Chronic lack of cultural investment

Ian McGarry, Equity general secretary has put a proposal in front of Peter Hain to tackle what he terms the general lack of investment in Northern Irish culture and arts. He is critical of several players in the field.

“For decades there has been under-investment, which perhaps was understandable when it was hard even to take film crews on location in Northern Ireland, given the situation. But we think the circumstances are there now for investment to go ahead.”

Union representatives were particularly disappointed with recent government cuts to the Arts Council Northern Ireland budget.

“We thought it was a regrettable decision,” said McGarry. “There is so little theatre in Northern Ireland. The Lyric in Belfast had to cut back on productions. There is no theatre in education, virtually no small-scale theatre.

“There is virtually no investment by the BBC or UTV in drama in the province. It’s a cultural desert.”

  • CyberScribe

    Back in March it was reported that the Arts Council had ceased funding for Queen’s University’s Writer in Residence.
    and that Fortnight magazine had their funding withdrawn,here’s hoping there’s more investment in the Arts here.

  • looking in

    There is no doubt that there is less public money for arts investment in NI than in the UK or ROI

    However, the “L’Oreal” argument is not tenable.

    Fortnight had long since lost its way, being a publicly supported writers/trendy lefty clique

    Regarding the writer-in-residence…there are lots of other funding mechanisms to support university research/scholarship – perhaps those closely associated ought to explore these rather than relying on local hand-outs – additionally competing in a non-NI funding competition might raise the standard, as with all university research.

  • G.M.C.

    While I enjoy seeing bands which can give pleasure from Northern Ireland and appreciated the band whom I keep seeing and hearing on Belfast community T.V. channel, I am not a pop or rock bands person. This is normal youth popular-alternative music culture though often passes for the sum of the city’s culture, without the reasonably respectable visual arts scene.

    In recent years, as a symptom of what is described in the post noted above, the city council and other parts of government along with those who advertise tourism and the arts here have gone beserk.

    It seems not only can they can not give in to the good sense of real development in culture, pub bands are most of the city centre’s musical arts and for the rest, communities are being handed tin whistles. Then the bodies I describe begin dancing an unknown tune to the residents of who knows where to hear, who will come, who is here? It hardly seems a proper atmosphere, I don’t know, for individual artistic development within any arts minded communities of any type.

    In claiming afresh that there is a brand new and incredibly healthy city life and culture in Belfast, I have no idea what we can expect next from these people.

    The regeneration of some residential areas of the city should be, if properly individually orientated, great for the areas themselves. But it is all then described, within an umbrella of community arts, as some kind of international show.

    Who knows, some visitors may find this fascinating but it seems in a way sub-human to some of the people of Belfast to present this as culture for tourists, especially as it is a large part of all there is to offer frequently. I suppose in this area, along in isolation with the positive reactions for regeneration of areas and opportunities for residents, this only some attention of more where it is needed, it is rather embarrassing.

    I can’t think this is so interesting beyond the interest of local people, some other people of the city and I suppose there will be some visitors, tourists, who this will attract. The West Belfast Festival is a short time within the year which provides an example of quite a number of both normal and unexpected types of attractive events to tourists and all city residents and also a good number of events which seem minded as interest inducing mostly within that community.

    Though this, community arts, consistently is where the most part of the spotlight lies. Culture here fifteen years ago was serious and aware and thus normal and optimistic, although also back then not of much reasonable density as now. Supposed great attention to community arts just stopped the optimism and development of the city’s latent main cultural areas, visual arts excepted.

    The worst thing is, like the culture which turns out to be just pub bands, great themselves I have to add, and like the general platitudes of terribly shallow wells which disconcertingly speak of greatness, the notion of community art is something which culture bodies don’t seem to cease talking and writing about such that this description becomes a huge smoke screen behind the huge lack of expected culture. It even seems this was the concerted intention from the drawing board.

