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Brexit Discussions Day – Culture Sector Statement

The Belfast Visual Arts Forum (BVAF), in partnership with Theatre NI, Thrive, Creative Europe Desk UK – Northern Ireland, AICA (L’Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art) with the support of the Cultural Policy Observatory Ireland hosted a Brexit discussions day on Thursday 1 November 2018. Below is a statement from this event:

FOR THE ATTENTION OF: This statement can be used in whole or part by cultural organisations and those interested in the cultural life of Northern Ireland (NI) post Brexit, who wish to make representation to MPs, MLAs, MEPs, local government representatives, statutory funders, policy-makers and stakeholders.


With regards to Brexit, the cultural sector in Northern Ireland shares many of the main concerns expressed to date by the culture and creative sectors across the UK and our counterparts in Europe.  These concerns have been expressed by a number of UK-wide organisations including but not limited to the Creative Industries Federation, Equity UK and The British Council.

Importantly, there are specific concerns arising for Northern Ireland, namely it being the only part of the UK to share a border with an EU Member State and with significant investment in its creative sector from Europe including the EU Peace Programme.

This statement summarises findings and discussions arising from a Brexit Discussion Day in Belfast City Hall on 01 November 2018. This session brought together a range of NI creative and cultural industry members and involved a panel discussion featuring: Sam Young, Deputy Head of Policy and Public Affairs Creative Industries Federation, Siobhán McAlister, Policy Development Officer, NICVA and Paul Gosling, Chairperson, Playhouse Derry-Londonderry; chaired by Susan Picken, Director Cathedral Quarter Trust.  Following the panel, roundtable discussions took place on the key issues and risks around Brexit and agreement on what the meeting felt the sector needed during this period of uncertainty and unprecedented change.

In producing this statement:

  • We assert the importance of NI’s sector as a significant player within the wider creative and cultural industries of the UK as a whole as well as within the EU context.
  • We highlight that the absence of the NI Assembly and Executive has resulted in a lack of government support in planning and mitigating risk as a result of Brexit leaving the NI sector increasingly exposed and at a disadvantage to other parts of the UK where funding is being identified, most notably within
  • We stress the fact that NI has the lowest per capita spend on the arts in Europe so any further reductions and penalties arising from Brexit will have a disproportionate affect.

Identified risks:

The assessment of risk around Brexit is complex but the 1 November gathering prioritised the following risk to the NI culture and creative sector:

  1. Post Brexit, there will be fewer opportunities for the NI cultural sector to realise European collaborations, aspirations and connectionsfrom European funding, practice and participation. Equally, there is the potential for a perception to emerge throughout the wider arts community on the continent that NI will be closed for business in respect of trans national culture and arts projects.

 If NI arts and cultural organisations find it difficult or are excluded from EU funding opportunities such as Creative Europe and EU support travel and exchange programmes, it could be seen as unattractive for European and international partnerships, exchanges and collaborations. This loss of networks and transnational projects would be of detriment not only to NI but also to EU partners many of whom have learned from the conflict resolution work supported by culture in NI. The EU and its funding programmes have been of real importance in peace building in Northern Ireland and has supported many arts and cultural projects which have been critical to the process.  In addition, without Northern Ireland, the EU will lose expertise and an important voice in conflict resolution and in using arts and culture in the practice of peacebuilding.

  1. Increased cost implications around the movement of art, museum collections, production equipment and instruments.

 NI is already subject to additional travel costs as it is on the geographical periphery of Europe and has a stretch of sea between it and Great Britain.  Additional costs incurred through increased bureaucracy, which could be up to 4 times current costs, would put significant financial strain on already stretched organisations within NI’s current arts funding climate and reduce the opportunities for people to have cultural experiences from places outside NI.

Clarity around immigration after the UK departs the EU is urgently needed. Restricting movement for EU citizens will for example seriously impact on the programmes of arts organisations including international festivals who present artists from across Europe, galleries who host touring exhibitions and theatre and dance companies who engage in European collaborations.

Setting additional barriers in place threatens the ability of the NI cultural sector to attract and retain the best creative and cultural talent to NI. This loss of talent could have a long term impact on both the work produced in NI but also increase the amount of NI creative individuals who leave NI to work in a more international context. In addition getting visas for artists may become too difficult and costly, further reducing NI residents’ access to culture from across the world. 

  1. Potential disparity in a host of areas including minimum wages between Northern Ireland and ROI following Brexit. 

The UK is predicting an economic downturn which will undoubtedly place further pressure on public funding.  In NI arts funding via Arts Council NI, has already reduced by £23m over the last 6 years[1] and further cuts here will increase the flow of artists and cultural workers to the Republic of Ireland who are now in a period of economic recovery and increasing investment in arts and culture. As well as the economic differences, the fact that the Republic of Ireland remains within the EU with access to the cultural funding and mobility on offer, will further attract artists and cultural workers to move across the border.

In light of the identified risks and the specific circumstance the NI cultural sector is working in, we are calling for:

  • Department for Communities and cultural arm’s length bodies to proactively engage with the sector and offer resources and support to examine and mitigate the risk of the various Brexit scenarios.

At a minimum this would include:

  • NI Arts & culture sector views and concerns to be represented in the wider UK, EU and Republic of Ireland discussions around the impact of Brexit. These include inter departmental forums, prominent UK lobbying organisations such as The Creative Industries Federation, What Next? Equity and others.
  • The delivery of the Culture Accord for Culture and Education (CACE) as referenced in the White Paper taking into account the specific issues relating to NI.
  • A recognition of the importance of maintaining free movement of artworks and cultural goods within negotiations of the EU Single Market e.g. theatrical/musical freight.
  • Mitigation against the impact of Brexit on creative employment, potential loss of talent and skills shortages in Northern Ireland.
  • A stated commitment to maintaining the common travel area and a ‘visa-free’ or ‘visa waiver’ system for artists travelling between the UK and EU.
  • A stated assurance of continued eligibility in EU funding programmes.

 Key reference documents:

Notes to Editors

This statement is issued further to the Brexit Discussion Day on 01 November 2018 organised and hosted by the following organisations with and on behalf of the arts & culture sector, Northern Ireland: Belfast Visual Arts Forum in partnership with Theatre NI, thrive, Creative Europe Desk UK – Northern Ireland, AICA (L’Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art) with the support of Cultural Policy Observatory Ireland.

On 6 December 2018 a number of those who had also attended the 01 November meeting plus other representatives of the Creative and Cultural sector attended a DCMS working session on the on the Cooperative Agreement on Culture and Education and Creative Europe, following the publication of the White Paper and the political declaration on the future partnership with the EU post-EU Exit.

[1] http://artscouncil-ni.org/news/the-arts-council-announces-annual-funding-worth-13.1-million