Blackstaff Press 'devastated' to have Arts Council funding withdrawn

Blackstaff Press 'devastated' to have Arts Council funding withdrawn

Northern Ireland publisher Blackstaff Press  said it is “devastated” to learn its Arts Council funding has been withdrawn and is “absorbing the shock” of the news.

The independent press, which has been running since 1971, said it found out its funding had been slashed from £82,200 to zero for the 2015-16 year through the Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI) website yesterday (23rd March).

The publisher, which has received funding from the Arts Council every year for the last 44, said it was “still absorbing the shock of this decision and cannot yet say with confidence how it will impact on our publishing and outreach programmes.”

A letter from ACNI to the company confirmed funding would be withdrawn from 1st April.

Blackstaff Press was one of six groups not to receive any grants from ACNI after the body had its funding cut by 11% by the NI Executive, which equates to £900,000 less than the previous year. Of 115 groups that applied for funding, 10 will gain more money, 27 face reductions on last year, while six won’t receive anything.

In a statement, Blackstaff Press said: "We were devastated to learn…via the Arts Council of Northern Ireland website, that our funding for 2015/2016 has been cut from £82,200 to zero. While we anticipated a reduction in line with the budget cut to ACNI, we had no indication at all that we should expect a complete withdrawal of funding.”

Blackstaff has published 900 books since it was founded, including local authors such as John Hewitt, Paul Durcan, Bernard McLaverty, Patricia Craig, Glenn Patterson, Ciaran Carson, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Leesa Harker, Tony Macaulay, John Richardson, Tim Brannigan and Tom Hartley, as well as many others.

“Our publishing programme is wide-ranging and diverse and embraces both fiction and non-fiction," the publisher said. "We have been a major contributor to the richness of contemporary Irish literary life not only through the titles we have published, but through ongoing work with new and established writers and through our active participation in arts festivals and literary events. Last year alone, Blackstaff Press and its authors participated in more than 100 outreach events across the island." It also said it has the largest digital audience across Facebook and Twitter of any publisher on the island of Ireland, and continued to “seek out fresh new writing in Northern Ireland.”

It added: “We understand that our application was rejected not because of any shortcomings or failings in our planned programme, but for other reasons.”

Roisin McDonagh, c.e.o of the Arts Council, said the body’s funding cut by the NI Executive was “regrettable” and “incredibly shortsighted” in an interview with the BBC. “For a tiny amount of money, we know the real value the arts bring to health, education, tourism, regeneration, the economy – because we’re also talking about jobs for artists and jobs for people who work in arts organisations – and they contribute to the wider society. We need to be known around the world for our creative and cultural offering and indeed we are, so I think this is very shortsighted and very regrettable.”

Irish language group POBAL and Music Theatre for Youth will also receive no funding this year.