Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Everybody Knows

Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
                               Leonard Cohen b.1934, d. 2016 RIP

So, it been some time since I have updated my blog. That’s because we have been flat out at work trying, successfully, to secure and redevelop new premises into our new home – the ARC. The Arts Resource Centre, will not only be home to us, but will host workshops, performances, poetry slams, recording and rehearsal spaces for community groups, bands, organisations and individuals right across Northern Ireland. What is all the more remarkable is that we have managed to achieve this new space with absolutely no additional help from either private or public sponsorship, relying solely on squirreled away reserves and the support of individual donors via the crowd funding site localgiving.com.

We moved because we responded to the need for greater sustainability for the arts and in so doing, we wanted to secure our future and of course, those we support. Ironically, we asked for support on two occasions from the Sustainability Fund, but got zilch both times. It seems it might be easier to get funds for an idea than a reality. It was puzzling, but isn’t the world?

But as a backdrop to the struggle of one small but ambitious community arts organisation, we see civic, local, national and international society all in a real state of flux. Since June 23rd, the political class of both the UK and Ireland has been staring over the edge of a precipice saying either “it’s a tremendous opportunity” or “It’s a terrible catastrophe”. The US Presidential Election similarly described the smallest comfort to be found between a rock and hard place.

And that sense of unknowing, uncertainty, insecurity…

Here, we await the beginning of a Fresh Start, the initial indications of Outcomes Based Accountability TM and indeed, the activation of an Action Plan from the Programme For Government that might offer navigation through these troubled waters. Meanwhile, we see the precarious nature of all publicly-funded activity inflict further casualties – Gingerbread NI, a charity with a long history of supporting single parents – gone – and NICEM, another charitable institution dedicated to supporting ethnic minorities, summarily swept away – gone – at the stroke of a pen.

So building sustainability, amid all this inertia, this flux, this precarity, is a tall order. There will be more causalities. Everybody knows.  Do you get the sense that that’s the way they want it – then powers that be, too ham-strung to take any bold decisions, relying instead on atrophy and withering of people's agency and social capital? Does this laissez-faire management of civic infrastructure bode well for any of us? Is it as Leonard sings, “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded...That's how it goes"?  

Everybody does know that the Arts have never been particularly strongly supported here. We're bottom of the spending leagues of all EU and UK nations and regions. As a cultural mirror and barometer of the civic health of a place, the outlook currently for the arts is grim. The arts are on life support. Winter is indeed coming. We need to redouble all our efforts to make the case that the arts cannot merely survive – they must thrive if we are to have any alternative creative future here. The shibboleth of the creative industries, must instead open up, connect and resonate as part of a wider arts ecology. Those on the margins must be supported by public funds to enjoy the most basic of civil rights and Northern Ireland must embrace a new positive, creative outlook that can be a beacon and attract people, business and investment, drive up educational attainment and social and personal well-being. The arts can do that. That's what everybody knows in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France, etc etc all appreciate. But they have to be invested in and supported. It is an issue of basic welfare that the arts, especially those practices that support the most vulnerable, must be protected.

And everybody knows some people don’t get it. Winning the argument about how the arts can transform lives and see the worth that they bring to the most marginalised of people, still seems to be incomprehensibly difficult for some. Even on the day of our launch, only a few weeks ago, when we told people of the struggle we had getting the space sorted out, buying second-hand bits of kit, in order that we could offer community groups, with no access to the arts, a real opportunity and as we urged people to recognise and support the good work we do on behalf of so many others, somebody actually saw fit to steal two mini-ipads on us!!  I-pads that support young people in marginalised groups across the country to do stop-frame animation, or assist older people’s groups with dementia new opportunities to engage with the arts. Someone actually came to the launch of our new arts space and left with our hard-won equipment, cheating others of an opportunity.

Everybody knows the deal is rotten. In a world where the consequences of our actions become less understood and the relationship between what people say and what people do is blurred in political “post-factual” rhetoric, there are no easy dishonesties. They all have an exponential cost. The arts can of course propagate lies and much of their work is “made up”, but it is in the making that we learn how to understand and create something from nothing. We understand that ideas have power. We consider how that power can become manifest. This is the power to transform stuff into things of beauty, into stories that excite, enthral, into words and music that transport our imaginations and lift our spirits, into images that illuminate our otherwise murky view. Lies only diminish – they steal the moral agency to affect change and leave us squalid, brutish and denied our human accomplishment – our civilisation itself. We are social beings and the greatest social connector is the arts, because it strengthens through deepening cultural engagement and development, the understanding of who we are, where we are and reflects it back to ourselves and others.

So, honestly, the arts need your help. And the arts and particularly community arts represent a space that enables, that helps and turns our creative efforts into a shared, collective celebration of our own truth about who we are and what we want to achieve. Our dreams never lie. It is our inalienable right to dream and participate in the artistic and cultural life of our place. It make us human.

Everybody knows that it’s now or never

Make it now, please
You can help by sponsoring us at https://localgiving.org/communityartspartnership

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