Queen’s axes funding for major annual festival

Queen's University, South Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill
Queen's University, South Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill

The future looks uncertain for a long-running international festival after the university which hosts it pulled out.

Queen’s University Belfast said that it could no longer afford to put money towards the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, which has been running for over half a century.

It said that due to “significant cuts to the public purse” it would have to discontinue the festival – although one of the organisers stated last night that they will try to find ways to salvage it.

Founded in 1961, it has hosted acts ranging from Jimi Hendrix to the Moscow State Ballet.

It has skipped a couple of years since its inception, and last year was its 52nd year.

It is believed no contracts were signed for this year’s planned festival, so there is no financial cost to cancelling it at this stage.

Queen’s said that the festival – which typically runs over roughly two weeks in October – costs about £1m per year to stage.

Although it receives funds from the Arts Council, main sponsor Ulster Bank,the British Council, Belfast City Council and more, it was still predicting a “funding gap” of around £300,000 for this coming year.

Last night, those who directly run the festival were not giving up hope.

A statement was issued saying that they want to meet with the other organisations involved to discuss “options for future editions of the festival”.

It said that this meeting is planned for next week.

The university thanked all those who have been involved over the years, and said that decision to axe its support had been taken with “great reluctance”.

It said that a review had recently been conducted by the festival steering group, which found that the festival would need to grow its annual budget to around £2m in order to “achieve a world-class event”.

However, it added that in the present financial climate this would not be possible.

In a pre-recorded statement sent to the News Letter, Professor Tony Gallagher, Queen’s University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor, said: “We’re already facing significant funding cuts to our core activities. We’re facing the prospect of hundreds of students not coming to Queen’s in September.

“In this context we have to continue to defend our core business, and so we cannot to support the Belfast Festival at Queen’s... It is a sad day. As I say, we’ve been involved with this for 52 years. It’s a tradition of which we’re immensely proud.”

However, he added: “In the circumstances we feel we have absolutely no choice.”

It was reported last night that a number of jobs are likely to be lost as a result of the decision.

The statement from the organisers reads: “Belfast Festival learned today that Queen’s University is ending its financial support for the event (representing 13 per cent of total income for 2014/15) from the end of this current financial year on July 31 2015...

“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.”

It added that last year, audience levels had increased by more than a quarter.

Adam Turkington, programme manager of Culture Night – another large-scale annual arts event which has relied on public money – said that such news was an inevitable consequence of the squeeze on public spending.

“This is what’s going to happen when you cut back everything,” he said.

“Not that we are going to lose this, definitely. But things are going to be in jeopardy.”