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.’

Interested in writing and sharing knowledge?

Sharing practice & research at a recent CPOI event, Belfast

This year I have been delighted to join the Editorial Board of the Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy.  Online and open access, it was set up in 2013 and has just revised its editorial policy with a new call for submissions by 1 March 2018 (extended from 19 January 2018). There are a number of different areas in the journal and details of all the different sections (research articles, policy reviews, book reviews, etc) are here. If you are interested in submitting something, sharing your work or finding out more, please contact me or one of the other board members.

The bit I’m particularly excited about

As part of the revamp there is a new section called ‘Perspectives on Practice‘, intended to bridge the gap between academic research and professional practice in the cultural sector. If you are working in the arts, heritage or cultural sector and  have something you would like to propose that you think will stimulate some discussion, offer some reflection or add to shared knowledge, please get in touch. There is more detail on the website in the section about editorial policies. This tells you how long the finished piece is expected to be, when it is due, the kinds of things we think might be relevant. Please also have a look at author guidelines for further style and submission information.

I want to hear from you if you are an arts manager, project leader, freelancer, practising artist/facilitator, curator, site manager, producer or education officer or anyone working in the field with something significant to share. We know for many working in the cultural sector, writing about their work may be new but we also believe there is a rich body of knowledge out there worth sharing. A short 150-250 word proposal before 1 March 2018 is all that is needed to start but you’re welcome to get in touch (fitzgibbonali@gmail.com) to discuss in advance.


Independent Theatre Artists – join me in Scotland!

Me listening intently

Are you working in the UK as a director, actor, playwright or theatremaker? Are you an independent producer or running a theatre company without core funding? Would you like to share your thoughts and experiences to help with research?

Yes? Contact me now to attend one of these discussions. Email: afitzgibbon01@qub.ac.uk

My journey continues in researching the role of independent artists in policymaking and leadership in the funded theatre sector in the UK. My travels and conversations have covered Belfast, Cardiff, Bristol with countless Skype interviews in between. And from 23 – 25 October I will be in Scotland.

The thoughts and experiences of independent artists are bringing huge insight to this work and the more varied and diverse the better. To join in, please sign up to come to a relaxed and informal discussion session. We know many people take on multiple roles so please choose the one that is the closest/best fit to how you see yourself or the time that works best for you.

Monday 23 October 2017: The Lyceum, Edinburgh (with help from Red Bridge ArtsLyceum

10.30am – 12pm – Directors/Auteurs

1.30pm – 3pm  – Actors/Theatremakers

A small session is also being arranged in Edinburgh for Independent & Freelance Producers (sometime around 5pm). Please get in touch if you are interested in attending.



Tuesday 24 October 2017: Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, 350 Sauciehall St, Glasgow

12.00 – 1.30pm – Playwrights


NTSTuesday 24 October 2017:              National Theatre Scotland, Rockvilla, Glasgow

5.00 – 6.30pm – Directors/Auteurs

*** Another session scheduled for 25 Oct will not go ahead. Apologies for any inconvenience ***


All sessions are confidential and can accommodate a maximum of 6 people. More information on consent and how information will be used will be provided. To book a place or get more information, please contact researcher Ali FitzGibbon afitzgibbon01@qub.ac.uk

Every effort to accommodate all needs and abilities will be made, please just ask. While childcare can’t be offered, sessions are timed to offer at least one session during school time in each city and babies are welcome.

A final series of discussions will be held in Birmingham later in autumn – Watch this space for details.


Artists in theatre! Lend me your thoughts

IMG_2472Are you an independent artist working in the UK as a director, actor, playwright or theatremaker?

Are you an independent producer or running a theatre company without core funding?

Would you like to share your thoughts and experiences to help with research?

If you answered Yes, get in touch. Email: afitzgibbon01 [at] qub.ac.uk 

As part of PhD research exploring the role of independent artists in policymaking and leadership in the funded theatre sector in the UK, I want to hear from independent artists working in the UK, and particularly outside London, through a series of informal recorded group discussions .

Your thoughts and experiences on your life and work are vital in completing the picture. These are relaxed and (hopefully) enjoyable short opportunities to share thoughts with your peers. We know many people take on multiple roles so please choose the one that is the closest/best fit to how you see yourself. To book a place or find out more, get in touch

Tuesday 19 September 2017: Lyric Theatre, Belfast

10am – 12pm                                                  Directors/Auteurs

1pm – 3pm                                                     Actors/Theatremakers

4 – 6pm                                                           Independent Producers

Wednesday 20 September 2017: Lyric Theatre, Belfast

10am – 12pm                                                  Actors/Theatremakers

1pm – 3pm                                                     Actors/Theatremakers

4pm – 6pm                                                     Playwrights

Monday 25 September 2017: Travelling Light Theatre Co, Bristol

12.30pm – 2pm                                              Actors/Theatremakers

3pm – 4.30pm                                                Directors/Auteurs

Tuesday 26 September 2017: Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

10am – 12pm                                                  Directors/Auteurs

1pm – 3pm                                                     Playwrights

4 – 6pm                                                           Independent Producers

Wednesday 27 September 2017: Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

10am – 12pm                                                  Actors/Theatremakers

All sessions are confidential and can accommodate a maximum of 6 people. More information on consent and how information will be used will be provided in advance. To book a place or get more information, please contact me on afitzgibbon01 [at] qub.ac.uk.

Every effort to accommodate all needs and abilities will be made – please just ask.

FURTHER DATES WILL BE ANNOUNCED IN GLASGOW, EDINBURGH, MANCHESTER AND BIRMINGHAM. If you are a fulltime company or theatre and are interested in getting involved in this research, hosting sessions, etc, please get in touch.


Conference Update

With one week left to the All-Island Performing Arts Conference, see the full schedule here. With Andrew Eaton, Michael Keegan Dolan, Shona McCarthy, Tania Canas and Richard De Domenici all delivering addresses, it is a packed programme. Also delighted to see such a range of contributors on the stage from all scales and types of work – Brokentalkers, Abbey Theatre, Gate Theatre, Junk Ensemble, Baboro, Anu Productions, Blue Teapot Theatre Company, Outburst Arts and so many others. If you haven’t booked then now is the time!!


Globally speaking in Belfast

Tania CJust prior to the All-Island Performing Arts Conference in Cork, there will be a special free lunchtime event in Belfast on Monday 19 June with one of its speakers, Tania Cañas. Possible with the help of colleagues at Terra Nova Productions, and the Brokering Cultural Exchange Research network.

For those not familiar with her point of view she has been writing and working in Australia for some years as an arts professional, working in community engaged practice. Some of her most provocative writing is here.

To attend the event on 19 June, follow this booking link.


All-Island Conference 21-22 June 2017

Booking is now open for the 2017 conference with Theatre Forum and TheatreNI. As guest curator for 2017 it’s been a really interesting experience to listen to, and explore, current conversations and topics; what people are worried or excited about; how we move forward when things seem so uncertain. The conference theme #TwistorStick is about making choices and decisions. Do something or do nothing. Every decision is a variation on this whether the decision is about making work, protecting our skills, preparing for the future. Full programme will be announced shortly.