Friday, March 10, 2006

Letter of Concern from Brian Connolly, Artist and Northern Ireland Representative Visual Artists Ireland

Dear

The sudden closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery last Wednesday comes as a complete shock to the Visual Artists across Ireland and is a great cause of concern for practitioners here in Northern Ireland and many of them have made their concerns known to me as the Northern Irish Representative of the Visual Artists Ireland.

I do not pretend to know the full detail of the machinations behind the scenes, which lead to the sudden closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery, however, that which I do know through my consultation has worried me greatly. I therefore wish to register my protest at the closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery, and the manner in which this has been achieved.

I am aware that to date the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have made several public statements and I have endeavored to update my letter as information changes. It is my understanding that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland by their withholding of funding, in effect left the Board of the OBG – (Ormeau Baths Gallery for short), with no other option but to close. It is therefore rather disingenuous of the ACNI – (Arts Council of Northern Ireland in short), to make a statement in which you state: “The ACNI is saddened by the decision of the Chair of the OBG to announce the closure of the Gallery. However, given the company’s inability to reduce it’s longstanding financial deficit or to sustain the gallery space as a viable arts venue, we agreed to help the OBG to wind-down it’s affairs in an orderly, business-like manner.”(*1)

I do not conclude from your statement, nor agree, that the sudden closure of the OBG and dismissal of its Staff, with but a few days notice, is any “help in winding-down the affairs of the OBG in an orderly, business-like manner”. In fact, I see this action as quite the opposite, it appears both brutal and callous, and as such, it sends out all the wrong signals across the Visual Arts Sector in Northern Ireland. Is this really what the ACNI wanted to achieve? Can you really afford to alienate a significant part of the Professional Art Sector in this manner?

If the ACNI were in fact really wishing to help the OBG “wind-down its affairs in an orderly and business like manner”, you would surely not have taken the course of action chosen. If you, the ACNI, were wishing to do, as you stated in the quote above, you would have continued to fund and work with the Board & Management of the gallery in the short term in order to run out the course of the following exhibition commitments. This would have enabled you, the OBG Board, and its Management to develop new plans in consultation with the Visual Artists in the Sector and enable a new cohesive body to be developed over the following months. This process would have been feasible and less damaging to all concerned i.e. the forthcoming Exhibiting Artists, Gallery Management, Gallery Board, Interested Members of the public, and the Visual Arts sector as a whole.

Within the correspondence that I have received I have been made aware that something of this nature was actually in hand, and that the Board and Management of the OBG was actively in the process of “Restructuring”, (at the request of the ACNI in September 2005). If this is indeed the case, it makes the recent ACNI actions very puzzling and even more worrying. It certainly does not appear as a supportive nor hands-off approach towards the provision for and “commitment towards the maintenance of independent public gallery provision in the city” (2), nor does it back up your statement that your “principal objective” is to “secure ongoing gallery provision.” (*3)

Many of us are aware that the rent of the OBG is/was very high, and that this fact alone has made financial “solvency and independence” very difficult if not practically impossible. It is therefore gratifying to be able to congratulate Hugh Mullholland, the Director of the Gallery, his staff, and the Board, for making the OBG such a successful venue over the years, given the financial millstone that they inherited year to year.

Ironically, many practicing artists protested to the ACNI about the wisdom of this proposed move. At that time artists already understood that the proposed venue would probably be compromised by debt and that independence would be rendered virtually impossible. It is therefore very disturbing and disappointing that the ACNI have chosen to withdraw funding now based on “non viability and “financial deficit”, a situation that the Gallery has inherited as a result of your own past actions!

The ACNI’s original statement is brief, and on one hand it could be seen as a means of sparing the ‘supposed’ guilty parties the full glare of public humiliation. However, on the other hand, those referred to in the statement, as “staff” do not appear to me to be skulking in a dark corner somewhere away from the media glare, but quite the contrary. The Management of the OBG appears to be upstanding and answerable to all allegations, and indeed are making counter-allegations and offering differing readings of the facts. This makes me wonder as to the function of the original ACNI’s statement.

On re-examination, the original ACNI statement on the closure of the OBG is speckled with innuendo, hints, and half allegations, without listing any data. It could therefore be read as a very divisive statement, designed specifically to fling mud without any means of re-dress or accountability. It appears therefore as a very underhand tactic used as ‘smoke and mirrors’ to deflect attention from the ACNI’s role in the matter! It only serves to diminish my confidence in the management of that organisation. I now wonder what you/ACNI can or will do to restore my trust, and that of the sector as a whole?

