Change is a constant and managing change is perhaps the greatest skill that we can acquire in our lives. It speaks to the ebb and flow of everything, to the constantly changing seasons, our notoriously mercurial weather with four seasons in a day, or the fact that we progress so rapidly from wellness to illness and back again, sadness to elation, and relatively speaking, childhood to adulthood and old age. All these transitions require a whole range of skills and attitudes if the changes are to be easily made. But managing these transitions can be too much for many of us. Once our security is threatened, we tend to start to respond in perhaps more primitive ways, to rely on our impulses and emotions rather than our wits and intellect. And often, our emotions, which command so much of who we are as people, win. We get angry, depressed, sick, scared. We hit the “fight or flight” button.
So, given the huge level of changes that are coming down the track for all of us here, how should we respond? We can fight – fighting cuts, fighting decisions, challenging those who would make the changes. But it’s difficult to run. The arts have put up a tremendous challenge to policy-makers and budget setters in the Executive lately with the 13p campaign of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Over 13,500 responses thus far apparently, saying collectively that the arts cannot afford another cut and that any further change is too much.A HUGE well done to all concerned, not last the communications department and staff team at ACNI. Let's hope it makes a difference.
But, we have elections coming too. A general election in May this year. Even if we don’t have a change of government in Westminster (how depressing would that be??) there will be inevitable change. How will we manage that? One way of course is to start to campaign and lobby now, challenging the powers that be and those challenging for power themselves, ie political parties. to put the plight of the arts and in particular community arts on the agenda. This is a constant aspect of the work of Community Arts Partnership but also is now being focused on by a short term lobby group called ArtsMatterNI. You will have seen the twitter hashtag. It is worth having a look at this campaign that CAP has helped instigate and manage. ArtsMatterNI have engaged the services of professional lobbyists Stratagem to assist in urging government and would-be government to see that the role of the arts is core to civil society and a modern, knowledge-based, engaged and creative society. And that for relatively very little investment, we gain huge benefits from all aspects of the arts. ArtsMatterNI are having a public meeting on Thursday 15th January, 2015, in the Lab in the MAC Belfast at 11 am. The arts need everyone’s support at this time.
But even though we have seen incredible change locally, for many people, the people that are supported by CAP, change has perhaps left them disadvantaged in some way – out of a job through shifting economic priorities or lack of supported education; unwell through the impact of an accident, or disease, or another circumstance; marginalised by being a new settler in a place, or having different lifestyle preferences or determinations; left isolated through old age or struggling to fit with the constant pressures and demands of these days. And for our young people, where how they understand the world is technologically so changed from the world that parents or policy makers understand it to be. Managing change, and understanding how to do it, is an immense challenge, too much for many.
For those, where we can’t fight or we can’t fly away, we have to stop and help. For those, where the changes to their lives have perhaps undermined their ability to thrive in life and is impacting on their well-being, community arts can be a fantastic support, encouraging, rewarding and affirming place. Community arts can communicate to others the value and worth of a person or a community and getting people thinking about the changes that they have made and considering the next one and build up that creative resilience that we all need. Being able to reflect on one’s own ability to create is a skill that can help us all make those more informed decisions to enable our lives – instead of running away or lashing out or being left behind. "Be the change that you wish to see in the world" as a wiser man said.