ArtBeat: Do the arts matter to Stormont?

Notes and musings from the arts scene, by Jane Hardy

It's not entirely clear how much the arts matters to Stormont, though a hustings event at The MAC attempted to get some answers.
Jane Hardy

POLITICIANS do politics. And artists, happily and when they have the money, do art. But there was something a little depressing about The MAC's excellent 'Do the Arts Matter to Stormont?' pre-election hustings discussion.

Kellie Armstrong, the Alliance politician, was honest enough to say the answer was No.

What I found tedious was the narrow, utilitarian definition of the arts on offer from the panel. Also, I guess, the fact that Sinn Féin hadn't fielded anybody (despite holding the culture brief in the Department for Communities).

Then there was the jargon, always used to defend the indefensible. For example, the SDLP's Matthew O'Toole talked of 'instrumentalism'... I didn't know what it meant either, but I Googled it and it means culture used to serve other societal needs, i.e. help carers care, schoolchildren get a good start, mentally unwell people feel a bit better.

The issues were well teased out though, in this event masterminded by The MAC's altruistic CEO Anne McReynolds, determined to help colleagues in the arts sector even though her organisation gets one of the biggest funding pots.

There was genuine anger in the stalls with one woman saying after 30 years she didn't want to justify her work any more. Declan Lawn, co-writer of the topical-again drama The Salisbury Poisonings, hosted proceedings; Clare Bailey (Green Party) was passionate, the DUP proffered councillor and policy researcher George Dorrian, and Mike Nesbitt (UUP and former TV bod) was suave, but I think the arts have to be allowed to fail sometimes, not tick all the boxes. We regroup in June.

Eire the Women's War by Victoria Gleason and Kathleen McGrath had a reading at the Black Box last week. Gleason says: "I became interested partly after my last conversation with Roma Tomelty on the forgotten role of women in Irish history."

It contains this telling line from 1916 freedom fighter Elizabeth O'Farrell "The small feet in the photograph you'll see behind Pearse's surrender... are mine. I, of course, being a woman, was hidden from view."

Gleason says she hopes a full production will feature in the Féile.

Barry Humphries - the James Joyce award winner in 2009 from UCD, expert on surrealism, aka Dame Edna Everage and Ozzie cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson - subverted my favourite lazy weekend show, Saturday Kitchen, last week, saying if his new tour goes well, there will be slight nudity but "if it goes badly, total nudity".

On Great British Menu, Chris McClurg from Co Down whipped up a winning pudding. It was a super-calorific trifle, made with Copeland Gin from Donaghadee, in tribute to Lisa McGee's happily returning Derry Girls (which has also been mentioned on The Simpsons - no higher accolade, frankly). It referenced Ma's borrowing of 'the big bowl'. Food as art? Oh yes.

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