The programme worth £500,000, will provide grants of up to £25,000 to help small and medium sized organisations to continue creative work, assist with operational costs and plan for recovery.
Said Miss Durkan: “Funding for the Arts and Culture sector has been in a vulnerable state for some time now, aside from the pandemic.
“Covid-19 lockdown, however, has brought unique and significant challenges, with an overnight shut-down of theatres, concert halls and galleries and cancellation of festivals and cultural events.
“Organisations in the sector are facing a deficit in the region of over £4 million, and that figure is set to increase.
“Jobs are insecure, the future for organisations is uncertain, and communities are at risk of losing important projects.
“Livelihoods have been seriously threatened, and families are suffering.
“Many freelance artists have availed of vital support via the Artists Emergency Programme, but there is still an immediate need for more funding in the sector.
“I commend the Department for Communities and Arts Council who have been working in partnership over the past few months to find solutions.
“The OEP is part of a wider package of £1.5million funding for the sector.
“I would encourage arts organisations to act now by accessing the details and application forms on the Arts Council NI website.
“Deadline for applications is Friday 12 June.
“The Arts Council hopes to allocate grants as expeditiously as possible and their staff will provide further guidance and information.
“At a time of immense challenge for the Arts, there is also scope for opportunity and growth.
“Artists are utilising their innate creativity to find new ways of engaging audiences.
“During this period of lockdown, many people are reconnecting with various aspects of culture.
“We are being entertained at home by online gigs and virtual galleries.
“Indeed, the pandemic is highlighting the invaluable role of the arts in bringing people together and tackling social isolation, not to mention the important benefits for our mental health and well-being.”