Pioneering Financial Programme Develops Fresh Blueprint for Future of the Arts

14 Jun 2024

A Fresh Blueprint for the Future of the Arts

17 Northern Ireland arts and cultural organisations are completing a pioneering financial resilience programme aimed at making the arts sector more robust, sustainable, and less reliant on short-term public funding by diversifying their income streams.


Blueprint, developed by Arts & Business NI (A&BNI), is the first programme of its kind in the UK and Ireland, specifically designed at helping arts and cultural organisations become more resilient and commercially confident to diversify and grow.  

A completely new funding model, developed to address the financial fragility of the arts and cultural sector, Blueprint brought 30 Northern Ireland organisations through an initial phase of mentoring, workshops and one-on-one training. 17 organisations then progressed to the second phase, giving each access to investment grants worth £45,000 to test income generation ideas and develop growth strategies. The funding, which is open for flexible use by the recipient to use in a way that best encourages growth and stability, comes from a mix of independent and public funders.

Organisations completing Phase Two of Blueprint include The Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast Exposed, Andersonstown Traditional and Contemporary Music School, Belfast Photo Festival, Fighting Words NI, Golden Thread Gallery, Household, Kids in Control, In Your Space Circus, Maiden Voyage Dance, Replay Theatre Company and Seacourt Print Workshop, Terra Nova Productions, Theatre and Dance NI, University of Atypical, Vault Artist Studios and Young at Art.

Speaking about their experience, Grainne Woods of physical theatre company Kids in Control said, “We try to make society more inclusive by giving people the tools to rise above things that may hold them back and take control of their lives. Blueprint came for us at a time post-Covid when the funding landscape felt particularly tough. We had been keeping our heads down, focusing on doing the work we do for the people we support, but applying for Blueprint changed everything.

“The programme gave us the chance to assess what we needed to do to truly fulfil our potential. It gave us insight to realise we had to develop our operational and artistic team and, importantly, the confidence to progress with a complete company rebrand to better communicate our services. We are now emerging under our new identity, Rogue Encounters, as part of an exciting growth and development strategy that will take us into the next chapter. Blueprint never felt like a competition. It was a group of likeminded people whose organisations were finally getting the support they deserved.”

Sarah Jones, Blueprint Programme Manager, Arts & Business NI comments: “For too long, the arts and cultural sector has been restrained by short-term, public funding. We can confidently say that Blueprint has the potential to permanently transform the future of the arts in Northern Ireland.

“The brilliant organisations that made up this pilot cohort were challenged to take a step back and identify the change that would help them grow. This could mean developing a product, restructuring a team, increasing staff resources or investing in new premises.  Thanks to an incredible team of mentors and trainers, participants were then encouraged to explore challenges, strengthen financial management skills and develop a commercial mindset that, when combined with Blueprint financial investment, translated into tangible change.

“There has been a real sense of collaboration amongst this first ever Blueprint group which has been so encouraging to see.  Arts and cultural organisations make extremely tough decisions because they are almost always under some level of financial pressure. The leaders in these organisations rarely have the breathing space or financial freedom to behave in the way other businesses do.

“Blueprint seeks to remove the shackles linked to short-term funding and create a flexible approach to investment grants so organisations can use funds in a way that best serves them. Arts and cultural organisations must be nurtured, valued and supported, so that the huge contribution they make to society can be sustained.” 

A&BNI plans to announce applications for a second Blueprint cohort in the coming months. Find out more about the Blueprint programme here. 

Blueprint is supported by funding from the Dormant Accounts Fund NI delivered by National Lottery Community Fund NI, Department for Communities NI, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Belfast City Council and Arts Council Northern Ireland.

Our Funders & Partners

Arts & Business NI is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.