Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's Metropolitan Arts Centre chief tells MLAs: we work for whole city

Arts boss rejects claims of elitism

By Adrian Rutherford

Belfast's Metropolitan Arts Centre has strongly rejected criticism that it is elitist, saying it reaches out to as wide an audience as possible.

Mac chief executive Anne McReynolds said claims that some sections of the community feel excluded from the arts were taken seriously.

But she insisted that delivering to as many people as possible was a priority for the venue.

Ms McReynolds' comments came during the latest stage of a Stormont inquiry into inclusion in the arts.

The committee for culture, arts and leisure is examining claims that working-class people, particularly in the Protestant community, feel excluded by arts venues.

Last month playwright Martin Lynch singled out the Mac for criticism, claiming it was elitist and ignored grassroots talent in favour of "trendy" cross-channel works.

However, Ms McReynolds rejected that accusation.

"We take seriously the fact that too many people in Northern Ireland think the arts are not for them," she told the committee.

"Our artistic programmes and learning and participation projects in schools and communities, with young people and families, have been designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience while always striving to be excellent."

She said the Mac had a responsibility to improve people's lives.

"We don't mean only some people of a certain income bracket, or a certain skin tone, or a certain religious background... we mean everybody," she added.

The Mac's learning and participation officer, Ciaran McQuillan, said it had been proactive in involving communities in its work.

"Since opening the Mac has been fully committed to engaging working-class communities directly and having the broadest range of people using the Mac on a daily basis," he said.

The committee also heard from Roger Courtney, who founded what is now the Crescent Arts Centre and is tasked with developing a strategy for the arts in east Belfast.

Mr Courtney said that despite producing some of Northern Ireland's greatest writers, including CS Lewis and Forest Reid, the east was being left behind when it came to arts expenditure.

"It is clear that there have been huge developments in the arts in Belfast, with the Mac, the Crescent, the Baby Grand at the Opera House, Cultúrlann and the Lyric," he said.

"However, it is also clear that, to date, east Belfast had seen limited benefit from these major developments.

"There is no theatre or dedicated arts centre or venue in east Belfast, and despite having a population of almost 100,000, only 4% of Belfast's art budget goes into east Belfast."

The committee heard that although 21% of Belfast households book at least one arts event a year, there were big variances between inner east Belfast areas such as Woodstock (14%) and Ballymacarrett (13%), and wealthier areas such as Stormont (37%) and Ravenhill (35%).

However, Mr Courtney rejected claims that east Belfast was a "cultural wasteland".

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