Belfast Telegraph

Arts chief blasts 'clueless' Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin

By Noel McAdam

A former Arts Council director has voiced anger towards Stormont Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin – accusing her of being clueless about her sector.

Philip Hammond claimed the Sinn Fein minister has "absolutely no notion of what is... or has been going on in the arts in Northern Ireland".

Writing on Facebook, the pianist, critic and composer said: "I despair for the future of the arts if they rest in the misconceived hands of such politicians."

It followed a response on the Culture NI website in which he highlighted how Government cuts were starting to hit the sector. They are affecting more than 37 organisations and events including the Grand Opera House, the Ulster Orchestra and Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Mr Hammond, who was a senior administrator at the Arts Council for more than a decade, said: "As an ex-arts administrator and a current artist, I continue to be appalled and frustrated by the lack of political awareness of the arts in Northern Ireland. Artists and arts organisations have bent over backwards to comply with what some may term the changing fads of political impositions on the arts – usually from people who have little or more likely no experience of the arts. We have done all that was requested – and where has it brought us?"

Then, in a Facebook post following a BBC Radio Ulster interview with Ms Ni Chuilin, he added: "I am outraged, shocked, disappointed, angry – and incredulous – that our fragile world is in the hands of a politician who clearly has absolutely no notion of what is going on in the arts in Northern Ireland, has no notion of what has been happening in the arts in Northern Ireland, and clearly has even less notion of what should be happening in the arts.

"Surely the Arts Council is the body best placed, most experienced and indeed legally entrusted to advise the politicians? Why is its hands tied to inept political leadership which is taking us to the very edge of disaster?"

There was no response to the comments from Ms Ni Chuilin's department, but earlier this year she told Stormont's culture committee: "Maybe we need to think a bit smarter about what money is there, what else we need to do and how we can get other sponsors and other investment in."

But she also argued that spending on the arts could bring about savings in health. "People are kept well by their participation in and access to the arts. It keeps people out of hospitals. It keeps people off waiting lists, because, when you are mentally well, you are physically well," she said.

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