Coronavirus: Letter warns of threat to future of Belfast festivals

The Belfast Mela

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The Belfast Mela is among the festivals represented in the letter

A group representing many Belfast festival organisers has warned some face closure over lack of funding during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Festival Forum steering group has written to all representatives on Belfast City Council.

The Festival of Fools, Belfast Pride, Féile an Phobail and Eastside Arts Festival are among the organisations involved.

The forum warns of severe damage to “the cultural landscape of Belfast”.

The letter says a lack of certainty and investment dating back to April could leave the sector unable to meet the cultural ambitions of the city.

It cites EuroPride 2023 – a pan-European Pride event for which Belfast has been shortlisted – and Belfast’s bid to become a Unesco city of music as potential losses.

Sean O’Neill, the chairman of Belfast Pride, told BBC News NI it was about giving the festivals enough money to survive in some capacity.

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The organisers of Belfast Pride are in the process of trying to bring EuroPride to Belfast in 2023

“There is a risk festivals won’t be around next year, because the cuts are so severe,” he said.

“That isn’t good everyone.”

‘Facing permanent closure’

It is understood that a number of festivals received a commitment for Belfast City Council funding in March, but it has not been processed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There are also other funding streams which have been stopped during the pandemic.

The letter to councillors says many of the organisations behind the festivals are “facing permanent closure”, and have missed out on many of the government’s coronavirus-related benefits due to their charity status.

In a typical year, it says, the “majority of income comes from earned income, corporate sponsorship, donations, partnerships and trust funding”, but that “2020 is anything but a typical year”.

It acknowledges pressure placed on the council by the coronavirus pandemic, but notes festivals are a key part of its cultural strategy through to 2030.

The letter asks councillors to ensure organisations can meet immediate costs, and for investment in possible virtual staging of festivals for the autumn and winter.

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