voluntary arts ireland

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Northern Ireland Politicians Talk Arts and Culture

The recent arts hustings event in Northern Ireland organised by Audiences NI, Arts & Business and Voluntary Arts Ireland saw the five main political parties begin to set out their policies in relation to arts and culture. With their policies only published the day before it gave a strong turn out from the arts community the opportunity to open up a positive dialogue with candidates seeking election.

The proceedings took the form of a panel discussion with questions and answers hosted by the talented BBC presenter Marie-Louise Muir. A provocation was provided by Declan McGonagle, one of the most influential figures to emerge from the arts scene in the north west, who said "It’s the economy that is broken in this society, not the culture," and called for a fundamental reworking of the relationship between the arts community and the politicians who make funding decisions - "we need to break the cycle of threat, cut, begging, and reprieve"

Although the event did not solve the very many challenges faced by the arts and cultural community there was a sense that an opportunity now exists to reframe the discussion and to engage politicians in a robust policy debate. A quick survey of the manifestos outlining the various policies the main political parties will promote if elected confirms that we are very much at the start of this debate. Policies still struggle to get away from partisan positions and neglect the need to provide access to cultural and creative activities as a fundamental entitlement for all citizens.

But make no mistake culture and the arts is definitely on the agenda. Why not engage with your candidates on the basis of their policy towards culture, arts and leisure – maybe we can move the debate on.

The main political party manifestos are available through the following links:

Alliance Party             http://www.allianceparty.org/
DUP                          http://www.mydup.com/efiles/DUP_Manifesto_2011/index.html#/28/
SDLP                        http://www.sdlp.ie/images/files/44339%20final%20low%20res2.pdf
Sinn Fein                    http://www.sinnfein.ie/files/AssemblyManifesto2011.pdf
UUP                          http://www.uup.org/index.php/jo-anne-dobson/item/389-campaign-story-3.html

Monday, 11 April 2011

Square Mile, Round Mile

It is still a little known fact that the City of London and the City of Derry/Londonderry are linked in a rather unique way. The current form of Derry/Londonderry with its still intact walls (one mile round) was not only built by money from London companies but is still owned by the Honourable The Irish Society - a committee of the Corporation of London established by Royal Charter in 1613. Relations between the square mile of the City of London and the round mile of Derry/Londonderry have very often been about trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. As the 400th anniversary of the relationship is fast approaching in 2013 it brings the shared histories into sharp focus.

Last week on the 07th and 8th of April 2011 Voluntary Arts Ireland helped host a visit by the Barbican Centre and the Honourable The Irish Society to look at shared programming, co-commissioning and knowledge exchange in the context of Derry/Londonderry's City of Culture year also in 2013. Louise Jeffrey's - Director of Programming, Sean Gregory - Director of Creative Learning, Catherine McGuinness - Board of Barbican and Deputy Governor of the Honourable The Irish Society, and Edward Montgomery - the Irish Society's local representative took a whirlwind tour around Derry's cultural, educational and creative organisations.

What struck me was the possibility to look at the City of Derry/Londonderry as an interconnected cultural cluster, a place where you could programme across spaces, landscape, art forms and themes, across voluntary, community and professional arts. The city as a whole is compact enough to create this dynamic. Within the city walls alone there are at least 7 arts venues alongside a huge range of organisations and creative businesses. If you add the soon to be developed cultural cluster at Ebrington Barracks - no longer needed for military purposes - which is going to be joined to the city walls across the River Foyle by a foot and cycle bridge, the heart of the city will be transformed into an engine of cultural activity. Even this is not the whole story. Community and voluntary arts organisations across the city region have been keeping communities together through the arts for decades and as well as the city centre focus there are hubs of artistic endeavour operating at the very core of local communities.

The very big challenge with this is of course how to make the local relationships strong and effective so that the cultural offer in Derry/Londonderry can operate as a whole, as individuals and as ad hoc partners for particular projects including working with international partners. In the end it is likely to be the people and the relationships that matter and it is in that space that the work is needed. My guess is that this is not a challenge that is unique to Derry/Londonderry. No doubt the City of London faces this too.

The concept of the Square Mile, Round Mile was first articulated by the brilliantly insightful Ian Ritchie of the City of London Festival, who has championed shared programming between the two cities for a number of years. How the City of Derry and the City of London shape this towards 2013 will be fascinating.