Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Letter Sent To Prof. Ian Montgomery, Head of School of Art and Design, and Prof Robert Welch, Dean of Faculty of Arts, University of Ulster, Belfast

Dear Sirs,

As an artist exhibiting in the prematurely closed ‘Masters - Twenty Five Years On’ exhibition at Ormeau Baths Gallery, I am writing to request information on the University of Ulster’s intentions regarding the exhibition. I would also like to seek clarification of the University’s position regarding the sudden and shocking decision of the Arts Council Of Northern Ireland to withdraw funding from the Gallery.

I am an artist and curator from Belfast and completed my MA in Fine Art at the Faculty of Art and Design in 1994. I was a founder member of Catalyst Arts in 1992 and Director there between 1994-1996. I 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, as well as programming exhibitions that have included the work of Northern Irish artists (and University of Ulster alumni) including Seamus Harahan, Susan MacWilliam, and Ciara Finnegan, at Spencer Brownstone Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in New York where I am an Associate Director.

I was thrilled to be asked by Hugh Mulholland to represent my MA year in the ‘Masters - Twenty Five Years On’ exhibition. Not only was it an opportunity to participate in the celebration of the MA course, it was also a career first for me, being able to show new work at Ormeau Baths Gallery. As a Northern Irish artist living in New York, Hugh and his Directorship of the Ormeau Baths (as well as his instigation of a Northern Irish presence at the Venice Biennale) has been one of those examples that I can point to with pride in indicating the quality of the visual arts and its infrastructure in Northern Ireland. Under Hugh Mulholland, Ormeau Baths Gallery has provided a platform for local visual artists that have gone on to establish international reputations (proving a key element in the recent successes of artists such as Phil Collins and Seamus Harahan), as well as collaborating with and supporting some of the remarkable small arts organizations in Northern Ireland, including Factotum and Visonic.

The past two weeks have been somewhat confusing for me, being at a physical distance from developments in Belfast. For one thing, it has been related to me that the University of Ulster has recently come to an arrangement with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to re-open the exhibition with temporary staff? I cannot believe that this could be true, but would ask you to confirm if this is indeed the case and, if so, what plans the University had to consult with the exhibiting artists on such a decision? Furthermore, I would like to make clear that I completely withdraw permission for my work to be exhibited in the exhibition in any reopened version that is not part of a reinstatement of Hugh Mulholland and his staff.

I admittedly find myself confused by the University’s position on these matters. The Cultural Development department is to be applauded on it’s work to bring about the ‘Masters - Twenty Five Years On’ exhibition - it was clearly a wonderful way to celebrate the MA Fine Art Course which has made a huge contribution to the visual arts in Northern Ireland and beyond. The decision to hold the exhibition at Ormeau Baths and have Hugh Mulholland act as curator of the show was obviously appropriate and one that, I assume, the University could have considered something of a coup. I am more than a little mystified, therefore, to find no reference whatsoever to the sudden closure of the gallery on the University’s website or to the University’s plans re: the exhibition in any reopened format (though I see you do find space to report on the latest exciting developments at the Belfast Print Workshop).

I would very much appreciate any clarification. Am I to assume that the University, having worked with Hugh Mulholland successfully to realize the exhibition (at, I believe, quite a last minute stage) is now supportive of the Arts Council’s decision to renege on Hugh and his achievements? It is certainly to be inferred if it is indeed true that the University endorses a reopened version of the exhibition that does not involve its curator.

Furthermore, the fact that the University’s Cultural Development department actually shares members with the Arts Council board itself certainly adds to the confusion. Even assuming the best of faith on the part of the University in this matter, it is hugely damaging to our image (as an alumnus I speak of the University as ‘ours’), to sit by mutely or, even worse, to connive in reopening the exhibition, at this pivotal moment for the visual arts in Northern Ireland.

I await your response with great concern.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Orange

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

Monday, March 13, 2006

Petition for Independent Inquiry re withdrawal of Funding from OBG

If you want to sign up to this petition please email your name and address to campaignforobg@googlemail.com

A second letter of endorsement will be circulating in the near future specifically for organisations wishing to express their solidarity with the former Ormeau Baths Gallery Team.

