Northern Ireland

Arts sector in NI struggling amid cost-of-living crisis, survey states

A new survey has said audience levels for arts organisations in NI have not returned to pre-pandemic levels (Johnny Frazer/PA)
A new survey has said audience levels for arts organisations in NI have not returned to pre-pandemic levels (Johnny Frazer/PA)

The cost-of-living crisis is impacting the arts sector in Northern Ireland with audience and programme numbers struggling to return to pre-Covid levels, a new survey has stated.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland surveyed 95 small, medium and large-scale arts organisations and found that core running costs have risen 16% in the last year and are now 43% higher than before the pandemic.

The research also showed that some arts organisations are seeking investment from new sources due to limited available public funding.

The survey said that the overall workforce in the arts in Northern Ireland is now back to pre-Covid levels.

However, it said there is evidence that volunteers are being recruited to take on previously paid roles so that organisations can maintain services. In some cases, the survey said, organisations are being run by a board of volunteers rather than paid staff.

It said that earned income in the sector had increased by 72% in the last year and now exceeds pre-Covid levels by 25%.

The survey said this growth was driven by large-scale organisations, with smaller scale organisations more reliant on public sources of funding.

Public sector income represents 31% of income source for all organisations, a fall of 6% from the previous year.

The survey said salary costs increased by 21% year-on-year and are now 50% higher than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019/20, comprising 67% of all core costs.

Karly Greene, director of strategic development and partnerships at the Arts Council said: “Increases in the cost of living continue to have a detrimental impact on the entire arts infrastructure.

“Looking at this year’s data we can see that, despite the enormous challenges, some arts organisations receiving investment from the Arts Council have been able to diversify their income from other sources in order to sustain their activities.

“It’s clear, that with a much-needed increase in public sector investment in the arts, Northern Ireland has an opportunity to yield even greater social and economic return from the arts, which will benefit jobs, communities and help to attract future inward investment.”

The reporting period for the Arts Council’s Annual Funding Survey was April 1 2022 to March 31 2023.