Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Arts Matter Here : its Fund-amental - just ask Sir Kenneth

When you live somewhere and your back is against the wall, money is tight and hard times are all round, there are things that we all turn to, rely upon and from which we draw hope and inspiration. 

For some, its piety, others, its politics, and most of us, it’s the arts – whether we all actually say that or not. The need to be ‘taken out of yourself’ as my maternal granny would have said, when things were tough, meant singing or dancing or going to a show. Taking some enchanting and well deserved respite from the tragedies of life and the hopelessness of some situations, we endured much here and were also offered sustenance for the soul by the arts.

The arts were a resolute fixture in life here – they were not cowed by threats, or bombs, or security gates – they soared, in their own way, and invited others to do the same. The lights stayed on in our theatres, our concert halls, our dance studios and our institutions of learning and culture. Our pubs and clubs resonated with new sounds and poets reflected the hard truths and the cracks of beauty in between, time and again.  

The arts – in all their glory, all their disciplines and their magic, stood for civilisation and hope and normality and life. Belfast, Legend-Derry and all points in between, resonated with a creative hum that could not be dimmed by the hardship of what our society experienced. We celebrated. For me, as a wee lad in Belfast, and avid rock fan, catching the cream of rock musicians, playing the Ulster Hall or Antrim Forum, Maysfield, or wherever, this was key to my sense of renewal and my identity. 

And when punk came along, the obligatory Saturday morning jaunt to Good Vibes or Caroline music and then a burger with my best mate Peter and the bus back home to marvel at the sounds and songs from lads and lasses just a few years older than me from my home town. I played in bands and pogoed with the best of them. It was powerful.

This evening, Sir Kenneth Branagh marks a journey that began in dark those days but has now elevated him to be recognised as one of the most celebrated in his profession. It is emblematic of the persistent talent that rises from our wee patch of earth and shines bright.

But today, we are beset with further challenges to who we are and what it means to live here. Whilst politically things are still contested and a no-show government underlines that, we know and have known relative peace. The peace that many people in other places around the globe would long to have. There is confidence that we will not return to the dark days, when only the intrepid lovers of the arts hit the street after 6pm and continued to keep their and our spirits up. And of course, people also hit the pub, played sports, prayed… whatever – but cities and towns would have been completely deserted were it not for champions and folk who wouldn’t give up on their passions and their creative energy.

Today though, we are under attack. The bedrock of public services is being eroded by systematic cuts – this is the 10th year that so-called austerity budgets have undermined all our collective endeavours – across every facet of life. We know that whether its education, or health, or roads or whatever, we are all bearing the brunt of the casino capitalism that shuddered to a halt in 2008. But that was 10 years ago. We need strong voices now to challenge that trajectory and narrative. The arts can provide that voice, of hope, inspiration and renewal.We need the lights to stay on!

“Curiouser and curiouser” this what my mate Adam Turkington said to me the other day as we scratched our heads at the so called advocacy messages emanating from the speech of the Chair of the Arts Council. We were so flabbergasted during the event in fact, I could have sworn I heard a thud, as jaws collectively hit the floor and we listened to the ‘damning with faint praise’ commentary about the sector’s sustainability. It was all the more remarkable because we had just been treated to an elegant and well-informed appeal for increased investment in the arts by the CEO of Allianz Ireland, Mr Sean McGrath. The two messages couldn’t have been in greater contrast.

We need champions, both in government and in advocacy. We have an ability, generation after generation, to produce award-winning talent and create ground-breaking arts activity, participation and production.

But we need financial support. 

I recalled on twitter the other day, as best I could, the words of former Secretary of State for Culture and a Clore Trustee Chris Smyth. He said something like ‘The arts – cultural activity, endeavour and engagement should require no justification other than their innate ability to move us, to reflect who we are and to enhance our lives.’ I’d go further to say that the transformative power of that intrinsic ability can be amplified in a myriad of ways for a thousand different needs.

This to me is fundamental and it is a simple proposition. The governmental support for culture should acknowledge that truth and build upon it.

For us here and now, without a government, we need real, passionate, determined champions, with integrity – and motivators and inspirational figures like Sir Kenneth Branagh.

Happy Branagh in Belfast Day Sir Ken!

Take a bow.

Respect the value you bring.

Be inspirational…


Arts Matter Here…
Empowering generations
Enabling community
Enriching lives


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