A meeting is scheduled to take place next week involving stakeholders of the Belfast Festival to discuss its future after Queen’s University announced its decision to withdraw annual funding for the event. Belfast’s only international, showcase arts and culture festival has attracted talent from around the world for over half a century including Jimi Hendrix and Ennio Morricone as well as local names such as Seamus Heaney and Van Morrison.
A statement from the university this evening said the decision not to continue with the Belfast Festival at Queen’s was taken “with great reluctance” following “a detailed strategic review by the Festival’s Steering Group”.
Festival Director Richard Wakely thanked Queen’s for its support over the last 52 years.
“Festival appreciates the difficult economic background against which this decision has been made. Whilst this is disappointing news, it nevertheless represents a genuine opportunity to work constructively with our remaining public and private stakeholders to explore the redesign and re-launch of Festival as a city wide event of international stature and significance for 2015 and beyond.
“We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with our public Stakeholders including Arts Council Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast City Council and British Council and hope to announce the future of the event and dates for this year’s edition in the coming weeks ahead,” he added.
Describing his sadness at the end of an era, Professor Tony Gallagher, pro-vice chancellor at Queen’s, said this was a consequence of the massive cuts in the arts and education budgets.
Despite carrying out a 12 month review with other stakeholders, he said it had proved impossible to overcome the challenges of staging the international festival which has been in existence for 52 years.
He added: “On top of this we have had devastating cuts to the higher education budget which are going to cause us significant problems. Putting all of these things together, we really had no choice but to focus on our core activities. We really couldn’t afford to put the money into the festival or to carry the financial risk associated with it.”
“The significant cuts to the arts and culture world and in higher education have caused serious problems,” Mr Gallagher added. He also indicated that this may be the first of a number of direct consequences of these cuts in the coming months.
Mr Gallagher revealed that job cuts for staff and a reduced number of places for prospective students are now inevitable.
“We are also seriously looking at the size of our intake next September and it is almost inevitable that it is going to reduce by a significant number. Hundreds of students are not going to get to Queen’s who otherwise would have done. We are also going to reduce our staff by a significant number but we are still working on the details to ensure that we can maintain a high quality student experience,” Mr Gallagher said.
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