Belfast Telegraph

Dan Gordon: Arts are a right not a luxury

Attacking meagre arts funding is unfair and unnecessary

By Dan Gordon

All week I've been listening to ecstatic children in the Lyric Theatre singing 'Let It Go' from the filum 'Frozen' before 'Sleeping Beauty' the family show even starts. I should let this next bit go, but I can't.

If I were a farmer I'd be complaining about Europe, the supermarkets and the weather. If I were a firefighter, a paramedic or a peeler I'd be gurning about understaffing, under resourcing and overwork. If I were a teacher it would be the lack of politicians who have a clue, the absence of integration, profusion of paperwork and uncertainty for 11-year-olds.

I'm none of those, I'm an actor. I pretend to be other people. I would like to gurn about that. During the week I noticed a bunch of snide snipes on social media putting the boot into the Arts Council. Almost everybody at some stage deserves a good boot up the backside (myself included) but this had the reek of an unjustified corner boy kicking.

The Arts Council has been running a campaign stressing the fact that we spend only 13p per person, per week on the arts here. In Wales it's 32p, in ROI it's 29p - that's 1/1000th or 0.1pc of government spend. The total amount of money spent on the arts budget in Northern Ireland would run the Health Service here for approximately one day, so it's a drop in the ocean.

The Wesleys' (snipes) on twitbookface were the classic Northern Ireland fayre. Beautifully crafted distractions - 'look at this parochial polaroid rather than the bigger picture'. It's like Derren Brown waving his hands in your face while he takes your watch, picks your pocket and steals your belt so your trousers fall down.

You know the type we specialise in - "should the #13pForTheArts not be spent on hospital waiting lists / more police officers / more books for schools".

On the face of it there is no contest - of course health, law and order and education are a priority. But, hang on, arts are a right not a luxury, it's globally accepted that arts are the lifeblood of a thriving society, generating creativity, confidence and community cohesion.

"How much did the Arts Council spend on Hospitably (sic) in the last 3yrs?" Another crushing blow to the 13p argument. The ACNI arts administrators up at MacNeice House on the Malone Road are obviously guzzling champers and jetting around in private planes.

Population surveys on usage of the arts in NI show that 70 per cent of people in most disadvantaged areas access the arts. It is a fact that everyone uses arts, from pre-school to those in care homes. There have been six cuts since 2011. Six. The budget is now less than £13m pa. There are single properties that regularly sell for twice that in London.

The smug stweetfighter used the boot again when they were on the ground with "So what cut would u accept? Nothing? & put the extra burden on schools / hospitals / policing?"

Back down the well-trodden path - comparing apples with coconuts. It's difficult to take when we have a government who don't want to be seen cutting welfare, charging for water, dealing with the past or making an actual decision.

We're too busy looking at 'gay' wedding cakes and twisting the law, anti-prostitution legislation that victimises prostitutes, destroying the education system and screwing up what little representation we have by ensuring the executive is unworkable. They're going to get Westminster to make the hard decisions and when elections come say a big boy did it.

Meanwhile the arts, the infrastructure and the people who participate suffer. Life without theatre, paintings, operas, orchestras, pantomimes, puppet shows, concerts, feis, bands, ceilidhs, dances, laughter and light is not what we deserve? it's easy to criticise, its so much harder to support, please don't let it go.

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