Liam Neeson says £33m NI arts funding 'a lifeline'


Liam Neeson

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Laura Hutton/PA

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Liam Neeson said he could not stress enough how essential that money was for the arts sector

Actor Liam Neeson has told the Northern Ireland Executive that £33m in support funding for theatres and venues is a “lifeline”.

In July, NI received £33m as part of a UK government package for theatres, arts and music venues and museums.

However, the executive has not yet decided how that money will be spent or when it will be released.

Theatres, music and arts venues have also not been given a date when they can re-admit audiences.

Even when audiences can return, they are likely to be limited to ensure social distancing.

That has led to warnings from arts and entertainment venues and organisations that they are facing financial “devastation”.

Mr Neeson said funding support was needed to help secure the livelihoods of almost 8,000 people working in the arts and creative industries.

In a message to members of the executive recorded for the Lyric theatre in Belfast, where he is a patron, Mr Neeson said he was speaking as “a proud Northern Irishman”.

“I came up through the ranks, as it were, of the arts scene in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, beginning in 1976 to be exact at the Lyric theatre in Ridgeway Street in Belfast,” he said.

“I experienced first-hand, as many of you may have, the potential of physical danger as I practised and learned my craft in that theatre – which, by the way, never closed its doors once during the height of the Troubles.

“Now that says something about the character and stamina, not just of the Lyric theatre, but of us as a people – all the people, Protestant and Catholic, of the north.”

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Reuters

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Theatres, music and arts venues have also not been given a date when they can re-admit audiences

Mr Neeson said he had recently learned that £33m was available in emergency support for the arts.

“I cannot stress enough how essential that money is – every penny – in securing the well-being of our artistic community and sustaining the lives of nearly 8000 people in every branch of the arts in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“It is vital, it’s a lifeline.

“It is vital for our economy, it is vital for our young people who are pursuing a career in our creative industries.

“You know, a true society cannot be whole or fundamentally exist without the arts or the people employed in the arts.

“Culture is our society’s compass, our north star. If we lose our compass we all lose our way.

“My appeal to you today requires your urgent attention.

“The character of our very existence here in the province is at stake.”

Other high-profile artists including Van Morrison, Snow Patrol and Ash have previously warned that Northern Ireland’s music industry needs urgent support.

Across the UK, leading figures like Andrew Lloyd-Webber have also warned of the impact of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic on the arts.

The executive producer of the Lyric theatre Jimmy Fay said that the arts were vital to the Northern Ireland economy.

“It is vital to the thousands of permanent and freelance staff it employs, the organisations, the venues, the young people who hope to make a career in this amazing industry and to everyone, across Northern Ireland and beyond, who participate and engage with the Arts – at all levels,” Mr Fay said.



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