Monday, 23 May 2016

The Programme for Government and the Arts

The development of any work of art seldom happens overnight and the skillset that is required to support and facilitate its production in all likelihood was developed over years of training, with trials and tribulations along the way.  Creating something that synthesises purposeful design, elegance in execution and depth in messages and meaning remains the challenge that faces all artists and arts facilitators, from whatever discipline.  Even the stand-up comedian, seemingly “winging it” conversationally may well have honed her apparently throw away patter through years of blood, sweat and gigs.  Seldom do we attach value to things that we attain easily. And in a world where more and more becomes less and less valued, and increasingly disposable, cherishing our arts and the skills, talents and processes sustaining them for the benefit of current and future generations becomes more crucial. The arts, that have created the “soundtracks of our lives” across every medium, not just music, have been our constant companion, reflecting and indeed amplifying who we are as individuals and communities and reminding us time and again of what it is to be human – the joy, the grief, the ecstasy, the tragedy, the beauty and the sheer endurance.

Nothing else in our world has this function – nothing else channels all this lived experience into forms that layer meanings over meanings and allow for us to appreciate more keenly even the most everyday. And this function of art making is as old as our civilisation, older still, it is as enduring as our species itself. The arts are the engine of culture, the flywheel of dreams.

We have sung, danced, painted and narrated forever.  Whether we were pursuing our eternal exploration of meaning or keeping our spirits up entertaining ourselves, we have consistently turned to the arts, millennium after millennium.  We are makers, crafters and creators.

Our dreaming through creativity has offered us visions of futures where we get it right and where we abysmally fail. It continues to offer us the chance to look beyond the edges of our selves, appreciating the lives of neighbours and others and reaching further, contemplating universes of eternities unknown. Fictions of truth. Every generation has heard these critical creative voices sing out about what it is to be alive, or dead, free or captive, angry or righteous.

So, this is important stuff. Even if we think the arts are just about entertainment, we have a right to enjoy those forms of entertainment in theatre, film, song, dance, books, verse, whatever. In a world so incredibly diverse, the more we understand the expression of ourselves and others, the more we accept how alike our lives are and the easier it becomes to share this increasingly contested, shrinking world.  This is the power the arts carry.

For this place, Northern Ireland, the North, we have seen our government and politicians over the last successive years, actively limit the potential of the arts locally – undermining all that transformative power and replacing it with a deepening sense of insecurity about the future and the cultural values that matter to a society.  Whilst at the same time assuring all of us that the arts really do matter. They matter so much here, that they have now created a new government department where the term art has all but disappeared.  And this tomorrow or maybe in the days after, we will see the emergence of a new local Assembly, with public representatives taking up leadership roles to promote and safeguard a range of responsibilities, like health, the economy, education, justice etc etc
The arts community and more pointedly for me, community artists, implore not only our new assembly of politicians but our re-shuffled civil service as well, to take heed of what 1,700 respondents to the outgoing minister for culture’s strategy paper were saying and recognise the role that arts must play in civilised societies and the value they bring to all our lives, especially for those who struggle most and have least.  To undermine a sector, that is run so efficiently (almost 6,000 arts jobs are leveraged from a core Assembly investment of just less that £10m, offering ten times that in social and economic return) makes no political or economic sense. For this investment, less than the cost of 1,000 yards of motorway or 30 Routemaster buses, the arts support our society, making us healthier, happier, more connected to each other, more adaptable, more attractive to visitors and investors, more expressive, confident and inventive. These are all the attributes that any Programme for Government seeks to enhance.  So, as we witness the political to-ing and fro-ing of the coming days and the inevitable sharing out of responsibilities to govern, let’s recognise that at the heart of any community is the need to celebrate and value who we are, understand we have come from and support our collective ambition from the cradle to the grave. In our local economy of almost £40 billion, the investment in our schools and communities, our villages, towns and cities in accessible, excellent and vital arts programmes, events, activities and opportunities is crucial to delivering a social vision that strengthens rather than diminishes us.  

Only the arts can deliver that vision in such an all-encompassing way.

This society cannot afford to let the arts and creativity wither any further. If the programme for government wants to support outcomes that offer progress here, the arts can catalyse more potential and transform it into valuable demonstrable social and economic development better than any other sector.

The arts want to support the Programme for Government. Give us the means to do so.

The arts are relevant
The arts are extraordinary

The arts

Offering alchemy that make lives golden.

Northern Ireland needs the arts.

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