Many arts venues caught in Catch-22 over funding, say Armstrong

COVID-19 Kellie Armstrong

Many arts venues are caught in a ‘Catch-22’ situation and are unable to access funding without paying for health and safety equipment ahead of time, Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong has said.

The Strangford MLA was speaking after receiving a reply from the Department for Communities regarding the Health and Safety Capital grant, which is administered to arts venues by the Arts Council on behalf of the Department.

It stated while the Arts Council is ‘mindful’ of the current pressures faced by organisations, payments under the scheme are to be made retrospectively. Ms Armstrong said therefore only venues with enough money in reserve would be able to take advantage of the grant.

“This is a vital issue for arts venues – because the grant is paid retrospectively, cash-strapped venues, who have not been able to generate any income throughout the pandemic due to being closed for the majority of time, are unable to apply for it,” she said.

“For the vast majority of places, paying the thousands needed to update their health and safety equipment is simply impossible. I asked whether the Department or Arts Council would engage directly with suppliers, as no provision for that was made, and was told it would not be practical.

“It means only those venues which can access a bank loan or which have financial reserves can apply for the grant and install the health and safety equipment needed to reopen. It is a Catch-22 situation. I have asked the Minister to review the situation, with an aim to fulfil the original intent of the grant, which was to help struggling venues purchase and install the COVID-19 protection measures necessary to allow them to reopen.”