Monday, March 13, 2006

Letter of Concern from Antony Kirby

Dear Sir/Madam

I have been following the Ormeau Baths Gallery fiasco
with great interest and find myself as a regular
visitor to the Gallery disturbed by the outcome, which
has resulted in its closure.

At a time when Belfast and indeed Northern Ireland, is
priding itself on the diversity of the Arts and
Humanities, 2006 seems to be the year in which the
discipline of visual arts is being eradicated from the
Arts scene turning NI into a visual arts desert - I
refer to the impending closure of the Art Gallery in
the Ulster Museum, Catalyst Arts as well as the OBG.

Your logo "Inspiring the Imagination, Building the
Future" rings hollow in relation to OBG.

As a non-artist I would like to know why the Board and
Management of the Arts Council, in effect guardians,
allowed the closure of our equivalent to the Tate
Gallery close without actively undertaking actions
that would have at least allowed a transition to take
place without affecting the patrons of the gallery? I
have met over the fortnight since OBG's enforced
closure so many visitors to Northern Ireland who are
mystified at the closure of our flagship modern art
gallery. The signals send out to arts organisations
throughout Europe and indeed globally are very
damaging. Why should artists etc bother come to
Northern Ireland when the Arts Council appears
incapable of facilitating the visual arts effectively?
I say this as I have been in conversations with
friends who are artists in Poland and Italy who are
very shocked at what has happened. I myself had
discussed with two artists in Italy the possibility of
bringing their work to NI with OBG as one of the
spaces ideal for displaying their work. What incentive
is there for International artists coming here to
present there work?

Looking at your statement about the OBG closure you
state that you "agreed to help OBG to wind down its
affairs in an orderly manner".

Under the FoI Act I would like to know how you aimed
to facilitate this.

Why bring to public notice "financial irregularities
at the Ormeau Baths Gallery" retrospectively when a
forensic audit cleared OBG of any wrongdoing
especially when the money was repaid? Again under FoI
I would like full clarification.

I note that in your response to OBG's assertion that
you (ACNI) had declared that OBG was unsustainable and
that you had loss of confidence in OBG’s management
since over a period 3 years OBG had not provided a
"strategic plan, business plan or financial recovery
plan". Yet you "continued to invest in He Company in
an efforts to encourage them to improve their
financial situation and their corporate governance".
Three years is a long time, why was not positive
action taken to assist OBG in that time so that the
current situation could have been averted? It seems
contradictory to me that on the one hand asking for
OBG to provide you with details of their finances and
management while investing in them and then
facilitating the return of £25,000 as part of
"irregularities” that an audit sponsored (at what
cost?) cleared OBG. Under FoI can you give me a full
explanation?

I have noted in the statement issued by staff of the
OBG on 28 February 2006 that part of ACNI's Policy
towards Visual Arts Funding is that the Council,
"wishes to see Northern Ireland develop as a centre
for excellence for the production, presentation and
critical analysis of contemporary visual arts. It
encourages quality, innovation and experimentation to
develop a culture in which the visual art is respected
and valued".

Now, of course, there is no major flagship space where
inspiring the Imagination, Building the Future can
take place.

There is a greater alienation to Arts community than
you claim. This to me is the alienation of ACNI
towards any arts organisation in NI. I have heard in
many conversations that ACNI has precipitated a
dangerous precedent that could have significant
financial ramifications for the whole of the Arts in
NI. I hope not.

I look forward to a considered response.

Anthony Kirby

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