Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Copy of a letter sent to: Rosemary Kelly, Chair ACNI, Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive ACNI, and Noirin McKinney ACNI from Mark Orange, Artist

I am writing to register my shock and disappointment at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's decision to withdraw funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery.

I am an artist and curator and was a founder member of Catalyst Arts in 1992. I am from Belfast but have been based in New York for the past seven years, having previously completed a year at the PS1 International Studio Residency in 1997. I have continued to work closely with artists and arts organizations in Northern Ireland over the past seven years, both exhibiting my own work in Belfast (I had work in the MFA exhibition at OBG when it was closed), as well as programming exhibitions that have included the work of Northern Irish-based artists including Daniel Jewesbury, Seamus Harahan, Susan MacWilliam etc. at Spencer Brownstone Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in New York where I am an Associate Director.

As a Northern Irish artist living in New York, Hugh Mulholland and his Directorship of the Ormeau Baths Gallery (not to mention his instigation of a Northern Irish presence at the Venice Biennale), has been one of those examples that I can point to with confidence in indicating the quality of the visual arts and its infrastructure in Northern Ireland. Hugh and his staff have clearly managed to balance incredibly difficult and divergent sets of priorities, representing an incredibly talented and successful group of local artists, while maintaining the gallery's commitment to outreach and education. Hugh and OBG have been intimately linked to the most vital art production that has been going on in the city: from providing a platform for local visual artists that have gone on to establish international reputations (proving a key element in the remarkable recent successes of artists such as Phil Collins and Seamus Harahan), to collaborating with and supporting the best of the smaller arts organizations in the city, including Factotum and Visonic.

As an artist working in Belfast in the early 1990's, I witnessed the replacement of the former Arts Council Gallery with the 'independent' Ormeau Baths Gallery in 1995. I can remember my doubts about how the space could be truly independent while remaining wholly dependent on the Arts Council for funding. Despite my fears, I was happy to see a remarkable new venue opened and remained optimistic that the institutional fudge of independence would not be abused by the Arts Council.

Clearly, my optimism was misplaced, as has been made clear with the past weeks’ depressing developments. From this perspective, the withdrawal of funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery looks like an example of incredible short sightedness and astonishing bad faith on the part of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. I would like to call on the Arts Council to reinstate the Ormeau Baths Gallery's funding so that the gallery can be reopened and that Hugh and his staff can continue the hugely valuable work that they have been doing there for the past almost ten years.

Sincerely and greatly concerned,

Mark Orange


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