Letters of Concern from Miriam de Búrca, PhD Researcher, University of Ulster
Dear Mr Hanson,
I trust you have been made aware of the recent and sudden closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery? As a member of the artistic community, I feel betrayed by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for causing this to happen, and extremely concerned about not only how I will be personally affected, but about what message this sends out to artists and arts bodies internationally. It smacks of a backwardness and hypocrisy that belies the intelligent and sophisticated level of the artistic scene in Northern Ireland.
Why and how can a government body be allowed to carry this out, especially under such dubious circumstances? If you look at the www.campaignforobg.blogspot.com site you will see many concerned artists, curators, events organisers, academics, etc. all of reputations of international standing, writing in to protest and express their disbelief and anger about this closure.
Not least is it scandalous how the staff at OBG have been treated, being given no notice whatsoever that from one day to the next they would be out of a job and subsequently livelihood.
As the learned Minister of State and Acting Permanent Secretary of DCAL, I urge you to look into this matter at once, if you are not already doing so, and examine carefully to both sides – not only the fellow governmental body of the ACNI, who I believe have behaved shamefully in the name of your Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
With sincerity and concern,
Miriam de Búrca
University of Ulster
Dear Anne Loughran,
Forgive my persistence on this matter, but your reply is simply not adequate. You have merely reiterated the rhetoric already quoted by the Arts Council in their statement (that the decision 'was not taken lightly' and that they hope it will 'reopen again in the near future'), which to me indicates no further examination of the matter has been made whatsoever. To presume that the staff at the Arts Council have handled the situation appropriately on the basis that they receive the money to do so is a dangerous one. Does is not rouse any concern when so much opposition has been made by the public in response? Surely they exist to serve the art sector, not the other way round?
If you take the time to look at the site which has been dedicated to the campaign against not only the OBG's closure but the way in which it was carried out (see link below), you will find letters written by a large number of important members of the artistic world criticising the Arts Council in a very serious way. They are not just responses made merely out of 'passion'. Their objections are based on a fundamental sense of fairness, logic and consequence. In other words, they object to the fact that it was done in a completely unacceptable way on the grounds of a lack of transparent negotiation and communication, and that the Arts Council's justification is utterly unfounded, contradictory and illogical. Finally the consequences of such an act may be more serious and far reaching for the artistic community of Northern Ireland than they might have deemed necessary to consider.
I ask you to forward this to the Minister so that he looks at both sides. At this point it seems he has not done so.
I look forward to your reply, or better still, a direct reply form the Minister himself.
Miriam de Búrca