Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Mac centre 'elitist' charge not a reflection of Belfast's newest arts hub

Martin Lynch
Martin Lynch

Accusing the Belfast Metropolitan Arts Centre of being elitist is a cheap shot.

In this case, a playwright with a history of complaints about theatres and galleries has levelled the accusation that the newest arts hub in Belfast is elitist and middle class.

The Mac was conceived by DCAL, the Arts Council, DSD and Belfast City Council as a centre of artistic excellence with new opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to create and enjoy outstanding art made outside and within Northern Ireland.

A significant result of this would be the economic regeneration of a run-down part of the city centre.

The Mac has delivered in spades since opening two years ago. Its presence in the Cathedral Quarter has given rise to dozens of businesses, restaurants and bars creating jobs and sustainability in the area, two factors which the northern section of the city centre badly needed.

Martin Lynch (below) may like to think of himself as a working-class hero but regular feedback from Mac customers and community partners show his views are not an accurate reflection of the kind of theatre working-class people like.

What kind of theatre would that be anyway? Does Martin think that working-class people don't enjoy cutting-edge art? Because nobody in the Mac thinks that.

One of Belfast's favourite comic actors, Alan McKee, is baffled by Martin Lynch's assertion.

"For anyone to suggest that working-class people need to be presented with work that is 'for' them is patronising in the extreme. Good work is good work, full stop, and the Mac produces good work," he says.

Martin Lynch also says the Mac ignores local productions. Yet Emma Jordan of Belfast-based Prime Cut Productions says this is simply not the case.

"The Mac has programmed practically every single independent company since its inception two years ago. It has provided a home in Belfast for Northern Irish independent theatre and it has helped many of us fulfil artistic ambitions which would not have been realised without its trailblazing vision."

Martin Lynch says the Mac is populated only by a young, trendy, south Belfast clientele. One of the participants in north Belfast's Lighthouse project had this to say: "My name is Sam. I am from the Shankill and I'm part of a cross-community men's group. We have a project on suicide awareness. We have had a good men's group on at the Mac and we come from working-class backgrounds from all sides of the community. Any plays we attended were by local actors and actresses. We are all regular visitors of the Mac."

The middle-class tag just doesn't stack up, nor does the elitist charge.

Martin Lynch has a right to criticise what he has determined as the middle-class associations of the arts, whatever that means.

But he should remind himself that he is the darling of the theatre-going classes himself and has benefited over the years from support from the Arts Council.

He should take a look at who supported him throughout his career. The Mac has created a whole new world of opportunities for everyone.

  • Joris Minne is a former chairman of the Mac

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