Belfast Telegraph

Row over DUP claims Northern Ireland arts too elitist

By Noel McAdam

Stormont MLAs are to hold an inquiry into the alleged exclusion of working class communities from the arts.

The decision by the culture, arts and leisure committee comes after a DUP man claimed Belfast theatres such as the Lyric and the Mac had "little to offer" people living in areas like Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy or Ballymacarrett.

North Belfast MLA William Humphrey said: "The Protestant working class unionist community see their culture as culture, and the concept of 'the arts' is not something which the Protestant working class community in this city buys into at any great level."

The go-ahead for a formal inquiry flies in the face of the opinion of Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, although it has been defended by the committee chair Michelle McIlveen, who is also a DUP member.

"The committee recognises that initiatives to maximise the inclusion of working class communities in the arts have already been implemented, many of which have been very successful," Mrs McIlveen said.

"But (we are) concerned that more needs to be done to ensure that working class communities here have better access to the arts."

The committee is calling on arts venues, organisations, groups and individuals to provide examples of "best practice" and discuss strategies to widen access and inclusion.

Mrs McIlveen added: "The arts are a central part of the committee's remit and our decision to hold this inquiry reflects that.

"Participation in the arts can provide tremendous benefits and we believe that all communities should be provided with equal opportunity to get involved."

Ms Ni Chuilin hit back at Mr Humphrey's criticism. She said: "I have been to the Mac and the Lyric and they are trying their best to outreach to communities that have been hard to reach in the past.

"They are trying not to do that in a patronising and piecemeal way; they are genuinely involved in relationships."

Mac chief executive Anne McReynolds also rejected the accusation and 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."

A Lyric statement said: "Nearly 2,000 households in the Belfast North constituency have attended the Lyric since it reopened in 2011."

The Lyric also highlighted its discount offers for community groups and the unemployed.

BACKGROUND

Top Belfast theatres the Lyric and the Mac were accused of having "little to offer" Protestant working class communities who do not "buy into" the arts.

But Sinn Fein Culture and Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin rejected the attack from the DUP's William Humphrey, and argued that both the Lyric and the Mac are trying to "reach out".

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