Time to halt the destructive uncertainty for the arts

27 March 2017 - by Claire Flynn

With politics hanging in the balance in Northern Ireland, and with recent talks failing to bear the necessary fruit to restore our institutions, we take a look at how this impacts on the arts.

From Across the Barricades, and its focus on love across a divided city, to the Billy plays' representation of the Protestant working-class experience in 1980s Belfast and Bernard McLaverty’s Cal detailing the life of a young Catholic man involved in the IRA, arts and culture has played an incredibly important role in defining and reflecting the societal dichotomy that is Northern Ireland.

It has impacted on peacebuilding and changed lives through direct participation, or through attending events, shows and festivals.

The arts are not just the things that give pleasure to life – they are the means by which we express ourselves, connect to other people and share experiences. They help us to discover new things about who we are and the wider world around us.

The arts is not just theatre and orchestras. It is home-grown film, going to concerts or festivals, music bands and dance troupes.

Arts participation in school or the workplace strengthens creativity, the fuel that drives innovation – the key to economic recovery and global competitiveness.

The arts enhance attitudes, social skills, critical and creative thinking, and continues to have the power to build hope and foster self-determination in communities across Northern Ireland. They invoke positive change and social advocacy. 

Safeguarding the arts, and the cultural values attached, is fundamental to preserving heritage, education, health and wellbeing, creative economies and tourism.

Arts organisations and individual artists, having faced many years of disinvestment by government, are facing further uncertainty with standstill funding representing further cuts. The Programme for Government is currently on ice; there is no Executive, nor is there a budget. The situation is unsettling.

With the imminent spectre of Brexit looming, there will be a new wave of uncertainty as many EU funding streams are set to disappear, including the European Regional Development Fund that has fuelled many film productions in Northern Ireland, including Game of Thrones. Other sources, such as the Creative Europe programme, will also cease. 

In this void, is the UK government going to fund the gap? Can our Executive (when we get one) fully realise the potential of the arts sector in cultural tourism? And will a new Communities Minister look beyond partisan pet projects?

The industry here has a job to do in further articulating the language of cultural value that helps all of us understand the essential contribution made by the arts to our lives.