Cuts to the Ulster Orchestra’s annual revenue grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have threatened the viability of it remaining in its Ulster Hall home.
Newly published minutes from the venue owner Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee have revealed that the orchestra ‒ Northern Ireland’s largest arts organisation ‒ served notice to terminate the 25-year rental lease it secured in 2006 and has reduced the amount of space it rents from the historic B1-listed city-centre venue.
The move saw the orchestra halving its occupancy in the hall in an attempt to reduce annual rental payments of £36,500 to £15,576 plus a service charge, and follows a fall in income from sponsorship and a 15% reduction in its Arts Council funding to just under £1.9m in the current financial year.
In 2009 the Ulster Hall underwent an £8.5m refurbishment that included purpose-built office facilities for the orchestra which had previously been based in the nearby Elmwood Hall.
Agreement on the current arrangements will expire on 25 January and is expected to be extended on a month by month basis until a more permanent resolution can be reached.
In November, CM reported that the orchestra had completed a substantial restructuring of its business model resulting in five key administrative staff ‒ including orchestra manager Andrew Smith, administrator Angela Madden and members of its press and education and outreach departments ‒ taking voluntary redundancy.
Commenting on the new revelations about its position in the Ulster Hall, orchestra chief executive Rosa Solinas said she remains committed to maintaining a presence in the venue.
‘The Ulster Orchestra is in the process of renegotiating its lease with Belfast City Council for its rental of space in the Ulster Hall. This is an operational matter and is part of efforts to increase efficiencies for the Ulster Orchestra given the financial pressures that all arts organisations are facing in the current economic climate. We are committed to our partnership with Belfast City Council and look forward to continuing that partnership for many years to come.’