and arts organisations now working in partnership.

Everyone involved in the arts in Northern Ireland must also thank Allianz for their continuing support for these awards, and in particular we should thank Sean McGrath, who has spoken so effectively about the value of a healthy arts and cultural sector to the business community. That’s something we would all endorse.

It is important to have an awards ceremony, such as this, to help raise the public profile of the wide range of benefits that the arts and business can enjoy through closer collaboration.

The Arts Council, as the principal funder of Arts & Business NI, greatly values and appreciates the generosity of the support that our business community gives to the arts.

Your support has never been more important to us.

We are all facing deeply uncertain times. But both sectors, arts and business, if they recognise the opportunities they share can support one another to face into the challenges that lie ahead.

For the arts, the political and economic landscape here is such that we are having to do more with less.

The rest of the UK is enjoying a period of reinvestment in the arts, as government acknowledges the transformational contribution the arts can make to delivering priorities.
In Northern Ireland, a weak and unbalanced economy with poor levels of productivity, too many who have ruled themselves out of the workforce and a high level of dependency has meant that day to day priorities have not made ‘space’ for the support needed to enable the arts sector to deliver the contribution to society and the economy of which it is capable. Unfortunately that looks set to continue given the budgetary pressures that exist.

The current funding model for the arts has created a high level of dependency and, frankly, has not been a sustainable one for some time. The need for a new multi-party model that recognises and focuses on delivering mutual benefit has been accepted in some quarters but is, as yet, not fully formed. Make no mistake, if the arts are to be returned to health we need to shape that model and put it to work just as soon as ever we can.

This awards event tonight emphasises the important relationship between the arts and business sectors. I spoke earlier of a future dependent on delivering mutual benefit, outside of the relationship between the arts and its audience there is perhaps no better example of the potential for shared benefit. For some businesses, arts activities actually deliver customers, for others not in that happy position, the worth of the arts to business is more about market positioning, brand building and making available promotional opportunities; no less valuable, just needing a bit more long-term thought when it comes to return on investment. Engaging with artists can also contribute to how a business thinks creatively, how it innovates and also how leadership develops, but why am I saying that you know it already.

Business can learn from the arts but the arts sector has much to learn from business, we need to develop your focus on outcomes, your skills (particularly with regard to planning and performance measurement) and your commercial know-how. Thinking like a business, integrating skills and expertise will help build greater resilience into the creative sector, through perhaps not by as much as you do through your financial support (at this point in the development and change cycle at least).

Our two sectors have much to gain from combining our distinctive strengths. The partnerships that are being showcased tonight are all excellent, all exemplary. One can’t help but be impressed that every year the standard just gets better setting the bar ever higher. I have no doubt that the success stories we will hear about tonight will be an inspiration and a motivation to others to develop creative collaborations of their own.

Congratulations to all the shortlisted candidates, and good luck!’


The current (and I emphasise current) crisis is a further unexplained proposed cut following multiple years of standstill cuts and in-year cuts, the details of which Mr Edmund is aware. ACNI’s response to yesterday’s draft budget can be seen here. I would stress, with no Minister or Executive in place the process of budget planning is apparently unguided and the Department of Communities’ instructions to its arms-length body to plan for further cuts of 4%, 8% or 12% are as yet unexplained. If someone can explain them I would like them to do so.

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph last night to respond to their article, I provided this, only a small portion of which made it into the final version (I know this is how journalism works but the detail of what I said matters).

Statement from me:

‘John Edmund’s speech on Wednesday night showed he not only does not how the arts and cultural industries work in Northern Ireland but holds it in low regard. Additionally he has little interest in or respect for, the people it serves and supports, including those he believes ‘choose’ not to work.

Mr Edmund was not made Chair of the Arts Council by the arts sector, its artists or its many participants and audiences. He was publicly appointed by an out-of-touch Department for Communities, a department who continue to demonstrate through repeated disinvestment that they have no strategic or longterm vision for the future of the cultural industries. I believe Mr Edmund’s ill-informed and offensive comments about those working in the sector and those who struggle to find work make his position untenable.’

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