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MLA David Hilditch: The public too busy to enjoy arts

By Noel McAdam

People are "just too busy" to take time for the arts, a DUP MLA has claimed as Stormont probes the "exclusion" of working-class communities from theatres and arts events.

David Hilditch argued that most people now lead such busy lives they have difficulty finding time for the theatre and other arts events - and even reading.

His assertion was based on Arts Council surveys showing time constraints are now a key factor. Council official Nóirín McKinney previously told the Stormont Culture and Arts committee: "Of the factors preventing adults from engaging in the arts between the 2004 and 2014 surveys, time constraints represent an increasingly prominent barrier.

"Difficulty in finding time has significantly increased from 27% to 41% in 2014. That seems to be a main barrier."

Mr Hilditch told the Belfast Telegraph: "It is not that people are not interested in the arts or would not like to be more fully involved.

"It is just that lifestyles have changed, everyone is incredibly busy and people cannot find the time."

His comments came after his DUP committee colleague William Humphrey argued theatres had "little to offer" working-class communities in areas like Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy or Ballymacarrett.

Mr Hilditch has now fuelled the debate, and argued: "The culture and arts committee is trying to drill down into the reasons for all of this."

Meanwhile, new research has shown the arts generated almost £20m in a year - equivalent to filling the new Ulster rugby stadium more than 70 times.

The Audiences NI organisation revealed its investigation of ticket sales had found more than 1.3 million tickets were bought across a range of outlets - and that, despite the recession, the total was increasing.

The review looked at ticket sales for arts events across 32 organisations, including the Millennium Forum in Londonderry, and Armagh's Market Place, as well as Belfast venues like the Mac, Lyric and Crescent, and festivals such as the Belfast Festival at Queen's, the Open House Festival in Bangor, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Féile an Phobail.

Margaret Henry of Audiences NI said: "1.3 million tickets is the same as filling the Ulster Rugby Kingspan stadium 72 times, and £20m equates to 33 million chocolate bars."

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