    One of the few main heralded real arts centres is an open folk music school with some dance lessons and alternative health classess. I think this is something called a city community centre, a normal thing and good, though it shows no evidence of being a city arts centre bar for a once monthly event. The “Crescent Arts Centre” this is, sometimes more wildly reported as the “Crescent Arts Theatre”. This edifice has seen plays produced.

    To arts bodies a suggestion, better it would be to have the city community centre outside of one of the only listed city general arts centre housings, or just to stop pretending the company is this suggested institution, or anything like this and give this old doll a proper name. There’s nothing wrong with a city community centre. Then take off from ones seat and make a few real arts centres.

    Yet the reports from those in office are that things are new now in Belfast, and fully comparable with other alive European cities, and it seems a modern city is here where there wasn’t one 15 years ago. This is worse than platitudes. To me clearly if anything there is little difference and with the optimism and expectancy of years left as confusion, the opposite direction is a better guide for the arts culture. So what can be next from these people, and they must be expected to be always ready to foray right into the core of what is unbelievable?

    They surely are on cloud nine and show it.

    I notice also on cloud nine is the newly plucked dream of wasting lots of money, millions, on a few new staircases and ariel wire in the always excellent Ulster Museum, one treasure of the world, and one which should remain unfettered. This institution is great anyway, consistently in exhibitions and beyond description even in that which is constant, a type of great which would only evidently be sullied by such interference.

  • Observer

    Regarding spending money where it does not seem to be needed when neither funds nor any actions have been forthcoming for proper cultural considerations it is worth pointing out that the situation is worse than commented on here and in the entry of last month on the new Lyric Theatre proposal.
    Not only do these announcements of putting something frilly where there is something stable, even instead of what is stable, for really lots and lots of monetary notes come up blind without public warning or solicitation, it has not even been reported if the proper arts buildings considerations which should be needed have been undertaken or even proposed. (The Arts Council should use internet message boards such as this and others and an Arts Council-public communication forum, and should now be soliciting public opinions.)
    This means, considering that there is considered the possibility of a regular arts life in the near future though all the indications are to the opposite of this, though at considerable expense there will yet be some arts housing, the existing facilities should be seriously considered and improvements made, thus ensuring a very good class of arts provision offered of the buildings we have at a reasonable and justifiable costs. There is no time, no remotely reasonable grounding, not even, it seems very clearly even the tiniest leeway from funding considerations nor any possible justification at all for the splaying of new buildings over old ones, and aside from the issue of whether they are already appreciated and identified with especially, within the province and further afield, this is chronic management and what financial demerit is.
    This is where any remotely proper body would have started. There is not such an entity here it does seem.
    But where repairs and delicate extensions to Belfast’s only serious repertory theatre have been cast aside, bypassing the full concerns of the Arts Council and City Council arts department, and a very top level museum with galleries is to lose a lot of its priceless character it seems in reworkings for no discernable benefit and surely a gutting to those who love it so much, other considerations are also being hidden.
    These are very important, where a new theatre building rather than properly considered extension and repair and pertublingly inexplicable museum refits (rather than simple relaxation of those in power with respect to this lovely edifice) aren’t even relevant. But should there be a real council anywhere, one shouldn’t think it is relaxing they ought to be doing.
    The considerations to the existing cultural housing to a potential cultural ecosystem which need to take place are if the main hall within the Spires centre and the small room, a talks and recital venue potentially, need accoustic, theatrical, popular show and serious event lighting and set use facilitation. Does the Whitla Hall need accoustic improvement? And other venues? And how could the usability of churches and church halls within the central district and environs be improved or new civic spaces offered from amongst these, and other spaces such as the halls of the Brunswick Street BIFHE building or old College of Business Studies? How much improvement does the Civic Arts theatre need along these lines to be reopened it has been asked? Can the Old Polytechnic building be preserved and used in part for the arts as it belongs to the state thus far? This is the most basic and essential element of a real system analysis of the performative (and visual) arts housing amenity of the city, and where a good number of future events are foreseen at all to be regularly forthcoming, and consistently so, and as I read it appears there is hardly even the funding for the few arts events which do go on here now, a systems analyst would not even consider the mad “ditch” decisions of recent weeks and months.
    (Link:
    Passing Queens’ Dining Hall, I used often to think it was ripe to be used as a small scale cultural venue in the evenings, and it is used three weeks or slightly more in the year during festivals, but I suppose what on earth would go on in here when every other hall and building lies unused just about every night of nearly every week of the year, excepting the Ulster Hall though this yet remained unused most nights before its redevelopment closure, and the Waterfront Hall remains without many serious or adult events. A good indication of the health of this city’s cultural life might, be I used to think, as regeneration and natural cultural improvement were expected as a matter of course, that even the rooms and halls of the university main building should be made over to cultural events some nights of the weeks. Perhaps this is a good indication for any city, this gauge in other British cities usually shows that these spaces are sometimes used. But in Belfast, the actual city performing spaces, those of the university considered normally civic, the Whitla and Elmwood Halls, and other city civic venues themselves are hardly trodden in during most of the year.
    Once again it is important to note that it is not clear at first both just how bad the situation is and how destructive the actions of the council and Arts Council are here, consistently. This link shows a both a fine recently restored Belfast building, and a potential space for performance in the city which is not used again despite the attention given and money spent.
    http://freespace.virgin.net/rita.uahs/ChristChurch.html