In the original Statement you/ACNI cite that you are, “actively exploring options with potential partners in the visual arts sector and are confident that the gallery space will re-open under new management as soon as possible.” (*4) Since you have clearly damaged you reputation among the majority of the Professional Visual Artist Practitioners in Belfast and across Northern Ireland, how do you propose to regain their trust and their eventual input into any new gallery and management structure? Are you now prepared to alienate the Professional Practitioners in the VAS – (Visual Art Sector for short), in favor of Part-time practitioners & hobbyists? Surely, this goes against all the ACNI’s aims and objectives over the last 10-15 years. How will the ACNI ensure the support of the contemporary professional artist practitioners in any new venture, which they, (ACNI), orchestrate, or implement and support?

Your next move is a crucial one and one that I hope you have thought through very carefully. You have already alarmed and potentially alienated the majority of the Younger Professional Artists in your jurisdiction, (not including myself!), and I am sure you do not want to make matters worse. If this is the case, I suggest that you convene an open meeting, or series of meetings, with practitioners within the sector, to discuss the future of the Gallery; it is management, its artistic role, remit, and evolution, etc. in an open and unscripted way.

In no way should you take the easy option, to hand the management reins over to some third party, as this will only serve to drive a wedge further into the Visual Arts Sector and create great bitterness for years to come.

I feel that before the ACNI acts to replace the gap left by the loss of the OBG it needs to re-establish confidence from within the arts community/VAS. The only way it can do this is to engage in open discussion with the arts sector about what has happened, and to answer the concerns of the VAS. It is also imperative that any new venture should have a diverse range of practising Artists on its Board of Management. Only then, can we move forward without bitterness and acrimony, and regain a fully functioning Contemporary Art Gallery in Belfast.

Yours sincerely
Brian Connolly
Northern Ireland Representative
Visual Artists Ireland

2 Carnlelis Rd.
Bushmills
Co Antrim
BT57 8XZ

Press Release Regarding New Arts Centre Issued by Department of Culture Arts and Leisure, 6th March 2006

6 March 2006

OVER £9 MILLION TO ADVANCE BELFAST’S ARTS RENAISSANCE

The Old Museum Arts Centre is to benefit from over £9 million public funding investment for new purpose built premises.

The new Arts Centre will be situated in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and will house a 350-seat theatre plus a smaller 150-seat studio as well as increased exhibition, rehearsal and workshop space.

Making the announcement Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister David Hanson said: “The development of a new Arts Centre in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter underpins the cultural renaissance that is taking place in Belfast. It also emphasises Government’s strategy to encourage arts and culture to lead the way in Belfast’s social and economic regeneration.

“This momentous announcement will build on the Old Museum Arts Centre’s wonderful track record and move them on to a new level. It is the biggest addition to the cultural heart of Belfast since the Odyssey opened in 2001.”

The Minister pointed out that funding for the new premises, which will cost over £9.2 million, had come from a number of sources. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has committed £4 million, the Arts Council has committed £4.25 million and Laganside the value of the site. The Old Museum Arts Centre has set itself the challenge of raising £1million through fundraising over the next four years.

“I am committed to delivering improvements to the arts and cultural infrastructure in Belfast. This is the fourth project I have announced in the past 10 months in a programme of investment in the regeneration of Belfast’s arts infrastructure.

“In May 2005 I cut the sod on the Grand Opera House development that is now nearing completion to which my department contributed £4 million. In June of last year I announced Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure support of up to £6 million towards the rebuilding of the new Lyric Theatre and on 20 September a capital investment of up to £2.5 million towards the refurbishment of the Crescent Arts Centre.”

The Minister continued: “This new facility will improve the cultural provision throughout the city and will greatly enhance the quality of life for the people of Belfast. It is a wonderful opportunity for the Old Museum Arts Centre to grow and develop and I believe it will provide confidence for the private sector to invest in the area thereby securing the long-term and economic benefits,” he said.

