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Northern Irish architecture charity faces closure after funding cut

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Northern Ireland’s leading architecture and urban design charity has said it is at ’immediate risk of closure’ after its Arts Council funding was withdrawn

The Belfast-based Planning Landscape Architecture Community Environment (PLACE) said it had received the ‘shocking’ news that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) was withdrawing its support.

Established 15 years ago, PLACE runs a full programme including the annual Open House Belfast architecture festival, the Urban Design Academy for young people and its podcast The Infinite City.

It also produces exhibitions, events and tours and helps to deliver policy including the ACNI’s Architecture Policy.

In 2018-19 PLACE received £86,626 through ACNI’s annual funding programme with the council its main source of income for its office, running costs and three full-time staff.

However, this year it faces losing its income stream completely after the ACNI said it had to make ’difficult strategic funding decisions’, due to decreasing income from the National Lottery.

According to PLACE, it had been offered three months funding in order to ‘exit’ from the council’s support. 

In a statement, the organisation said: ’There is no other organisation delivering the same unique mix of activities that PLACE does. We connect architecture, public art, placemaking and urbanism to the general public, helping people to understand and influence transformations in the built environment.’

Cormac Maguire, an associate at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS), which is a sponsor and collaborator of Open House Belfast said the decision was ’very dissapointing’.

Maguire said: ’PLACE’s work is essential in championing thoughtful and inclusive design. Part of their remit is to advocate for the quality of design in the built environment which is so important for the development of a city and so it [the decision] is very disappointing. Hopefully it can be reviewed and reversed.’

Many architects spoke out against the decision on social media. Fearghal Murray, director at Belfast-based practice MMAS tweeted in support of PLACE’s ‘vital’ work while the NI Local Government Association’s Karen Smyth said the decision was ‘really bad news’.

Joan McCoy, President of The Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) called for the decision to be reviewed. ’Of all of the arts, architecture is the one that has an impact on the lives of the people of Northern Ireland every single day.

’The loss of funding for PLACE sends a message that the quality of places in which we live, work and play are not a priority.’

A spokesperson for the ACNI said: ’It [PLACE] has a highly valued role but recently has been dealing with its own structural challenges.

’Unfortunately PLACE did not score as highly as others in what has been a difficult funding round. The Arts Council board took strategic decisions in a climate of decreasing public funding; it is not possible to fund all applicants who are eligible.

’We have met with Place to discuss alternative funds to which they may apply. A soft landing has been awarded to help them transition.’ 

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