The term 'community arts' has been around for over 30 years and will now be familiar to most people. Today, there is an impressive array of organisations throughout Northern Ireland which provide a variety of community arts projects.
Community art is essentially about enabling people from all communities to participate in enriching artistic and creative projects, develop original art works and, in so doing, find ways to benefit themselves and their communities.
This involves artists facilitating groups to express their talent and, indeed, understand how to do it again.
The exciting new merger between two leading community arts organisations - the Community Arts Forum (CAF) and New Belfast Community Arts Initiative (NBCAI) - began as a conversation between both organisations and their principal funder, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. It has now completed its work with the launch of the Community Arts Partnership www.comartspartner.org
By merging, the rebranded Community Arts Partnership will now offer the widest range of innovative workshops and projects in dance, drama, craft, sculpture, fashion, verbal arts and digital media to groups and schools across Northern Ireland and also take the lead as advocate and information-provider to the community arts sector.
As a new organisation with an ongoing commitment to championing community arts, we can also take a moment to reflect on this bigger shift, how community art is perceived and how to take it to the next level. These are deceptively simple questions, but require research and the fullest conversations if we are to improve participation and promote access to the arts across the north. Having the support of our principal funder, the Arts Council, among other funders, will further enable our mission. Many people still ask how they could even begin to access the arts, or tap into their own creativity. Another aim, therefore, is to reach out to communities who have always wanted to pursue an art project, but were unsure how to get started.
In these financially difficult times, it is also important for arts organisations that are publicly funded to demonstrate to both funders and the general public that we are good value for money.
We strive to enable dialogue and understanding through cross-community work and address difficult social issues, including racism, sectarianism and discrimination through our workshop programmes. As the expanded Community Arts Partnership, we will aim to enhance and promote participation in the arts to individuals regardless of abilities, traditions, ethnicities, backgrounds, age and sexual orientation.
Community Arts Partnership will continue to offer a platform for policy consultation and development, to refine and develop a more inclusive and wider reaching agenda, while, at the same time, promote new creative opportunities for artists, communities and individuals in collective processes and community arts practice.
In the face of financial crises, social exclusion and division, less money should never mean less creativity, because now more than ever, we need to be more creative.
Change can be an unwelcome force in our lives. But change is the force that community arts are built upon. It is what we support through this type of work every day. Everyone involved in community arts believes in positive change and we are working hard to advance new creative connections across Northern Ireland and, indeed, beyond.