Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Celebrating the best of ourselves , celebrating with the arts

I’ve just come back from four days training in Corrymeela and have to say that I feel just dandy – ready to take on whatever is thrown and imbued with a real sense of purpose and an itch to get projects, old and new, really rolling forward. I'll talk about that training at some other point. But I was at Corrymeela last weekend as well, to take part in a panel discussion about why the arts matter as part of the Aperture Festival, marking 50 years since it was established. It’s no coincidence that a place like Corrymeela, so steeped in the culture of peace-making and reconciliation, should turn to the arts for celebrating such a significant birthday. It’s why many of us do the same when we want to note something significant that’s happening in our lives – we celebrate in a way that will excite others to join us and for a moment or two, be transported by the power of the arts out of our normal rhythm of living and into another plane of thought and experience.

That is a fundamental role of the arts and one that we have employed since the dawn of our civilisations and even before that. The arts have an intrinsic power to enable all of us to share a moment in a wholly deeper way, to at once recognise that there are layers to all our lives and our experiences that connect with each of us in a myriad of different yet complementary ways.

It had been 36 years since I had attended Corrymeela before. Then, as a schoolboy, I had made tentative steps at supporting cross community processes in a Northern Ireland still utterly riven by sectarianism and violence. On returning last week, I found Corrymeela to be an oasis of centredness, having core values that support a way of engaging, but being accessible to new, disparate and diverse voices. The eclecticism of the Aperture Festival alone, paid tribute to the breadth of culture's role in celebrating the applied nature of Corrymeela’s continuing vision.

This nature of the arts with its ability to embrace the amazingly varied breadth of all of us and our communities is further reason to see the arts flourish . Then, applying artistic practice to another layer of situations, with potential actions, processes and outcomes, and all the socially-engaged potential that represents  – should not be threatened with cuts and reduction.  

I’ve said it so often, in this blog and on platforms representing CAP and #ArtsmatterNI, that the arts' infrastructure is barely sustainable at current levels of support. For further cuts to ensue might well have deeply felt and long-lasting impacts that this society cannot afford. Bearing in mind where we have come from as a people and a place, surely we need to seize every opportunity to celebrate the positive and nourish a more thoughtful, positive future for our wee corner of the globe and purposefully renew our vision of ourselves and our collective future. In discovering the dreams held by our collective imaginations and learning how to be fundamentally creative, we can immediately understand again, just how powerful the joy of “making” is. To create something from nothing, that creative alchemy that all community arts programmes and all arts exhibitions, performances and events demonstrate, is to return to more deeply connected places in all of us. They herald the Olympic Games, not by having runners run, or jumpers jump, but by having film-makers and creative producers celebrate the narrative of our lives and the dreams we hold in powerfully dramatic and evocative displays.  We can demonstrate our values, our fears and the deeply meaningful, long-held beliefs attached to our cultural positions, whatever they may be.

To under-fund the arts is to shackle our ability to express – it is a gag on our cultural voice, to express not only who we are now, but who we may have been and who we wish to be in the future.
For Northern Ireland, not quite one generation into living in Peace, to see such opportunity through the arts squandered, undermined and reduced is to not value the tremendous opportunity that peace affords us and instead to lose sight of the dream. If anything, the public representatives should be finding ways to pour more investment into the celebration of our vision of ourselves and our place in the future. Investing in our tremendous centres of artistic excellence and in our opportunity to support everyone to explore their creative power.  Quibbling about 0.01% of the block grant going to the arts doesn’t make sense. It is so little has but holds the power to be so much. As a society, we should be insisting that the arts flourish and give us the platform to celebrate the very best of ourselves, just like Corrymeela did the other weekend. 


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