Why it's vital not to cut arts funding, by Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody
Gary Lightbody will take to the stage at a cross-community centre for culture and arts in north Belfast tomorrow and has said it is vital for Northern Ireland's future that funding is kept in place to bridge the political divide.
Snow Patrol will star with an acoustic set at Other Voices 2019 at the Duncairn Centre despite being forced to cancel stadium gigs on their European tour this week after lead guitarist Nathan Connolly injured his hand.
And the 42-year-old musician is a firm believer that the power of music can bring people together as the country continues to embrace peace and strives to consign division to the history books.
"One hundred percent, absolutely. You do kind of hear all the time about arts funding getting cut and education funding getting cut and things that aren't study-based in schools getting cut, sports and drama and music and arts," Gary said.
"And you think, sure we need to prepare our kids, the next generation coming through, with English and maths and science, of course we do.
"But we also need to give them a life, to have fun, to experience the joy that arts and music and sports and all these things can bring, the richness it can bring to your life.
"So as we cut these programmes from schools, as we cut these programmes from cross-community organisations - especially the cross-community organisations that are helping to bridge that gap between the segregation that still exists in 90% of the schools in Northern Ireland - Catholics are going to Catholic schools, Protestants are going to Protestant schools.
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"We need these programmes that can join these kids together so they see that we really are all individuals, but we are part of the same community, we are part of the same.
"We all have the same humanity, we all have the same hopes and fears, frustrations and joys in a lot of ways and you're not really different from somebody that lives a couple of streets away that happens to be Catholic when you're Protestant.
"So it's really important that we don't let that slip back any further than it already is."
Gary, who has been living back home in Bangor for 10 years now, said that music is such a leveller that it transcends religion, including in his own band.
He said: "Johnny McDaid is from a Catholic background, Jonny Quinn is from a mixed background, but religion doesn't come up in our daily life, it doesn't matter to us where anybody's from and a lot of young bands in Northern Ireland will feel exactly the same.
"I would imagine that a lot of bands getting together in Northern Ireland these days will probably not even know what religion somebody is, what background somebody has until maybe a conversation months after forming a band, until they go, 'right okay, you're from there are you!'
"Music brings people together without prejudice and it is an extraordinary uniting galvanising force."
It's that same belief which is the mantra of Ray Giffen, arts and events manager at Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts, which is hosting the Other Voices event from today through to Sunday.
Tomorrow afternoon, ahead of the acoustic performance by Snow Patrol, will be The Given Note, which will look at issues like how music can help to bring about reconciliation, celebrate diversity and also open up traditions.
Ray said: "We thought that we would use the arts as the perfect vehicle to promote positivity, co-operation, celebrate difference and diversity and, in fact, draw inspiration from it in our 21st century city.
"It's the power of music and hopefully inspiring people to go out and have a bit of belief that we can change things for the better for our children and future generations coming along.
"Difference shouldn't be something that causes hate or suspicion, difference should be embraced and it can be a source of inspiration, certainly creatively.
"There is this new-found optimism and this is something we can all unite behind. We're realistic that we can't break down these walls overnight but certainly the mental barriers.
"Geographical and physical barriers are harder to remove, but mental barriers can be in being able to share a space, share ideas and share opinions - that's what we're about."
Gary Lightbody believes that the changes in peace-time Northern Ireland have enabled the music industry here to flourish, which is why he was proud to have a support bill full of local bands at their triumphal Ward Park gig.
He said: "It's the most exciting time for Northern Irish music ever, the music scene is the most varied and robust that it's ever been.
"There's a lot of factors that go into that obviously, we've had mostly peaceful times for the last 20 years or so and it helps, it does help things to settle down.
"Ward Park was an example of just how strong the music scene is, the 11 bands we wanted and asked first all said 'yes'.
"That's kind of an extraordinary thing that I'll never forget, those bands, the trust that they put in us and they came with us on that journey, it meant a hell of a lot to us - it made the day extra special."
And another thing that made the day special was the surprise appearance of rock icon Bono - and Gary revealed more about their friendship and the sacrifice the U2 singer made to be there.
He said: "I don't know if I want to go into too many details about it, but I will say this - he already had plans for of May 25 and he changed those plans to be in Bangor, which we are immensely grateful for.
"He moved his whole calendar around to be there when I asked him and I don't think I'll be able to thank him as much as he needs to be thanked for that because it was such a big moment, but were very, very grateful."
For more information on Other Voices 2019, visit www.theduncairn.com