Petition

Arts Council of Northern Ireland Closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery

*We the undersigned wish to voice our concerns regarding the Arts Council of Northern of Ireland's (ACNI) role in the closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery (OBG)
* It is our belief that the ACNI has dealt with this issue in an unfair, unprofessional and non - impartial way
* This action is one of a series of ongoing actions which has created an atmosphere of fear within the cultural sector
* We call for an independent inquiry to investigate this matter
We call for the gallery to be reopened and the staff reinstated pending the outcome of the inquiry

________________________________________________________________
_Signature______________________Address_________________________

David Crawforth
Director
Beaconsfield Contemporary Art

Angela Halliday

Mark Orange
537 E. 6th Street, #1
New York, NY 10009

Fiona Larkin
28 Laganvale St,
Belfast BT9 5FR

maria mc kinney
flax art studios
44-46 corporation st
Belfast

Dr Suzanna Chan
Research Associate-Feminist Art Theory
School of Art And Design
University of Ulster
York Street
Belfast BT15 1ED

Helen Hughes
5 Holmston Avenue
Glenageary
Dublin

Aisling O' Beirn
36 Newington St
Belfast
BT152HQ

Ronan McCrea
29 Haroldville Ave., Rialto, Dublin 8.
tel/fax: 00 353 1 454 3295
mob: 00 353 86 156 9411

Dan Shipsides
Orchid Studios
55 King St.
Belfast
BT1 6AA

Doris Rohr
40 Glendhu Manor
Belfast
BT4 2RJ

Stephen Hackett
233 Ravenhill Avenue
Belfast

nathalie perreault
408, rue Lavigueur app. 3
Québec, Québec, Canada
G1R 1B5

Alison FitzGerald
6 Queensberry PK
Rosetta
Belfast

Joanna Harvey
19 Pennington Park
Belfast
BT8 6GJ

Thomas Peutz, director
SMART Project Space
Amsterdam Centre for Contemporary Art
Arie Biemondstraat 101-111,
NL-1054 PD Amsterdam

Emma McClintock
34B Edinburgh st
Lisburn Rd
Belfast

Mike Hogg
Flaxart Studios
44 - 46 Corporation St
Belfast BT1 3DE

Saoirse Higgins
10 Meadowbank Place
Belfast

Garrett Phelan
71 St Magdalen Terrace
Stella Gardens
Irishtown
Dublin 4
Ireland

Ruth Graham
162 Cliftonville Road
Belfast
BT14 6LA

Fergus Feehily
Associate Lecturer
School of Art And Design
University of Ulster
York Street
Belfast BT15 1ED

Allan Hughes
35 Oberon Street
Belfast BT6 8NZ

Hugh O'Donnell
43 St Judes Parade
BT7 2GX

Aaron Woolard
Grace N' Groove
44 Belmont Road
Belfast

Sinead O' Donnell
43 Ava Street
BT7

Eileen Halliday
50 Riverdale Park North
Belfast

Pauline O'Donnell
Old Orchard
Old Bawn Road
Tallaght
Dublin 24

Rose Woolard
128 Woodvale Road
Belfast

Tanya Lee
11 Watergate Estate
Tallaght

Eoghan McTigue
Meyerheimstr. 6a
10439 Berlin

Susan Philipsz
Meyerheimstr. 6a
10439 Berlin

Slavka Sverakova
White Cottage,
nowy Lane,
11 Cairn Road,
Carrickfergus,
BT 38 9 AP

Jay Roche - Artist
Lis na Mara
Kilcoole
Co. Wicklow

Lorraine Burrell
17 Pakenham Street
Belfast BT7 1AB

Michael Dempsey
Curator / Director
Tulca
Unit 12, Cathedral Building
Middle Street, Galway
www.tulca.ie

Lisa Malone
Flaxart Studios
44 46 Corporation St
B elfast
BT1 3DE

Alastair MacLennan
146 Upper Rd
Greenisland
BT38 8RL

Hillary Robinson
Dean of Arts, Carnegie Mellon
Pittsburg PA
USA

Deirdre Mc kenna ,
43 Ava Street,
Belfast, BT73BS ,
N.Ireland

David Stalling
3 Radcliffe
Binn Eadair View
Dublin 13

Anthony Kelly
98 Granitefield
Dun Laoghaire
Co. Dublin
Ireland

Miriam de Búrca

Mary McIntyre
Co / University of Ulster
York St
BT15 1ED

Darren Murray
8 Lismain St.
Belfast

Moira McIvor
51 Main St
Greyabbey

Brian Connelly
Co / University of Ulster
York St
BT15 1ED

Sergio Edelsztein
Director
Center for Contemporary Art
5 Kalisher St. Tel Aviv.