    It seems there are no plans for culture in this old church regularly. Further symbolic of the lack of proper attention of the councils is the report at the end of this link of what is a seemingly ongoing policy of destruction along with what is largely token redevelopment.
    I should love to ask them has it been considered by the councils, envisaging the possibility of no development at all within the next seven or ten years to the actual existence of a regular arts life, has it been appreciated that this improvement provides a lovely space for amateur ensembles from within and without the city, and particularly, significantly, visiting musicians, and is anything being done to attract visiting chamber groups of any status, amateur and professional?

  • Observer

    The first link in the comment above beginning “Regarding money spending” was ommitted.
    It is:

    http://www.artscouncil-ni.org/news/2004/new22122004.htm

  • G.M.C.

    Here is a normal analysis of the situation.
    There are two clear elements in this situation.

    Firstly, the government needs to increase serious arts funding in Northern Ireland as the visitable arts are below an acceptable level for any peace time period within a European regional capital city. This just cannot get worse, and whatever else is required than government funding, these requirements very necessary as well, there simply cannot be a decrease in the government’s arts funding here. And it must be brought up to equal the level of funding in England, with quick growth substantial extra funding required for a society whose cultural life has been stalled through decades of social abnormality. Such might allow for a regular cultural life which inspires in its existence rather than embarrasses, such that artists and business and commercial enterprises can allow the arts then to develop beyond, as hoped, the partly, or more hopefully, engagingly respectable.

    Secondly, the people in the arts must show that they are financially and workably aware in terms of real life and systems of life and working. To me, it seems odd and then distraught making to read in the link at the top of this page that the staff of the Lyric Theatre see they are in dire straits having to make cuts, shows and actors, in the same breath nearly as speaking of 12 millions pounds for a new theatre building only, and not productions. This is irrational, and I don’t see that such an attitude will be considered deservant of more funding by the government. These arts bodies simply shouldn’t act in a theatrical way like this where a very good facility to see them perform exists, they are in a precarious financial position, and their moves would make the position much more precarious if not disastrous. And here if the artists companies are to be a success, as it seems they believe they have achieved, this would mean that they are putting themselves in a position, having used very scarce funding, where we will not see them as much in the future. This is one of only two serious arts venues or companies in the city where events occur more often than once every week or even less, the other a studio theatre and small general arts venue. The Ulster Orchestra play usually every week during over half of the year.

