Monday, 23 March 2015
winners and losers
There has been celebration for Community Arts Partnership this week. On Sunday and Monday we saw the impact our work in communities of interest and place both young and old, right across Northern Ireland. In offering of the Seamus Heaney Awards for New Writing and Achievement, Community Arts Partnership was given a tremendous opportunity to recognize not only the inspiration our late and much lamented Nobel laureate offers us but also the tremendous interest in making poetry that exists here. On Sunday and Monday we heard the impact of the work as we listened to the performances of poets from right across Northern Ireland. CAP gives an opportunity, for many, perhaps for the very first time, to see their work published and celebrated. Stephanie Conn’s poem Lavender Fields, was selected for the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. Then on Monday in a packed Ulster Hall 30 schools from every corner of Northern Ireland from primary, post primary, secondary and grammar, not only applauded the performances of their peers but came together with the sole purpose of celebrating poetry, celebrating creativity, celebrating the making of something new. Almost 1,000 young people joined together to support each other in recognizing the achievement creating something from thin air, something that resonates with their identity, their speech, their ambitions, perhaps even their fears. The award was given to Grange Primary School from Kilkeel in County Down. They wrote with incredible insight, creating haikus and verse, offering an insight into the sheer exuberance of creativity that our young people have and their ability to make simple yet powerfully evocative statements about what they value in their lives, in their homes and in their imaginations.
What we saw at the Duncairn Cultural Centre on Sunday and in the Ulster Hall on Monday was how powerfully the arts connect with people. These two events signify how deeply the arts matter to the public in Northern Ireland.
It is so difficult to look at the cuts that have had to be meted out across the sector. There have been winners, there have been losers; among them my friend and colleague Martin Lynch, a member of Community Arts Partnership board, and celebrated trail-blazer for the development of community arts locally. He has seen his own organisation cut by 100 percent. There are other organizations that have not been offered any further revenue funding too. There are some that have seen some rises and indeed, some receiving funding for the very first time.
Many recognise that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s role in this has been a difficult one, hamstrung by swingeing cuts that has seen the revenue budget for the arts shrink to levels not seen for decades. There will be funding alternatives available to some I'm sure. But for others, it will mean very hard decisions.
But as I have said repeatedly in this blog, we need to have the cause for the arts understood by our politicians. They must start to recognise that the arts affect so many aspects of our lives, of the lives of normal people.
For those 1,000 children in the Ulster Hall who performed and cheered and had their poetry published on Monday in the “Way With Words” anthology, the transforming effect of the arts was clear to see. For the winners of the Seamus Heaney Awards, to feel such recognition will undoubtedly be a springboard to greater things. For so many of us, the smallest act of alchemy, making something new that didn’t exist before, is a moment that lives long in our consciousness. It changes our understanding and gives us the confidence to make our mark.
Those opportunities become more scarce with every percentage cut from the arts budget and that reduces the potential of this place for each and every one of us.
When the historian searches for clues about a place, a society, a time, they look for cultural artefacts. The poems, books, plays and paintings that reflect so much of who we are and how we live. To reduce this resource now, is to reduce the futures understanding of us all as well. We all lose, in this generation and for generations to come.
Ask the folks that canvass your doorstep in the coming weeks what the arts mean to them. And tell them what they mean to you
The arts matter.