Belfast Telegraph

'Big Mervyn' backs campaign for tax breaks in arts

By Matthew McCreary

One of Northern Ireland's leading local actors has called for tax breaks to help tackle financial hardship for those working in the arts sector here.

BJ Hogg, well known for playing Big Mervyn in hit television show Give My Head Peace, has also urged Northern Ireland's Executive to heed calls for more money to be allocated to the arts sector under the recently-announced draft budget, which is due to be finalised in the new year.

" We don't spend as much as places like Wales or Scotland on the arts but what little we do spend goes a pretty good way," he said.

"If we don't have it where else are actors going to learn their trade?

" Without funding there's no help out there. Everybody's trying to get corporate backing, to work hand in hand with business.

"But at the very grassroots level it needs that kick-start, that support for both the local companies and the local theatres."

A new Keep Our Arts Alive campaign launched recently has already attracted a huge following from arts professionals and supporters in the province, culminating in a march on Stormont by scores of performers earlier this month.

"If Mr Poots and his other ministers get together and really push on the government for a tax break for all the performing arts and take VAT off theatre seats I guarantee theatres would be full," Mr Hogg, who has starred in numerous locally-based films, including Titanic Town and Mickybo & Me, as well as the recently released Richard Attenborough movie Closing the Ring, said.

He is also due to star alongside Bill Murray next year in the upcoming feature City of Ember, which has been filmed recently in Belfast.

" We're coming out of thirty years of darkness. The one thing we have going for us is that we are great storytellers and why not get out there now that it's easier to stand up and be proud of where you're from, warts and all?" he said.

"It's good to see films coming in on a regular basis and bringing big bucks with them.

"Production companies are coming who wouldn't have thought of Northern Ireland as a base before, which is phenomenal, because the filter-down of money from that is in the millions. "

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