Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Days after Culture Night

So, the fizzing sparkle that is Culture Night is over for another year and the majestic immensity of that event is just being realised. On Friday night I tweeted that

Some 50,000 people voted with their feet, their hearts and their heads and came down to what people are calling the best Culture Night so far!  It grows every year. I have the great privilege of being able to count myself as one of the four people who formed the committee and brought the concept to life in Belfast, back in 2009.

Now, it's so wedded to us as a city, so much the weave and weft of what we regard as the life of this place but never taken for granted, because it is a thing of wonder. So, well done to all, committee, staffers, volunteers, artists and participants...and of course, the good folk who walk the streets and cheer and sing and create and support.

But it is that part of the fabric of things that Culture Night represents for the arts. Perhaps we don't have the fanfare of huge crowds, taking over the streets en masse but the arts are going on day and daily in every part of N Ireland. Communities of talents and wannabe geniuses, of art lovers and art makers, new and old, stars and newbies, working, attending, anticipating, enjoying. Totally captivated by the experience of creating and the joy of being entertained and educated in equal measure. The arts that permeate all walks of life. The creativity whose only boundary is imagination and energy, opportunity and ideas.

Belfast on Culture Night felt like any European city - a place at ease with itself, where the arts could be appreciated and crowds, huge crowds, could roam, happily intermingling, without a thought of why this was novel - it felt right, normal, comfortable -  and all those terms make it awesome for this place.

As cuts loom and threaten to diminish our creative horizons, it's brilliant to recognise that more and more people value the arts and the necessity that they represent to just feeling normal, to just living like any other place.

Everyone that I spoke to gladly signed the postcard and ticked the box YES - to the question "Do you support public funding for the arts?" . Without hesitation. Young and old. People tweeted, #lovetheartsni, people smiled and recognised the unique joy that the arts and participating in them brings.

But people also recognised that the threat to funding and the diminishing support of the fragile ecology of the arts was real.  And perhaps they are starting to recognise that we deserve to have access to thoughtful, inspiring, enriching opportunities. In fact, we deserve more. The future of this place needs more creativity at its very core.

So, Roll on the 18th September, 2015 - Culture Night 7. Hopefully all the organisations and individuals that supported the previous six will still be around to inspire.

Support your local artist. #lovetHEARTSni

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Culture costs

I received a beautiful piece of art the other day from an artist I know very well. The work, a visual arts piece, showed an arrangement of crayons forming a full colour spectrum with those tones converging and blending as they flow down the canvas to come together in one word at the bottom: DAD.

The artist of course, is my eleven-year old daughter and as a depiction of an artful connection with her father, it is just beautiful.
But such a direct, unambiguous statement about the relevance of creativity to how we relate to each other could be a metaphor for the potential centrality of art and its connection to all our lives.

In the doom-laden, Push Me-Pull You shrieking over recent weeks, it’s sometimes hard to recognise the arts as the existential motivator and reflector that they can be. The arguments about who gets what and who deserves most of our dwindling public purse tends to overlook just what a creative sector brings to this place. 

Take for example Culture Night, a celebration of every facet of ourselves from opera through to mask-making, fine arts and circus, punk rock and jazz dance and indeed the conviviality and essential, creative life-skill of cookery. And a load more in between. What Culture Night does, free of charge for all who participate, is show how truly accessible the arts are and how eminently enabled we are as a people, a place, a society to participate in that celebration.

But a lot of what Culture Night represents is hidden, as so much of the necessary logistics of arts organisation tends to be. Supporting over 200 events, through permissions, venues, equipment, marshalling, insurance, traffic management, artist selection, procurement, staging, lighting etc etc etc takes resources, real, actual money.

One night of free participation costs -  not so much in the grand scheme of things, but it requires investment.

So be it for the public subvention of the arts. To have a participative, accessible, inspiring, creative sector requires investment - real, actual money. Not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things – say £19 million out of a £10 billion budget- one fifth of one percent ...but significant in all that. If that quantum is at risk, then that access to the arts may be too.

If you have walk around Cathedral Quarter in Belfast during Culture Night you can see why 40,000 people last year revelled in the experience and celebrated the creativity of this place. Here - at every turn, something different, unique, entertaining and wonderful was on offer. At that precise moment, across so many towns and cities, that incredible culture offer was appreciated by hundreds of thousands of people, many of them experiencing the arts first hand, for first time. 

And so it goes for our beleaguered arts sector. There is so much on offer from a huge array of organisations, each specialising and supporting an area of creative participation and all dependant on public support and funding. Each of these organisations shares a passionate determination to engage us, the public, in the arts. We, as a society, deserve to be inspired, supported, challenged and assisted in deepening our understanding of the arts and the creative connection we can share with thousands of others. 

My eleven year old understands this. She knows that creativity is important. She knows it adds the colour to our lives. She loves the fact that she can share that joy with others. We all deserve it. And as a place, in difficult times, perhaps we need it more than ever.

Support your arts. Support your public services. Support Culture Night and all who make it what it is.
And, we’ll see you smiling and cheering on 19th September.