Rally for the Arts – 3rd November 1pm

Conor Shields. CAPtain’s Blog.

As this sector reels from more news about cuts now and potentially in the future, together with colleagues and friends in #ArtsMatterNI we’re looking to get people onto the streets, well Prince of Wales Avenue up at Stormont at least, and register our insistence that government must invest in the arts in Northern Ireland.

Do we need to spell it out again why the arts matter here? Here, of all places that has such limited manufacturing, and has seen our erstwhile heavy engineering disappear generations ago. As a post-industrial place we cannot rest on a history of mass production and world beating feats of engineering awe. The Titanic is now a cultural story, a story not a ship – a narrative about how the labour and creativity brought this idea into being. We now see celebrated that achievement in a cultural space that offers tourists a glimpse of who we were. Interpreting our past has always been problematic between the contested histories of Northern Ireland. The power dynamics of this place create shibboleths and hegemonies that distort the past and reflexively impact on the present to. In a land where the cultural conveyance of an idea has layer upon layer of mediated, symbolic codes and references, it is all the more disappointing that we don’t invest securely, deeply in the means to take part in that cultural space.

The minister talks of the arts being a right. She is correct. The UN Declaration of 1948 says so. By cutting the budget, year after year and indeed in-year, are our rights being actively undermined?

Some theorists may hold that culture is a way of organising our adaptive strategies, within our given parameters of place and technology. This somewhat anthropological interpretation might be seen as ultimately our power to transform ourselves that has given our species the evolutionary edge over the millennia. Looked at this way, culture, as an active, dynamic, emergent space where a multitude of determining factors correlate into an set of actions or relations, offering new ways of seeing or being, responds rapidly to the immediacy and interaction of people and places. Creating the emergence of that more harmonious and including cultural space is a fundamental human challenge, framed in Article 27 of the United Nations (UN) Declaration of Human Rights and which underpins social and civic activism and the work of community arts organisations the world over. (excerpt from Between Ourselves C Shields & S Tracey © CAP, 2015)

The arts, and culture, as the social organisers of our human project and its expressive interaction and engagement with ideas, and indeed ideologies, about who we are and why we do what we do, have a huge role to play in all societies, but particularly one so contested. Here the intersectionality of the marginalised voices can get compounded and their input in the debate, the project, becomes harder to hear. In this regard, I have some sympathy with our current minister for culture, not for her recent decisions but for the recognition that we need greater levels of investment in access and participation, so that we do hear from more voices. But, it is in the articulation, the curation, the transmission and the audition of those voices where we need the depth of skill and the cultural infrastructure to support us all on our journey, in our narrative.

Undermining the status of cultural professionals, students, participants and audiences in a place that wants to promote access and engagement in the arts strikes me as similar to sacking doctors and nurses AND insisting that we need to increase patient numbers because more people are ill. And lets put this old, tired and unhealthy simile to bed once and for all. The paltry £10 million that is invested in the arts, would keep our Health and Social Services Dept functioning for 18 hours, with another 8,742 hours of the year to go. Health spend equates to 80% of the total departmental spend. So, that’s down to just over 14 hours. Divide that across our 15 (!!) acute hospitals and its less than an hour each. So, no more debate about whether its a choice of keeping hospitals open versus the arts. Please.

Despite our mammoth effort last year, by ordinary members of the public and arts practitioners, organisations and community groups, to mobilise an historically unprecedented level of response to a draft budgetary process (23,000 communications to the Executive), it fell on deaf ears. WE need to shout louder…LOUDER. We must mobilise support to reflect the centrality of the arts in Northern Irish society and the recognition that we cannot afford not to invest in the current and future provision of creativity if we are to value any quality of life.

This time, while the minister has prioritised certain areas to be supported over others, wrongly in my opinion, we are rallying not just to see these in-year cuts reversed, but we are insisting that the arts are invested in for ALL OUR FUTURES. If, as a sector, we have failed to represent adequately the beneficial impacts of the arts, WE NEED TO SAY IT LOUDER. Can reports from impartial, economy-focused organisations like the OECD be brushed aside, even if the arts community can? Just two years ago the OECD stressed:

We argue that the main justification for arts education is clearly the acquisition of artistic skills …By artistic skills, we mean not only the technical skills developed in different arts forms (playing an instrument, composing a piece, dancing, choreographing, painting and drawing, acting, etc.) but also the habits of mind and behaviour that are developed in the arts. Arts education matters because people trained in the arts play a significant role in the innovation process in OECD countries: the arts should undoubtedly be one dimension of a country’s innovation strategy.

ART FOR ART’S SAKE?© OECD 2013 Art for Art’s Sake? The Impact of Arts Education (Winner, Goldstein and Vincent-Lancrin, 2013).

The arts make an incredible impact on who we are and how we live. If we undermine the core support of the arts, we are challenging the very social contract that our governments are there to maintain. If you want to make a structure capable of reaching across a greater distance and connect to distances that are hard to reach, the last thing any engineer would contemplate is undermining the foundations. Supporting issues like social isolation, suicide, low educational attainment, looked-after children in care, mental health services, detached youth etc, through the arts all require a solid infrastructure.

This is highly sensitive, specialised work. Applying the arts is not just a question of throwing arts materials onto a table and shouting DRAW!

The arts and their application means something completely different. It is the life-long pursuit of craft, knowledge, skills, textures and techniques, honing the practical from within the imagination, making the impossible seem commonplace, inspiring and teaching others to create more and better. Artists are pathfinders, teachers and leaders. They are alchemists of the future. And who would dare kill the goose that laid the golden egg?

The arts change lives, offer development and employment and support to people everyday. They make this place attractive to resident and visitor. They offer satire and spectacle, entertainment and education. They place us on a global map.

In GB, the Warwick Commission’s final report, Enriching Britain:Culture, Creativity and Growth, was launched last month. As Vikki Heywood CBE, Chairman of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value put it:

The key message …is that the government and the cultural and creative industries need to take a united and coherent approach that guarantees equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life. There are barriers and inequalities in Britain today that prevent this from being a universal human right. This is bad for business and bad for society.

Reducing funding to the arts doesn’t decrease the barriers and inequalities, it increases them.

Stand Up For The Arts Right Now #SUFTARN