Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Theatres work hard, for arts sake

It is difficult to understand the criticism of the arts from DUP MLA William Humphrey. Looking at the arts through a very narrow prism he contends that the Protestant working class, in particular, doesn't buy in to things like the theatre.

And he wants the Lyric and the MAC theatres to engage in greater outreach to embrace the more disadvantaged areas of the city.

Yet, the two theatres can show extensive attempts to bring the arts to a wider audience on what is a relatively limited budget.

What they cannot do is force people through their doors. In Northern Ireland, some of our most prolific writers and actors come from what could be described as working-class backgrounds.

Social status should not define either participation in or love of the arts. Of course there are people who would not dream of going in to a theatre, just as there are many who would shun a sporting event or activities in their local community centre.

But that cannot be construed as a failure of the venue itself.

The danger of comments like those of Mr Humphrey is that the debate can swiftly degenerate to one where the ugly term, value for money, rears its head.

In government circles there is a great desire to tick boxes when determining budgets.

Are the arts inclusive? Do they deal with -- or even offer possible resolution of -- social issues? What is the return from the investment?

If these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily then subsidies are questioned. While it has to be accepted that there is no open cheque book, it is wrong to judge the arts in this way. The arts define us a cultured and civilised species.

They can be entertaining, provocative, self indulgent and even of poor quality, but they are vital to society.

At their best, the arts hold up a mirror to the community at large and reflect the human condition therein.

We should celebrate the arts simply for arts sake. And judging by his answers to this newspaper, maybe Mr Humphrey should get out more himself.

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