Martin Lynch: Belfast's Metropolitan Arts Centre (Mac) is elitist and out of touch
"I think there is an elitist smell that comes off the building"
Published 28/05/2014 | 02:30
A leading playwright has launched a scathing attack on one of Northern Ireland's flagship arts venues, branding it elitist and out of touch.
Martin Lynch accused Belfast's Metropolitan Arts Centre – better known as the Mac – of middle-class snobbery and having more interest in hosting the latest trendy plays from Edinburgh or London than backing local talent.
"I think it is elitist. I think there is an elitist smell that comes off the building," he told a Stormont inquiry into working-class communities' inclusion in the arts.
"I think there is a middle-class ethos about the place that doesn't make it particularly comfortable or a warm house for working people."
He also accused the Mac of snubbing local talent for "trendy" cross-channel offerings.
"In my own personal dealings with them they don't want too many working-class plays in the building," he added.
"They like the latest trendy thing from Edinburgh or London and they like nice people to come into the Mac."
The writer of The History of the Troubles According to My Da added: "Most of the stuff that goes on at the Mac attracts the young, trendy, middle-class kid from up in south Belfast who goes down to the Mac and sees edgy arts activity.
"Does it attract our Mary who lives in Upper Meadow Street? No. Does it attract our Noleen who lives in Atlantic Avenue? No.
"Those are facts that speak for themselves."
He was giving evidence at the latest stage of an inquiry by the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure into claims that working-class people, particularly in the Protestant community, feel excluded by arts venues.
The Mac's chief executive Anne McReynolds said she had not been aware that Mr Lynch was to give evidence to the committee and had not had time to fully digest what he said. "But we reject any suggestion that we have not been fully inclusive in our arts, drama and music programmes," she said.
"We do not recognise Martin Lynch's description of the Mac.
"While it's all in a day's work for arts centres to come in for criticism, the accusations Martin has levelled at the Mac about inclusivity and elitism are totally contradicted by the reality of our work."
Mr Lynch, who has worked in the arts for the past three decades and written more than 30 plays, said access was still limited to a small fraction of the population in places like north Belfast where he now lives.
"In places like where I come from, the vast majority – like 90-odd per cent – don't go anywhere near the arts except in exceptional circumstances, if at all," he said.
Mr Lynch said there was an onus on organisations such as the Mac, Ulster Orchestra and Lyric Theatre – all of whom receive £1m-plus funding every year – to improve their reach.
"The organisations who get public funding should be doing more," he added.
Mr Lynch singled out the Mac, which opened two years ago, for his most hard-hitting criticism.
The £18m building is located in St Anne's Square, in the cultural heart of Belfast, and includes two theatres and three art galleries.
Mr Lynch said he was bitterly disappointed by the Mac's contribution to the local arts sector.
"I thought it was going to be a huge contribution to a much wider access to the arts in Belfast on a very broad level," he added.
"My experience in working with them over the last two to three years has been extremely disappointing.
"I don't accept that the Mac has a wide enough approach to the arts."
Mr Lynch said a "proper audit" of the Mac's output was needed.
"I do think the Arts Council and DCAL between them would do a great service to the people of Belfast if they made sure such a facility was serving all the people of Belfast."
Martin Lynch is best known for plays such as The History of the Troubles According to My Da, The Titanic Boys, The Chronicles of Long Kesh and Dancing Shoes: The George Best Story.
Born into a docker's family in Gilnahirk, east Belfast, in 1950, he left school at 15 and became a cloth cutter until 1969. He began writing plays and was offered a place at the Lyric Theatre as writer in residence.