Paying tribute to the work and staff of the Centre the Minister said: “The Old Museum Arts Centre is widely recognised as Northern Ireland’s leading contemporary arts centre, with an ethos of celebrating and promoting local and international work not previously performed in Northern Ireland. I would like to place on record my appreciation of their contribution to the arts and cultural life of Belfast and beyond.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Media enquiries to Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure Press Office, tel: 028 9025 8901 or email press.office@dcalni.gov.uk

Letter of Concern from Stephen Snoddy, Director, The New Art Gallery, Walsall

Dear All,

Please read statements below.

OBG says Yes, ACNI says No .

This is a situation in which the Arts Council of NI should be asking itself serious questions of its tone of leadership and of the way it has treated its key contemporary visual arts client in NI. It is clear that the ACNI has been 'gunning for' Hugh Mulholland over the last couple of years and by creating 'smoke-screens' one could even call it vindictive. Public Funders are meant to be constructive, 'hands off' and engage in a professional manner to the organisations they fund. By withdrawing the ACNI revenue funding (£300,000 was earmarked for 2006/7, c 75% of its turnover) the Board of OBG had no option but to cease trading or they would have been in breach of their responsibilities as trustees.

The ACNI have been demonstrably aggressive, interfering and taken up an active position of discrediting the OBG for reasons that appear to be one of 'pique' because the OBG Board decided not to become part of the Arts Centre planned for Talbot Street. A project that has never been properly thought through, was ill conceived therefore calls into question the Arts Council NI's judgement on the misguided notion of a 'one shoe fits all' arts centre. Belfast has a series of small independent arts venues and organisations which I suggest is its strength. While 'signature' venues have their place it is the plethora of different scales of arts organisations that bind a community together and create a solid base. The OBG was not the only organisation to make this decision.

This is the only Gallery in Northern Ireland that has an international programme for contemporary art and Hugh was also the Commissioner for the very successful NI Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale. A proud event for the visual arts in NI and one in which to build upon. I for one was delighted to attend and feel honoured that perhaps I had in a tiny way through my own career outside NI helped in this process and occasion. It felt that NI had arrived to be considered as part of the international agenda of contemporary art.

As Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive, ACNI said in her introduction in the 'The Nature of Things', Venice Biennial catalogue, 'The Northern Ireland representation at the Venice Biennale reflects this flourishing arts scene as well as the new aspirations of a society ready to show the world another face - that of a culturally and artistically mature society.' The way the ACNI have treated OBG is not the actions of a culturally and artistically mature arts funder. The ACNI have acted with bad grace - as Ann Widdacombe once said of Michael Howard, 'there is something of the night about him'.

Can you imagine Manchester without Cornerhouse, Bristol without Arnolfini, Oxford without MAO, Birmingham without Ikon? This is the situation that Belfast (and NI) faces.

The Art College in Belfast has successfully finished its Phase 1 expansion - what does this ACNI decision tell the students about their future in Belfast. I remember buying Francesco Clemente a pint of Guinness in the Crown Bar after his Exhibition Preview in 1984, curating a Jack B. Yeats exhibition in 1995 and welcoming Gilbert & George to Belfast in 1999 for the Belfast Festival exhibition and an artist such as Phil Collins who is developing an international reputation and is an MA graduate from Belfast College of Art has greatly benefited from the OBG.

The ACNI has also recently spent £40,000 on 2 consultants reports in 2005, a 'Value For Money' report on OBG (£18,000) and a report on Visual Arts provision in Belfast (£22,000). These reports have not been distributed and I doubt whether the ACNI has taken on board the recommendations. On VFM, given my wide experience of working at Arnolfini, Cornerhouse, Southampton CAG, Milton Keynes Gallery, BALTIC and now New Art Gallery Walsall the OBG represents REAL VFM. A case in point is that it only has 4 staff. What it needs is more resources and support.

It is not in the interests of the artists of NI and beyond for the OBG to be closed down within 2 days. Any break in provision is damaging and to potentially replace it with anything that is not contemporary will further exacerbate the situation. To fill the OBG space with the Royal Ulster Academy annual exhibition is an easy option but philosophically the wrong one and goes against the ACNI's own policy for the contemporary visual arts. A dilution of the contemporary is to lose all credence.

If the ACNI's concerns are a question of governance and accountability then I advise you to look up the ACNI's website www.artscouncil-ni.org home page under Governance and Accountability. With some real irony the website says it is 'under development'. There are ordered processes for changes of governance and succession planning but it seems that the ACNI did not accept that the OBD's governance was currently 'under development'.

