Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Neither Fagans nor fantasists

I've been called many things in my life and accused of others - only last week after appearing on BBC's The View (where Mark didn't let me ask my important question - How would the candidates safeguard the social and economic benefits of the arts for the constituents of East Belfast and N Ireland?) - I got trolled on twitter and mocked as a certain military fried chicken persona. Today, via the infamous Nolan Show on Auntie Beeb, a right-wing free-marketeer (who incidentally has never heard of the social contract it seems) described me and indeed my professional peers as looters and pick-pockets!! Just because we accept public funding for the fantastic benefit the arts bring- that is already allocated in government budgets!

In the same rather rambling and shrill exchange, we heard advocates for the arts struggle to suggest why the arts are important and the same accuser point the finger at arts professionals, saying if the arts are an economic driver, why don't the arts just fund themselves. Although, he used the word powerhouse. But in any case, isn't it great that no arts professional was allowed to defend their profession, or assert the incredible benefit that the arts bring or indeed, the economic benefit that can be leveraged from a place that supports a thriving arts community. It was left to others, mostly media folk, to represent the arts.

It feels at the moment that no other profession in N Ireland is treated with such contempt as arts managers, apart perhaps the politicians. Putting the boot into the arts is the BBC's newest media wheeze - slow day - get a few pundits to give the arts a good kicking. Depict them as modern-day Fagans, pilfering money from the pockets of every passer-by and exploiting their position for their own profligate gain. Its so easy to pick on the smallest budget and say that because these arts-ones get money, it's taken away from Health or Education. Utter piffle!! By my reckoning, the total government exchequer arts funding would keep the DHSS and all our NHS hospitals going for less that 1 second. In fact less than one hundredth of a second. In the time you've taken to read this, our health spend has amounted to £9,000. In that minute, spend on the arts was £32 - not thousand - just 32. Equally, in terms of keeping schools open, if you re-allocated the expenditure on the arts to the Education budget, we could increase opportunity by about half a second. So, all the bluster about thieving from health and education is yesterday's audioboo podcast doofer me jig...best forgotten.

So we turn to the real ambition for the arts: to help transform the lives of this place and it's people into a vibrant, artistic,  got-to-visit, can't miss it, destination for us, our children and our visitors.  We can do this and in fact we have gone along way to doing so. 14 major festivals in one city, countless other smaller events and festival happenings, citywide arts programmes in Belfast alone never mind the region wide arts programmes, festivals, events, etc in as many places as there are art forms ! And an ever present appetite for more. 

This is what we want from our arts. We want variety, positivity, a celebration of talents and opportunities. We want continued affordable access and participation. We want quality. We want imagination and creative challenge. We want thoughtful exploration of who we are and how we relate. We want tomorrow to always be better than today even if today was an awesome day. And we want new horizons that promise the potential for shaping our futures and leaving our mark. The arts gives us all the opportunity to do this. What we didn't hear this morning were advocates actually telling people that we have a fantastic, varied, expert, dynamic arts scene here that has been painstakingly built up over generations. We should all celebrate that and not allow the short-sighted or ill-informed give the arts a kicking or damn it with faint praise. We need to sing a different tune, that the arts matter and represents a society that is winning and leave the negativity, back-biting and penny-pinching to yesterday.  

Artists are tomorrow people, believing that through the sheer force of will and know-how, bravery and good fortune, we can create new possibility. Surely every place needs that type of creative belief. This place definitely does, as much now as ever.

Support your local artist, poet, arts manager, arts organisation, arts festival...whatever!  The arts matter 

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with your points. Was tempted to phone in only I am out of the country just now. What was also not mentioned was the amount of volunteer time put in by many arts professionals, donating work to charitable causes, unpaid over-time etc etc. What qualifies many of these media pundits/commentators to comment on the arts - what is their background/experience and why were their views not balanced by the inclusion of arts professionals? Health and welfare are important to a functioning society but they are not the only parts... if their were no trained artists then who would design our clothes, products, magasines etc never mind art exhibitions and theatres?