With their abundance in media savvy skills, we should all be aware by now that The Old Musuem Arts Centre is on schedule to re-open in spectacular style early next year — under the new name, The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre).
When Hollywood star Meryl Streep championed one of the centre’s fundraising receptions last year, glam, glitz and sparkle may have appeared to some, to overshadow the gallery’s ethos of arts for all.
South Belfast woman Meta Burns who began volunteering at The OMAC back in 1998 after losing her husband, is an illuminating and heartfelt example of the MAC’s ability to grasp local people and whisk them along on its bold journey to provide the country with world class arts.
Art was always around Meta growing up. Born on the Grosvenor Road and moving to the Lisburn Road area while she was still quite young, she spent her childhood and school days “absolutely carefree”.
She remembers: “I went to Durham Street Primary School, which has been demolished now of course. It had belonged to the Christ Church building on College Square North, and it was a super school. Life on those streets then was busy with people, not like now. School was also different from today — we had a great social life at school and there were none of the pressures and restrictions that children have to face today. A lot of effort was put in to enjoying ourselves!
“At school, we would perform plays and sing-songs ourselves, not for any purpose, not for an audience, just for ourselves. I was very much into drama as a child and took part in a number of these types of school plays.
“The Botanic Gardens were a play area for us and I don’t remember seeing any wardens about the park. Like I say, life wasn’t like that then. We did love going to the Museum to see the Mummy.
“My mum and my dad loved to sing and we always had a piano in the house. Growing up, sing-song parties at home were the norm. My mother took me to the Ulster Hall for the first time when I was 12 to see two pianists play. I very much enjoyed going to concerts — going to the Opera House and Grand Theatre were all part of growing up.
“I went straight from school to work in a printing company, a company my grandfather worked in. That’s where I met my husband James, he asked me out on a date. You didn’t meet boys in clubs like you do now, it was either in churches or at work. We went to the Ritz cinema, which was a very fancy establishment that had a restaurant with silver service. It’s been demolished too, and it’s now the Jury’s Hotel. Oh but it was big time then, quite an occassion to go there! Kids today have so much more choice than we had.”
Meta and James “went together for quite some time” before they got married. They moved to Chicago in the US and Meta made sure she kept up her love of arts by visiting all the theatre shows, museums and galleries.
Returning to Belfast years later, life continued for the couple as normal, until sadly in 1997, James passed away.
Meta said: “I really didn’t know what to do with myself; my children had grown up and so I was at a bit of a loss.
“I headed down to CSV on Great Victoria Street and told them my interest in theatre and music. That’s when they told me about the opportunity at OMAC and so I went along to an interview and that went well. They were looking for someone to help in the coffee shop when there was a show on — just making coffee and washing dishes.
“One of the benefits of being a volunteer is that we would have the opportunity to see a play, and we often tossed a coin to see which one of us would go.
“It was great fun, I met so many friends, you really get to meet some lovely people when you volunteer. It was great to be working with somebody different every week.
“We were all sad to leave the old building when the work began on the new one, we had loved it so much. But what is happening with the new development is absolutely amazing and I feel so lucky to be a part of it. It’s such an amazing move and for me, a wonderful opportunity.
“Volunteering with The MAC has been wonderful experience for me to see so much local talent in their theatre productions — it is very much a community theatre.”
Asking Meta what volunteering has meant to her is pointless question as you can hear the passion in her voice. “Everyone should volunteer,” she says. “Anybody over 50 should be doing this — what’s stopping you? It’s never too late to have a go.”
Volunteer Now’s ‘Unlocking Potential Project’ has teamed up with The MAC.
In a bid to sign up more volunteers, a taster session at the MAC is taking place on Wednesday, August 17, from 10am-4pm.
The ‘One Good Reason’ taster day is free of charge and will provide people with a unique opportunity to experience the range of exciting volunteer roles that The MAC will have to offer.
From ‘Meet and Greeters’ and gallery navigators to workshop support volunteers and ushers, participants will get an insight into the roles essential to making the theatre and gallery function.
Curator skills and a creative arts workshop will also teach volunteers how to study an exhibition and analyse art work.
There will also be a chance to talk to existing volunteers on the day and everyone will be made very welcome, whether they come along by themselves, with a partner or friend.
This One Good Reason Taster Day is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies. To book your place at the MAC volunteering day please contact Helen Connolly on 02890200858 or email Helen.Connolly@volunteernow.co.uk