I urge you to express your support for Hugh and the staff at OMB by emailing Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive at chief@artscouncil-ni.org cc to Noirin McKinney, Director Arts Development n.mckinney@artscouncil-ni.org and Iain Davidson, Visual Arts Officer i.davidson@artscouncil-ni.org and the Chair, Rosemary Kelly a.boyd@artscouncil-ni.org .

Please send this email onto others who you may think would be interested.

many thanks

Stephen Snoddy,
Director,
The New Art Gallery,
Walsall

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Letter of Concern from Peter McCaughy, Artist and Senior Lecturer, Glasgow School of Art

It was with deep concern that I learned that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have withdrawn funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery. As a senior lecturer at Glasgow School of Art and an Irish artist based in Scotland, the Ormeau baths Gallery, with its ambitious curatorial policy and dynamic range of shows has been a vital lynch pin in my continued interest in and understanding of Art activity in Northern Ireland. In particular I have found Hugh Mulholland an excellent ambassador for Art in Northern Ireland and know him to be highly regarded in the wider arts community.

I cannot stress enough how this looks at a distance. It appears that individual egos and discriminatory policies are influencing a hugely contentious decision. This undermines the Northern Irish Arts Council in the eyes of the international arts community. There is a wide sense of shock here in Scotland that such a central and valued resource is to be axed. In all the available details it appears that this is a disproportionate response to matters that OBG was seeking to resolve. If this turns out to be the case this shock will quickly turn to anger at the perception that individual personalities are being allowed to drive what is an appalling decision.

I have witnessed the rise of the Scottish Arts community to international standing over the last 20 years -this cultural renaissance was achieved with the support of enlightened Arts council and City Councils who have come to understand the subtle relationship between supporting, guiding and allowing the arts sector to be independent at the same time.

It is particularly tragic that this decision comes hot on the heels of the widely acclaimed and successful show ‘The Nature of Things’ which is the sort of show which was signalling that Northern Ireland was at last going to get some of the international attention showered on Scotland for the last number of years.

You obviously do not realise how tenuous these achievements within the art world are nor how sensitive the international arts community are to the smell of bureaucratic meddling. You risk losing the respect a central figure like Hugh Mulholland has gained for the Irish arts scene at an international level. You risk throwing the Northern Irish Arts infrastructure back ten or fifteen years. Maybe this is your aspiration? Perhaps you don’t like progressive curatorial policy and would prefer everyone to be filling mediocre galleries with mediocre paintings. You really risk isolating yourselves as a backward thinking, conservative, small minded council. I urge you to rethink this decision, I warn you to be prepared to have every decision you make scrutinised by an angry international arts community that will vigorously pursue any sense of unfairness and discrimination.

Peter McCaughey

Letter to Rosemary Kelly from Michael Nixon, Commissioner for Wales at the Venice Biennale

Dear Rosemary Kelly

I was very surprised to hear about the Arts Council's decision to withdrawn all the funding from the Ormeau Baths with immediate effect. As the Commissioner for Wales for the Venice Biennale of Art I know how important the Ormeau Baths Gallery has been for contemporary visual arts in Northern Ireland. Hugh Mulholland's contribution as Director has been outstanding. Hugh's work for the artists from Northern Ireland in Venice was a tour de force. I know how difficult it is to work in Venice but the Northern Ireland show in 2005 was recognised internationally as a major achievement. Working with very limited resources.

I know that the hand that the UK government has dealt the Arts Council is very difficult to play, but to effectively abolish the principal contemporary gallery in Northern Ireland is suicide for the visual arts in Northern Ireland. I am sure that I am not alone in writing to ask you to find some way of reconsidering your decision.

Yours sincerely

Michael Nixon

Commissioner for Wales at the Venice Biennale

Campaign for OBG logo

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Chronology Of Events To Date re OBG Closure

Sept 05: Negotiation between OBG Board & ACNI about a way forward.

Oct 05: Jan 06 Step by step OBG addressing ACNI requests, including ongoing submission of monthly financial reports.

Feb 06: OBG draft advert for new board as requested and proposed timescale for restructuring sent to ACNI for approval.

Feb 06: ACNI not give approval and state OBG now in “non compliance” with terms of grant and Council vote unanimously to withhold final payment of grant for current yr and any future funding.

Feb 06: OBG Board appeal against decision to withhold grant in face to face meeting with Chief Exec. and senior officers of ACNI.