Dr Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes
Lecturer in Historical and Theoretical
Studies in Visual Art
University of Ulster, York Street, Belfast

Hannes Larusson,
Skilavordustig 4b,
101 Reykjavik, Iceland

Dr Siún Hanrahan
53 Glencregagh Park
Belfast
BT6 0NS

Kate Byrne,
The Shack,
Baily,
Co. Dublin.

Robin Klassnik
Matts Gallery
42-44 Copperfield Road
London E3 4RR

Willie Doherty
Co/ University of Ulster
Belfast

Alastair Wilson
Co/ University of Ulster
Belfast

Kate Byrne,
The Shack,
Baily,
Co. Dublin

Aoife Desmond
13 Grosvenor Rd,
Rathmines,
Dublin 6

Colin Williams
Co Flaxart Studios Belfast

Sandra Johnston

Ima Pico
Ravenhill Gardens
BT6
Belfast

Vivien Burnside
59 Rashee Road,
Ballyclare
BT39 9HT

Stella d'Ailly
Mossutställningar
Birger Jarlsgatan 18
114 34 Stockholm
www.mossutstallningar.com

Nicola Greer

Sandra Greer

Niall Greer

Gael Greer

Anthony Greer

Alain McCullough

Michael Minnis
The White House
Woodcock Hill
Meelick
Co. Clare

Seamus Harahan
37 Hopefield Ave
Belfast
BT15 5AP
Marc Rome

Atelier Galerie Simple
Promenade
Postfach 78
3780
Gstaad
Switzerland

FRANC PURG
STANETOVA 16A
3000 CELJE
SLOVENIA

Common Culture
David Campbell & Mark Durban

Finola Jones
Dog and Bone Publications

David Godbold
Dog and Bone Publications

Julie McGowan
Flaxart Studios
44 - 46
Corporation St
Belfast
BT1 3DE

Clionadh Shaffery
Curator
Ireland

Russell Hart
38 Father Griffin Road
Galway.

Emer Fitzpatrick
38 Father Griffin Road
Galway.

William Artt
10A Belvoir House
Belfast
BT8 7EW

Danielle Sheehy
Art Trail
Cork

Sara Greavu
c/o Void
Derry

Mo White
c/o Loughborough University

Paddy McCann
co/ Associate Lecturer
University of Ulster

Sharon Kelly

richard thomas
www.richardthomas.com.au
po box 104
pt lonsdale 3225
australia

Stephen Snoddy
Director, The New Art Gallery,
Walsall

Phil Collins
Novar Drive,
Glasgow

Paco Simón
ARTE EN ORBITA
Cl. Jussepe Martinez 7
50003 Zaragoza
España
http://www.arteenorbita.com

Sonia Rolak
S.Polo 2525
30125 Venice
Italy

Niamh O’Malley, artist
Firestation Artists Studios
9-11 Lower Buckingham St
Dublin 1, Ireland

Michele Robecchi
Senior Editor
contemporary
K101, 100 Clements Road, London SE16 4DG

Betty Newman-Maguire MFA.
Practising Artist and Lecturer.

Paul O'Neill
12 Laburnum Close
Clifton way,
London Se15 2LJ,
Uk

Tony Hill
Lecturer in Fine Art
c/o School of Art and Design
University of Ulster at Belfast

Lindsay Hughes
Education and Access Co-ordinator
Arnolfini
16 Narrow Quay
Bristol BS1 4QA
Website: www.arnolfini.org.uk

Ronnie Hughes
Farnaharpy
Skreen
County Sligo

Dr.Maeve Connolly
Dun Laoghaire
Co. Dublin
Ireland

Ben Borthwick
London

Peter Liversidge

Cassie Howard

George Liversidge

Orlagh Woods
184B Lancaster Road
London W11 1QU

Annie Fletcher
Head of Curatorial Training Programme 05/06
De Appel - Centre for Contemporary Art
Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 10
1017 DE Amsterdam
Amsterdam
______________________________________________________________

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