Having attended several excellent shows in Belfast over the festive period, it was encouraging to see that the Executive’s disdainful treatment of the arts sector last year had not completely extinguished the talent or will of those involved in this fundamental component of society.
That being said, while the last minute reversal of the most extreme cuts by the Culture Minister may have provided some temporary relief, the coming year is still set to be extremely difficult for even our most established and respected arts organisations, such as the Lyric Theatre and Grand Opera House.
The approximate 10% cut in funding will drastically impact jobs, number and scope of performances and opportunities for our most marginalised communities. I have participated in an arts programme to adults with disabilities and witnessing first-hand the empowering effect it had on their lives so it baffles me as to why the government continue to make an easy target of the sector. The education and outreach activities provided by these organisations is one of the simplest and most effective ways of dealing with social exclusion, community regeneration and integration that are supposedly high priorities for our government. Even our fledgling tourism industry will be hurt by the cancellation of the Tourism Events Fund impacting our most successful festivals.
If Northern Ireland wants to be recognised as a forward-thinking and dynamic society, the arts need to be granted recognition as an integral component to be invested in, not a subsidised luxury. The people that seek to develop it on a voluntary, over-worked or under-paid basis cannot continue to be exploited for their dedication. The arts’ ability to entertain, educate, inspire and encourage healthy debate can undoubtedly help our country to reach its full potential.
East Belfast Green Party