For art’s sake – time for Government to use a ‘loaded brush’

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Café Conor Restaurant, Stranmillis Belfast

 

I love any manifestation of the arts, music, literature, dance, sport – but I frequently ask myself – why do the authorities continue to take so much of this for granted and fail to elevate it to the level which it merits?

The late Oliver Nulty, a Dublin art dealer, shrewdly remarked once, ” The North produces the painters and Dublin promotes them.” That claim by Mr Nulty has stood up to scrutiny down the years. Were it not for the Irish Times weekly, so many of us would be starved of a working knowledge of the arts. It is the only newspaper on this island which seriously affords people of a creative disposition to commune with me as a reader. One cannot take the Belfast Telegraph seriously in its coverage of the arts.

The coverage of the arts is increasingly a luxury nowadays, though it does not have to be like this. A publication, a concert, a performance,  a movie is only as good as the content coming before a readership, audience etc.

People who are interested in the arts have a lust for more information. I recently attended an evening of poetry reading in the Ulster Hall. The place was packed. Lovers of poetry went to hear and see people of substance – people who read and write uniquely about every day happenings with which we can all connect.

Northern Ireland went ‘gaga’ over the MTV EMAs. Was there not an air of unreality attaching to this event? Why not be honest? How many of you genuinely connected with the content of that evening? If even a modicum of the hype surrounding the MTV awards were afforded to the efforts of so many struggling writers, musicians, composers, sportsmen, sculptors – Northern Ireland could culturally transform itself from within.

Thankfully we have in our midst people who are prepared to get up off  their bottoms to do something. They don’t wait for handouts. Several patrons of Belfast’s leading restaurants have taken the bull by the horns and put original art on their walls.

Manus McConn and William Clarke who own Café Conor Restaurant had the vision to turn their premises opposite the Ulster Museum,  into a temple of homage to one of Belfast’s most famous painters William Conor.  The restaurant regularly hangs changing shows by Belfast based artist Neil Shawcross, under the watchful eye of a Bill Gatt portrait of the  ‘old master’ Willie Conor.

Slip across to Greens Pizzeria on the Lisburn Road and you can feast, not just on your pizza, but on a body of Shawcross’s recent works. Yes, the works are challenging at times but isn’t that part of what art should do? Michael Deane of Deanes restaurants must also be admired for introducing original works of art to the walls of his eateries.

Some commercial companies in Belfast have gone down this road too. BTWSheills houses a fine collection of 21stC Irish art, as does Parker Green Property Company in the city of Newry. These are the exceptions.

To what does this this all add up? It reflects an interest in the arts and puts paid to the lie that one cannot be commercial and have an empathy with the arts at the same time.  Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare has built up one of the finest private collections with dozens of works by some of Ireland’s leading artists dotted along the walls of the hotel. That art is like a magnet for the seaside hotel. That awareness and affinity with the arts play out at every level of the business, with a sensitivity being shown in each sphere of the company, starting with food, décor, presentation and overall comfort of the hotel for the guest.

The Merrion Hotel in Dublin is another case in point. The walls are coming down with some of Ireland’s finest works of art. People go to stay there simply because they enjoy the environs where  staff and owners pay a little attention to the finer things in life.

A new art quarterly is about to be published in Northern Ireland. This is a welcome development. I am progressing my own art website – eamonnmallie.com, but what are the main television/radio companies doing to expose the arts to more and more people?

Marie -Louise Muir’s evening arts roundup on Radio Ulster is a programme of substance. What else have we got? What does commercial radio do for the arts? I can’t think of anything on Downtown/Cool FM apart from some sacred music on Sunday morning. As to the other commercial stations, I am not hearing much about the arts. UTV, as a repository of a sizeable collection of art by local painters, should give a lot more attention to the arts. There is a bountiful harvest of talent in Northern Ireland.

It pains me to think that the State didn’t spend £100 000 to purchase the home in which George Best was reared. Why was the house in which Seamus Heaney wrote much of his early poetry not preserved? What of the home of poet John Hewitt? These should all be part of an arts tour in Belfast for visitors to the city. Galway, Douglas, Morrison, McHale, Longley and Neeson…..where are the shrines to these sons of Belfast and Northern Ireland?

Should we opt for revolution here?

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About Author

I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.

48 Comments

  1. I frequently ask myself – why do the authorities continue to take so much of this for granted and fail to elevate it to the level which it merits? ———–

    If even a modicum of the hype surrounding the MTV awards were afforded to the efforts of so many struggling writers, musicians, composers, sportsmen, sculptors – Northern Ireland could culturally transform itself from within. ———–

    Hooray, an opinion expressed – that is quietly echoed a hundredfold, a thousandfold by arts practitioners here. 

    Our authorities don’t believe that (apart from a few maverick exceptions who prove the rule) there is creative capacity of value and impact in people and communities here: and so, our cake is imported, often in hi-viz, hi-cost, showbiz form. The cultural strategy, planning and actions that our authorities produce, or more often don’t produce, reflect that hopeless, neglectful view. Or if they do believe there are creative initiatives of worth, we certainly don’t get the due nourishment that is otherwise lavished in gaga-esque fashion. We bang our heads against the City walls.

    Is the the massive subsidy that our authorities soak into the out-of-state film industry that hovers around Belfast not a similar (but longer-term) extraordinary fancy?

    It is often the case and as you say through the Dublin art dealer example, there is much more interest in what has been produced and achieved here, from other countries than from the local powers-that-be.