What we saw at the Duncairn Cultural Centre on Sunday and in the Ulster Hall on Monday was how powerfully the arts connect with people. These two events signify how deeply the arts matter to the public in Northern Ireland.
It is so difficult to look at the cuts that have had to be meted out across the sector. There have been winners, there have been losers; among them my friend and colleague Martin Lynch, a member of Community Arts Partnership board, and celebrated trail-blazer for the development of community arts locally. He has seen his own organisation cut by 100 percent. There are other organizations that have not been offered any further revenue funding too. There are some that have seen some rises and indeed, some receiving funding for the very first time.
Many recognise that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s role in this has been a difficult one, hamstrung by swingeing cuts that has seen the revenue budget for the arts shrink to levels not seen for decades. There will be funding alternatives available to some I'm sure. But for others, it will mean very hard decisions.
But as I have said repeatedly in this blog, we need to have the cause for the arts understood by our politicians. They must start to recognise that the arts affect so many aspects of our lives, of the lives of normal people.
For those 1,000 children in the Ulster Hall who performed and cheered and had their poetry published on Monday in the “Way With Words” anthology, the transforming effect of the arts was clear to see. For the winners of the Seamus Heaney Awards, to feel such recognition will undoubtedly be a springboard to greater things. For so many of us, the smallest act of alchemy, making something new that didn’t exist before, is a moment that lives long in our consciousness. It changes our understanding and gives us the confidence to make our mark.
Those opportunities become more scarce with every percentage cut from the arts budget and that reduces the potential of this place for each and every one of us.
When the historian searches for clues about a place, a society, a time, they look for cultural artefacts. The poems, books, plays and paintings that reflect so much of who we are and how we live. To reduce this resource now, is to reduce the futures understanding of us all as well. We all lose, in this generation and for generations to come.
Ask the folks that canvass your doorstep in the coming weeks what the arts mean to them. And tell them what they mean to you
The arts matter.