Belfast arts scene ‘damaged’ by lack of studios, says report

Artists have been calling for more affordable studio space to be made available in Belfast

A shortage of studio and rehearsal space for artists and musicians risks causing “severe damage” to Belfast’s cultural life.

That is according to a “cultural mapping” report carried out for Belfast City Council.

It also said that Belfast was “lacking in museums and art galleries” compared with other similar cities.

Among longer-term ideas proposed to fund culture in Belfast, the report suggested introducing a hotel levy.

Other cities in the UK such as Liverpool, Edinburgh and Bath have also looked at introducing a “tourist tax” to pay for cultural events.

Councils in those cities have considered an additional small charge on hotel rooms of £1 or £2 to raise extra money to spend on culture but introducing such a move may need a change in legislation.

Artists recently held a protest in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter to appeal for more affordable workspaces.

Some who took part had lost their equipment and work in a fire in a building on Donegall Street at the start of October.

The cultural mapping report was commissioned by Belfast City Council and the Department for Communities.

Carried out by the Daisy Chain Inc consultancy, it looked at how many museums, galleries, theatres, music venues and arts centers Belfast had.

But it also examined how much space and accommodation was available for artists, musicians and other people in the creative sector to work and rehearse.

“The lack of secure tenancy for artist studios in Belfast has put this sector in crisis,” the report said.

‘No space to work’

It said there was an “immediate need for provision for space for creative people to work” and that was “an existential threat that, if not addressed, will cause severe damage to the cultural fabric of the city”.

“With urgency, we recommend addressing the shortage of affordable studio space in Belfast,” the report continued.

“This should not be limited to visual artists – we include musicians, writers, theatre-makers and all creative producers.

“Belfast studio groups have waiting lists and when art students graduate every year there is no space for them to work.”

The report said that while the Cathedral Quarter area of ​​the city was once “home to vibrant art studios”, rising property prices had caused them to leave.

Other established studios, like Vault Artist Studios which houses over 100 artists and the city’s first tool library in east Belfast, were coming to the end of their leases and looking for new premises.

Members of Array Studios, who won the prestigious Turner Prize in 2021, were among those who spoke to the report’s authors.

The report suggested a number of buildings in the city that could be used to provide more studio space, including the former Belfast School of Music on Donegall Pass in south Belfast and a former supermarket on Royal Avenue.

It also said that Belfast had fewer museums than comparable cities like Dublin, Edinburgh and Rotterdam.

“There is a gap in the infrastructure for both museums and galleries,” it noted.

The report said that the Golden Thread Gallery had a long-running plan to create a new venue and contemporary art gallery in the city centre, which could “provide a visitor destination for the gallery and the region”.

“Golden Thread’s years of planning and consideration for this project make them well placed to get this project over the line and increase the offering of contemporary art in Belfast,” the report concluded.

Further, more detailed research on Belfast’s venues, galleries, studios and museums and the number of people who use them is now due to be carried out.

The report was presented to Belfast City Council’s Growth and Regeneration Committee in November and is likely to be discussed when the full council meets on 1 December.

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