Playwright slams Ni Chuilin over her ‘disdain’ for the arts

By Joanne Sweeney. Belfast Telegraph.

Fionnuala Kennedy from MACHA Productions slammed Caral Ni Chuilin and retaliated with the same charge, accusing the Sinn Fein minister of turning her back on communities.

In an open letter, which she published on social media yesterday, she angrily reacted to what she claims as the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) minister’s bias against certain sections of the arts.

Ms Kennedy also took a swipe at Sinn Fein, the minister’s party.

The arts community has felt particularly besieged and affected by the severe budget cuts which have affected the Arts Council for Northern Ireland’s annual budget.

In August, the Arts Council told 32 organisations including the Lyric Theatre, Grand Opera House and Ulster Orchestra to prepare for in-year cuts of up to 10%.

It is understood that the alleged comments that Ms Kennedy is referring to were made by Ms Ni Chuilin when she addressed the Voices for the Voiceless discussion event organised by Queen’s University’s Institute for the Collaborative Research in the Humanities last Thursday.

Last night, DCAL and Sinn Fein were both approached for a response but declined to provide any.

Ms Kennedy, who is one half of a theatre production company, wrote: “I can live with the fact that you are not a fan of theatre.

“I can live with the fact that you don’t fight for the arts, as arts minister.

“I can live with the fact that you perpetuate the dangerous myth about the arts sector in NI, that we’re all champagne-swilling, top-hat wearing snobs.

“But I will NEVER stay quiet when you say ‘art has turned its back on communities'”.

She continued: “Saying the arts has turned its back on communities is laughable, when Sinn Fein have completely lost touch with the people they claim to represent. And the people know it.”

Originally from the Lenadoon area of west Belfast and now living in the Short Strand, Ms Kennedy said that her work “is informed by my experience of the disadvantages, judgements and barriers faced …in a working-class area”.

The theatre producer also took issue with Ms Ni Chulin’s alleged comments of the “notion of resistance not transcending to arts”.

She said: “For me, this is when art is critical and exciting.

“This type of work has been happening on different scales across different genres.

“You choose to ignore it, and say publicly that it’s not happening.”

MACHA Productions was formed this April and produces all-female plays.

Ms Kennedy wrote and directed Hostel in 2010.

It was subsequently produced by Kabosh Theatre for the Grand Opera House in Belfast.

The play is based on Kennedy’s experience in sheltered accommodation for young families with her daughter.