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/