Feb 06: ACNI reject appeal and draft “Joint statement” to be signed by OBG chair regarding ensuing insolvency and would release final payment for use with creditors.

28th Feb 06: OBG Board announce insolvency with immediate effect including making all staff at OBG redundant. Dorr of OBG closed.

ACNI make public statement declare “company” is closed down but ACNI holding £300,000 for next financial year and in discussions with visual arts sector to reopen under new management as soon as possible.

1st March 06: Visual Arts Sector hold public silent protest outside OBG.

3rd March 06: Protest at ACNI expressing lack of confidence in ACNI.

4th March 06: Public meeting at Belfast Exposed to review events including 5 questions raised by sector and ACNI response.

Some things Individuals can do in support of OBG in March 2006

> Write letters to the Acting Permanent Secretary at DCAL and the Minister of state David Hanson.

> Write letters to the media eg. Belfast Telegraph, Irish News etc.

> Write letters and make phone calls to all political parties asking for their views and what action they have or will take.

> Write letters and make phone calls to individual members of the Arts Council Board asking them to make the executive of Arts Council to overturn its decision.


DEPARTMENT OF CULTURE ARTS AND LEISURE http://www.dcalni.gov.uk/home/

ARTS COUNCIL OF NORTHERN IRELAND http://www.artscouncil-ni.org/

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Demands Read out at Protest at Arts Council of Northern Ireland on 6th March 2006

These demands were read out at a protest at Arts Council of Northern Ireland on Friday 3rd March 06:

+ the reinstatement of the gallery as a going concern, as a new company operating under the same staff.

+ the Board of the gallery to be constituted with balanced representation from the visual arts community.

+ the resignation of the Board of the Arts Council, following their failure to discharge their duty of scrutiny.

Arts Council of Northern Irelands response to 6 questions posed by Campaign for OBG

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland would like to make the following response to the questions raised by a member of staff at the Ormeau Baths Gallery (OBG). In so doing, the Council hopes to put to rest the misconceptions currently circulating among a number of visual artists and to correct misinformation supplied by former staff of OBG.



The following questions were emailed as part of a small campaign on behalf of OBG staff, and the Council’s reply follows in blue:



1. The Arts Council say they “agreed to help OBG to wind down its affairs in an orderly, business-like manner”. Is it orderly and business-like to give two days’ notice to the four permanent members of staff, and not even leave time to take down the current exhibition?

The former Board of the management company of OBG made the decision to go into liquidation with immediate effect. The Arts Council had offered an alternative to the company, which would have provided them with a longer time to wind down their affairs in an orderly fashion and honour some of their commitments to staff and current exhibitors. Questions over the notice period should therefore be directed to the former Chair of OBG to answer.



2. The Arts Council say there were financial irregularities at the Ormeau Baths Gallery. Why then did a forensic audit, called by the Arts Council, clear it of any wrongdoing?

The Arts Council undertook an independent review of lottery grants to the OBG management company and a report was produced. The findings clearly identified key and serious irregularities in the actions of the management company. As a result, the company had to repay £25,000 to the Arts Council. The Council took action to report the situation to the Comptroller General National Audit Office, in keeping with Arts Council policy on Business Ethics.



3. The Arts Council say they are “actively exploring options with potential partners in the visual arts sector and are confident that the gallery space will re-open”. Given the alienation of the arts sector as a result of this sudden closure how can this confidence be justified?

The Arts Council has received no evidence to back up the statement that the arts sector is alienated. Recent events surrounding OBG have affected some individuals within the visual arts sector, and we understand those concerns and passions. We have received a number of emails on the issue, some are complaints and others are emails of support for the Council’s action not to award further funding to the management company. However, the Council wishes to emphasise that the gallery space within the Ormeau Baths building is NOT closing permanently and we are making efforts to get the gallery open in the immediate future.



4. Given the Arts Council’s advocacy of an “arm’s length” policy towards their clients, why have they continuously interfered in the day-to day running of the gallery over a two-year period?

AND

5. The Arts Council has declared a number of reasons for the closure of the gallery including unsustainability and loss of confidence in the management. What evidence is there for any of these claims?