    The Arts Council minister on the article on the arts council link on this page highlights that there is no more money available now or which
    has been communicated is to be available and not even money presently, and the last exercise was to make cuts.

    This is a very depressing report. The minister speaks of a seeming inability in “finding the resources to meet the [bottom level] operational costs of these facilities” of today’s region,
    and that it will be “increasingly difficult to provide the necessary financial support to meet curent demand, let alone redress the underlying need”. And, it should be added, let alone fund the upkeep of new buildings which would be swallowing up the arts budget totally. Prospective slightly bigger facilities will require more money than this yet. At least the minister appreciates that there is a fundamental and base-level need for arts improvement and that this is not at all really in the conceptual category of normal city development and growth, but would be part of what is basically expected in the most necessary sense for a settlement (speaking of Belfast). I see that the decision makers of the theatre are not making themselves popular with arts audiences in the coming years, even perhaps in being seen to restrict the diversity of what is to be expected on offer in the arts in gross financial mis-recognition. At the very least they should take care of themselves and do so wisely and not rashly.

    I don’t know how any money could be unwisely used in the light of this blatant reality report, with no seeming answers yet or even in the coming future. It seems in this situation that the arts here must develop also in conjuction with private funding, and I mean especially new arts, as there is little to persuade people to dip their toes as things are. It seems more like a very sore head. Although it has been said before in other parts of the world it really must be a new era for artisans in terms of survival, identity and funding I believe that artists must appreciate this in this province in order to exist and survive today. It is just a new set of conditions.

    All that pundits such as I can see is that the very bad financial situation of the Lyric Theatre and associated artists and then the terribly rash and it seems mentally challenged move to demand a new theatre, means that the arts minister’s depressing truth will most likely only become crushingly truer, and more pronounced, and truer in years to come, and the Lyric company’s experience will only be the beginning. This may be the situation and it may even be compounded if the artists show little signs of being able to appreciate their existence and importance in the decisions they make. There is no example from the only professionl performing artists here to those especially younger performers and interested persons.

    Perhaps the recent new Lyric designs are for the architecture galleries in Belfast, unless the situation is part of an unhuman and humanly unrecognising stand-off in the realms of unreality, and we haven’t at all got the right people even producing in the arts. Then the arts will slow hence even further, both unimaginably and yet, it seems, evidently. This is pleasing no-one.

  • G.M.C.

    My post mentioning Christ Church was mistaken on the point as to this restored building’s possible use as a venue as it is today. It is used totally as classrooms by RBAI, and these are with computing fixtures. I was directed to the site by a listing from I think a few years ago of a Belfast Festival at Queen’s event in the church. The photos towards the end of the web page are of the interior of the building before restoration. It seems there is great credit due to the Ulster Architectural Heritage Association in persudaing the prominent city centre school not to demolish the old church building.

    As the school were keen to do this without questioning it seems with the very attractive historical building of this city which was beside this, a great asset of Belfast I remember very clearly, and part of the school’s attractive facilities, the full wisdom of the UAHS is visible in the city in this building today.

    It seems tragic that the society were unable to save this building, and it is not mentioned if there was no notification, and one would have assumed this building, not to mention the church would have been protected. Does this happen in this city? I lived for a few years in the small capital of Scotland where I went to study where, along with the protection of the many notable buildings, residents of appartments of miles and miles of grey and sometimes sand, sometimes reddish Georgian blocks are not able to add double glazing to their residences or alter them in any small way without permission from the council.

    Yet there are other buildings I hear of which the UAHS miss, a reasonably expectable occurrence reasonably often, and there seems to be no one interested in protecting recent architectural heritage, and no one architecturally appointed mindful of the value of the Lyric Theatre.

  • G.M.C.

    In case of confusion on this serious topic,

    G.M.C. is an alias of OBSERVER.

    The messages are by the same author where those expressing one of the few relevant points were written for other blog pages and entered here quickly.