Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Many in east and west Belfast stick to own areas for arts, inquiry told

Actors Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon in a scene from The Painkiller by Francis Verber,
which was staged at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in 2011
Actors Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon in a scene from The Painkiller by Francis Verber, which was staged at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in 2011

Many people in east and west Belfast will not leave their own areas to attend arts and culture events, a Stormont inquiry has been told.

The Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee has been investigating claims that working-class communities in particular feel excluded from the arts in Northern Ireland.

Roger Courtney of the East Belfast Partnership told MLAs: "The problem is that a lot of people in working-class east Belfast will not cross the bridge and, therefore, do not access venues that are not in east Belfast. It is a shame, but it is the truth".

The DUP's William Humphrey – whose criticism of theatres, like the new Mac and recently refurbished Lyric, as elitist helped launch the inquiry – asked Mr Courtney why he argued that "people in disadvantaged areas... find it most difficult to contemplate going to anything over the bridge".

Mr Courtney added: "There is a sense that people are comfortable in an area that they feel is their own. It is a very Northern Ireland thing that people, therefore, feel uncomfortable and potentially under threat being in an area that is not their own."

Sinn Fein MLA Rosaleen McCorley said: "I know from my experience in west Belfast that there are people who go to plays during the festival when they are on locally, but they do not really want to go outside west Belfast.

"They do not want to go to the Lyric or the Mac for whatever reason, and that is their choice."

Ali Fitzgibbon, a representative from Young at Art and the Belfast Children's Festival, argued that theatres in Northern Ireland were using subsidies to offset the cost of tickets.

Mr Humphrey also asked if there was scope for private companies to subsidise ticket or production costs that would allow money to be transferred to reducing ticket costs.

Lyric chief executive Ciaran McAuley replied that while there were "small partnerships... the difficulty is getting it at any large level".

He added: "All companies are finding it difficult at the moment. What they are prepared to fund is at a low level and is often just a one-off or will only happen once or twice."

Both the Lyric and the Mac have strongly rejected Mr Humphrey's claims that they and other venues are not doing enough to reach out to working-class people.

Mac chief executive Anne McReynolds said: "The whole ethos of the Mac is built on inclusivity. Our audience data shows that ticket buyers at the Mac include a wide cross-section of customers from Belfast and greater Belfast communities."

And the Lyric said nearly 2,000 households in the North Belfast constituency had attended the Lyric since it reopened in 2011.

Their comments came after Mr Humphrey said they had little to offer people living in areas like Ballygomartin or Ballymurphy.

Background

A study two years ago said the average price of a theatre ticket in Northern Ireland was £14.88.

The research, by the NI Theatre Association, said 5m tickets were sold in 2011.

The report said the price was less than the cost of a ticket to a Belfast Giants game and lower than the average price across the UK.

A breakdown of audiences included better-off families at 14%; 'ageing suburbanites' at 20%; and younger 'nest makers' at 11%.

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