Questions 4 & 5:

The Arts Council at no point attempted to obstruct the artistic programme developed by the OBG management company. The Council was concerned only with operational issues, not artistic issues. The Council did continue to monitor the company monthly on the basis of their financial deficit position and management performance. The absence of a strategic plan, a business plan or a financial recovery plan over the last 3 years contributed to an eventual lack of confidence by the Council in the management company of OBG. The Arts Council continued to invest in the company in efforts to encourage them to improve their financial situation and their corporate governance – this did not happen and the Council was forced to make the decision not to award further funding.



6. The Arts Council says they are “saddened by the decision of the Chair of the Ormeau Baths Gallery to announce the closure of the Gallery”. How can they claim to be “saddened” when their own withdrawal of funding forced the Gallery’s closure?

The Arts Council remains sincere in its view that it is saddened by the failure of the OBG management company to address their outstanding management and financial problems. The Council would like to reassure the visual arts community that funding for the sector remains protected in the year ahead and we look forward to seeing the OBG space opened again in the immediate future.


Link to ACNI site http://www.artscouncil-ni.org/news/2006/new02032006b.htm

Questions to Arts Council of Northern Ireland Regarding withdrawal of funding from OBG, Released by Campaign for OBG

PRESS RELEASE

1 MARCH 2006

ON THE DAY OF THE CLOSURE OF THE ORMEAU BATHS GALLERY,

WE, AS MEMBERS OF THE ARTS SECTOR IN NORTHERN IRELAND, WOULD LIKE TO PUT THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO THE ARTS COUNCIL OF NORTHERN IRELAND:


1. The Arts Council say they “agreed to help OBG to wind down its affairs in an orderly, business-like manner”. Is it orderly and business-like to give two days’ notice to the four permanent members of staff, and not even leave time to take down the current exhibition?

2. The Arts Council say there were financial irregularities at the Ormeau Baths Gallery. Why then did a forensic audit, called by the Arts Council, clear it of any wrongdoing?

3. The Arts Council say they are “actively exploring options with potential partners in the visual arts sector and are confident that the gallery space will re-open”. Given the alienation of the arts sector as a result of this sudden closure how can this confidence be justified?

4. Given the Arts Council’s advocacy of an “arm’s length” policy towards their clients, why have they continuously interfered in the day-to day running of the gallery over a two-year period?

5. The Arts Council has declared a number of reasons for the closure of the gallery including unsustainability and loss of confidence in the management. What evidence is there for any of these claims?

6. The Arts Council says they are “saddened by the decision of the Chair of the Ormeau Baths Gallery to announce the closure of the Gallery”. How can they claim to be “saddened” when their own withdrawal of funding forced the Gallery’s closure?

Statement Released by Arts Council Northern Ireland re withdrawal of funding to OBG

Statement from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Issued February 28 2006

Regarding the closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) is saddened by the decision of the Chair of the Ormeau Baths Gallery (OBG) to announce the closure of the gallery. However, given the company's inability to reduce its longstanding financial deficit or to sustain the gallery space as a viable arts venue, we agreed to help OBG to wind-down its affairs in an orderly, business-like manner.

We regret the emotive and inaccurate statement issued today by a member of staff at OBG who is, understandably, upset on hearing of the Board's decision to enter insolvency. It was unfortunate that the staff member concerned had not consulted his Board members first, who had informed the Council fully of their decision.

The Arts Council declines to give these unfounded allegations and inaccuracies within the statement any further credence. We emphasise again that at all times, the Council has worked with OBG staff and Board members to find solutions to their self-confessed financial irregularities and management problems that they have incurred over the last few years.

However, the ongoing financial deficit position, along with a lack of confidence in the company to make the gallery space viable, has forced the ACNI not to award any future public funding to this organisation. Our role is to safeguard public money and the Arts Council remains committed to maintaining independent public gallery provision in the city.

The amount of funding going to the OBG will not be lost in the next financial year. Whilst this is a temporary difficulty, it should in no way distract us from our principal objective of securing ongoing gallery provision. Indeed this also represents an opportunity to broaden the appeal of this particular gallery space to the wider public and to provide greater opportunities to artists.

We are actively exploring options with potential partners in the visual arts sector and are confident that the gallery space will reopen under new management as soon as possible.

-ENDS-

For further information contact- Grainne McCann or Matthew Hendry,
Communications Department, Arts Council of Northern Ireland,
Tel : 028 9038 5206 or 9038 5210 or email mhendry@artscouncil - ni.org


NOTES TO EDITORS:

· The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the lead development agency for the arts in Northern Ireland and the main support for artists and arts organisations throughout the region in a wide variety of artistic disciplines.

