Community arts holds a unique place in the relationship between professional art making, community expression and arts and audience development. Community arts, a radical, empowering and transformative agent of change, is able to support the widest artistic and community developmental needs through programme and discourse, that illustrate, illuminate, educate and entertain. The inalienable human right to participate in the cultural life of our society is the bedrock of our determination to see the arts, in their fullest expression, be harnessed to support the needs of the widest possible interests in Northern Ireland, but particularly those on the margins, whose voice is sometimes hard to hear but whose need to be heard is all the more profound.
As a place apart, we have had more than our fair share of challenges. Those challenges may no longer be associated with the insecurity of sectarian conflict, but more with the precarious nature of the lives of so many. We all are now faced with the compounding effect of Brexit on the already straitened opportunities offered by the variety and constancy of austerity measures that London and indeed Stormont have brought to bear on our community. For those who have always struggled, things have become increasingly bleak – funding to our most vulnerable and economically least able is being lost day by day.
The barriers to participating in the cultural life of our place are becoming so great that we risk further generations of young people here, losing out on an experience and way of thinking that can have a transformative effect on educational attainment, health behaviours, general well-being, economic opportunity and better life chances. As an international leader in the wrong races – prescription drug use, or anti-depressant use, teenage suicide, lowest per capita investment in culture – we need to start making better cases for why the arts matter and how the arts and their connection to communities can transform our lives and our futures.
Our artists, teachers, dancers, poets and painters – our visual and theatre artists and practitioners – our song writers, authors, filmmakers and sculptors, dancers and dramaturgs, are brilliant, creative, generous, hard-working alchemists of transformation. They make ideas happen. Northern Ireland needs to make the right ideas happen – right now. The arts and creativity, can give us all the tools, not only to explore the challenges that there have always been here but to prepare ourselves, particularly our young people, for the challenges ahead. Turning ideas into reality is exactly what the arts bring.
So, let’s re-write the news and through The Monthly, find better ways to say why community arts can really make a difference and how the arts transform lives.