Conor Shields. CAPtain’s Blog.

Amid all the tumult and posturing and hand-wringing, the end is in sight. The Rugby World Cup Final is only a few weeks away. For sports fans, it must come as disappointment not to hear the chant of Come On You Boys In Green (COYBIG) gracing a semi-final or final. And the impact on Ulster Rugby will be deeply felt with players limping off the field, amid injuries that could see the team struggle to compete for the remainder of the year. I haven’t been to Ravenhill (sorry Kingspan) for a while, but I know that magnificent stadium resounds on Friday evenings to the thunderous support of folk singing Stand Up for The Ulstermen (SUFTUM)

But another member of the Culture Arts and Leisure team is experiencing injury of its own. The arts have just suffered two devastating blows that will have impact for the rest of the season. One cut in resources before the year kicked off and a further big hit taken just before half time. Over 20% of the resources expected have now gone.

How would any side fare in those situations? And how would a manager respond in those circumstances too? Imagine then , a team just before kick off being told by the authorities that one player wouldn’t be allowed to take the field and two others would have to play with their left and right legs respectively tied together.

Then, as this team is struggling to mount any challenge pitted against them, they are further reduced by another player. How could they hope to support, how could they possibly offer any real effective chance to flourish and how demoralising must that be for the fans. But then it emerges that it wasn’t the authorities that made the decision before half-time – it was the manager, the champion of the team. It was he (or she) that instead said that the team should be further reduced and offered the reason for it being that someone needed a some coaching advice right away and that it was an easy decision to make, because their need was greater than the team. By the way, the team does some fantastic work, coaching in youth clubs, hospitals, community centres, refuges all sorts of places where people wouldn’t expect teams to turn up…

You can see where I am going with this. My thinly veiled allegory was to highlight just how hampered the arts are here at present. A cut before the year got under way, now a further cut half way through. This happens, with more cuts to come next year and a minister who says the arts have turned their back on communities, only 6 short months before the budget for all the arts and indeed sport falls under the aegis of a new department for communities!!! The depth of the irony would not be lost on all those Sophocles scholars out there. Nor indeed, is it lost on people like Finn Kennedy, who has spoken passionately about how the arts contribute (see the Belfast Telegraph’s edited version) or the fuller version (parental guidance notice) and utterly rejects the minister’s assertion otherwise.

The arts work in our old folks homes, our community centres, our schools and our special education centres, our hostels, refuges and drop-in centres. Or at least they struggle to do so now. If there are more cuts, all this will be under threat.

And if a minister chooses to take from 32 organisations to give to an area of work, that will probably rely upon professional creative organisations to implement any resulting programmes, then that decision has to analysed. At the minute (sorry for a further rugby allusion) the TMO is unsure about that action and the tv commentators are aghast at the potentially destructive impact of this decision.

Also, if in the management or otherwise of this strategic decision, it is intended only to have an impact on the Ulster Orchestra, because it seems to be constantly used as an example, then all are sorely misinformed. An attack on the arts, and its supporting budget, will be felt all the way through the arts community and will signal that the arts and those employed in this already insecure sector, are not valued. And indeed, will undermine the arts ability to support those most in need of publicly funded programmes.

Taking money from the largest will have immediate and long lasting impact on the other 87 funded organisations and the hundreds of artists that are supported through SIAP and the countless community organisations that are funded through the small grants programmes.

And the arts community are not as disunited as some may see it. In fact, in the face of an attack, the arts will rally (probably very visibly at Stormont, very soon, see #artsmatterni for details) and the arts will try to fight these cuts.

We may have missed out on the the semi-final in the Rugby, but the boys in green are heading for France: A different code, but the same passion for success, offering inspiration to so many others.

Just like the arts:




Stand Up For The Arts RIGHT NOW