· Over the 11-year period that the Ormeau Baths Gallery has been open to the public. In this time:
(a) The Arts Council provided significant public support of £3,347,401;
(b) Average yearly audience figures have been 21,000.

Statement Released by staff of OBG re closure

A STATEMENT FROM THE STAFF OF ORMEAU BATHS GALLERY:

The Arts Council at a hastily convened meeting on 13th February informed the Chair of Ormeau Baths Gallery that the Council would be withdrawing funding from the Gallery with immediate effect.

Ormeau Baths Gallery is the most significant venue for visual arts in Northern Ireland and is one of the largest specialising in contemporary visual arts in Ireland. In the 10 years since it was established OBG has raised the profile of Northern Irish visual art practice both at home and abroad, and has presented the work of major international artists to audiences in Northern Ireland. Its closure will have a significant effect on the arts community in Northern Ireland as well as the image of Northern Ireland internationally.

This extreme step is the culmination of a series of actions taken by the Arts Council which date back to the Board of Ormeau Baths Gallery's decision in December 2003 to withdraw from the Arts Council's proposed City Centre Arts Centre to be sited at Talbot Street. OBG's decision was made after careful consideration and taken in the best interests of the visual arts sector.

It is indicative of the way that the Arts Council conducts business that our decision prompted a senior member of the Arts Council executive, to instruct staff to "make life difficult" for Ormeau Baths Gallery. Ormeau Baths Gallery unwittingly presented the Arts Council with an opportunity when a number of administrative and procedural errors were identified in our draw down of Lottery funding, a situation which is not uncommon among comparable arts organisations but one which led the Arts Council to take prolonged and disproportionate action against Ormeau Baths Gallery.

During the last two years Ormeau Baths Gallery have put in place stringent financial control mechanisms and have been reporting monthly to the Arts Council who have been releasing grant income on a monthly basis.

Ormeau Baths Gallery has co-operated with the Arts Council throughout this process, in order to build confidence and re-establish a constructive working relation between the two organisations. The executive of the Arts Council have however continued to undermine the Board and management of Ormeau Baths Gallery and have sought to create an impression to its own Council that Ormeau Baths Gallery was a cause for ongoing concern.

The Arts Council in a letter from the Chief Executive dated 9th September 2005 sought further reassurances and requested that a "complete restructuring of the Board and staff restructuring" be carried out. The Board of Ormeau Baths Gallery accepted this proposal and was in the process of implementing this request when the decision was made to withdraw funding.

The Arts Council have cited non-compliance to this request as the reason for withdrawing funding, and make reference to a letter from the Director of Ormeau Baths Gallery detailing a timetable for implementation. Ormeau Baths Gallery, having changed its Memorandum and Articles of Association, was about to place a series of public advertisements to call for new Board members, a process which would be conducted by an external recruitment agency. The letter indicated that when in place this new Board would appraise management and staffing structures and institute necessary changes by November/December 2006.

It appears that the Arts Council could not accept the logical chronology of this approach. The Arts Council did not impress upon the Board of OBG that this would result in the withdrawing of all funding but instead were unavailable for discussion, despite repeated efforts to contact them to progress the recruitment process.

The Arts Council's emphasis on staff restructuring would now appear to have less to do with a wish to enhance staffing provision at the Gallery as was articulated to OBG, but rather a continuation of a two year long process to discredit and remove both the Board of Ormeau Baths Gallery, Hugh Mulholland its Director, and his staff.

The manner of the enforced closure of Ormeau Baths Gallery and the effect this will have on the arts infrastructure of Northern Ireland raise serious issues of confidence in the Arts Council and its executive. To register your support for Ormeau Baths Gallery or question how this decision sits with ACNI's Visual Arts Funding Policy which states that the Council:

"wishes to see Northern Ireland develop as a centre of excellence for the production, presentation and critical analysis of contemporary visual arts. It encourages quality, innovation and experimentation to develop a culture in which visual art is respected and valued"

Please e-mail:

Rosemary Kelly, Chair a.boyd@artscouncil-ni.org

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive chief@artscouncil-ni.org

Noirin McKinney,Director Arts Development n.mckinney@artscouncil-ni.org

Chris Bailey, Chair, OBG dir@nimc.co.uk