Issue 39, 2016 £2.95
Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life...
Arts issue The
VIEW: What do we want from art?
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
he arts in Northern Ireland has never been under greater pressure due to cutbacks and yet there is still a vibrant energy amongst the funding gloom. This edition of VIEW looks at the future and aspirations of a number of artists and individuals who work in the sector. Below is the letter sent out by VIEW, prior to this publication.
make a living and highly dependant on the next round of funding, feel they can't speak out and say what they are really thinking. We want voices from a broad range of the artistic community – music, drama, dance, poetry, painting and writing. Do you have a vision of where art needs to go? What are the limitations? What are the challenges?
The poet WB Yeats once wrote: “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet;Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
The artist is the pioneer
“He had this kind of magical quality that all the genuine poets and artists have: to elevate things.To get above the mundane, the prosaic. All the bullshit. All the mediocrity that's everywhere.The artist, the artist is the pioneer.” Searching for Sugerman – 2012
We are seeking 'pioneers' for our 39th edition of VIEW – a social affairs magazine in Northern Ireland.
This is an opportunity for you to express yourself if you have something specific to say
By Brian Pelan co-founder,VIEWdigital
about the future of the arts on this island.
Many years ago the Field Day Theatre Company launched a debate about the role of art in defining our lives.We want this issue of VIEW to reignite that discussion. We want to offer a platform to controversial views.Too often, many artists, struggling to
VIEW believes it's time to give birth to those dreams.We are living in an age of austerity but our spirits need to soar.Will you join us?
I want to thank all those who agreed to be interviewed for our arts issue And finally, this issue would not have been possible without the support and guidance of guest editor Jo Egan. Our front cover was designed by Ruth Brolly. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
VIEWdigital hosts ‘open’ public courses and tailored in-house media training by industry experts. Our experienced training associates have worked for major newspapers and broadcasting organisations. This year we have worked with 3rd sector & Public sector organisations including: • Law Centre NI • Housing Executive • Equality Commission • VOYPIC We can help improve your skills to get you to tell your story. Check out our calender at http://viewdigital.org/training/ for information on all our upcoming courses or contact Una Murphy e: firstname.lastname@example.org for more details
Regulated by IMPRESS, the independent monitor for the press. Contact IMPRESS at www.impress.press
Editorial VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
wenty years ago I arrived in Northern Ireland believing it was probably one of the most exciting places in the world to make theatre. There was a sense that anything could happen, post-conflict money on the table to fuel dreams, ambitions. The daily conversations were still consumed by paramilitary activity and the excitement of violence but boundaries weren’t as clearly defined, bringing both rocky change and fierce uncertainty. Whether there was money about or not here was as fertile as it got for an artist. Independent arts companies and organisations, community and professional sprang up, performance courses in Tower Street, new venues, all provoking opinion and life and death conversations such as should the Lyric Theatre move to the city centre or stay put. All talk was about building an infrastructure and creating product; new work that would track the recent past and vision the future. And with all this great excitement and opportunity arrived the bureaucracy and it appeared then that any artists that had taken on the responsibility of running an organisation were now being creatively strangled by the beast they had birthed. Over the years I worked out of three organisations. Community Arts Forum, Creative Writers Network and Kabosh Theatre Company. I look back and realise that in the midst of all of this great optimism, fear, uncertainty, blurring boundaries and the push to make new work, the old cobbled streets of Cathedral Quarter were working on me and teaching me something I wouldn’t have learned so well anywhere else. The delicate foxtrot or the uncompromising fight necessary to make any work happen, the bureaucratic acrobatics, the capacity to co-ordinate a multiplicity of very demanding needs, the desire to hear what was intended rather than spoken and the excitement of hearing the shouldn’t-be-said, said, all crammed my
VIEW, an independent social affairs magazine in Northern Ireland
By guest editor Jo Egan Producer, writer and director
I’m not sure the art makers here are always aware that what they know is of such extraordinary value, worn down as they are through lack of consistent support or funding but it is there, like gold glinting through the repairs to this old cracked cup of a place
head. Things were always writ large, often with no subtlety, revealing the internal workings of the system’s clock. Twenty years ago I didn’t understand that the days of being an artist that operated in a singular fashion – sitting in the attic writing or painting in a garden – were numbered. In the future, artists would be required to employ a range of skills with a broad range of people, all built around their core art form. A vast amount of artists here have risen to this challenge, some of them are represented in this issue. Poet and Irish President, Michael D Higgins spoke to Theatre NI members some years ago. Two points resonated: He felt it was a mistake to ally the arts with commerce. On reflection, an alliance with science would have been more beneficial to the arts, given that risk, experimentation and failure were expected aspects of discovery. Secondly, rather than building society upon an economic structure it would be wiser to create a robust cultural landscape from which a serving economic structure could emerge. The same isn’t true of the reverse as we now know. Unfortunately, arts makers will still have to embrace risk and build upon what’s left of the cultural infrastructure without major structural support. It would be difficult to quantify the role culture and arts have played in bringing Northern Ireland to where it is today but if we reverse the lens we can be sure that Northern Ireland has shaped each of its artists indelibly, has offered learning, insights and perspectives wrought from a strange kind of knowledge born from a conflicted society and a provocation to create an artistic response. I’m not sure the art makers here are always aware that what they know is of such extraordinary value, worn down as they are through lack of consistent support or funding but it is there, like gold glinting through the repairs to this old cracked cup of a place.
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Actor Stephen Rea who plays Eric in Cyprus Avenue
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Northern Ireland playwright David Ireland (left) talks to VIEW editor Brian Pelan about his latest work Cyprus Avenue, which deals with a loyalist called Eric who is convinced that his newly born granddaughter is Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
espite the age of digital technology, some things still don’t run smoothly. I had lined up an interview with playwright David Ireland through a Skype connection. After it failed to connect, we switched to mobile. A few minutes into our interview the line suddenly went dead. Was it something I had said? It turned out that David had forgotten to recharge his phone but once we started again, he was soon in full voice and the words poured forth. We started off by talking about his new play Cyprus Avenue which features Stephen Rea in the lead role as a loyalist called Eric. The play has been performed in Dublin and London. Is there any chance of it coming to Belfast, I asked “Yes,” replied David. “I think they are trying to make that happen. There is a possibility of it going to New York, then it might be put on in London again, then Belfast, followed by Dublin. It all depends on Stephen Rea's availability. Everybody is very keen to see it performed in Belfast so hopefully, it will happen.” Did he have any views about how a Belfast audience might react to it? “I honestly don't know how an audience will react,” said David. “I’ve had a lot of work performed in other cities. And particularly when it’s about the Troubles people always say: ‘Oh how do you think a Belfast audience will react?’ It’s as if they think there would be riots or something. There has never ever been a volatile reaction to my work in Belfast. People in other cities always seem to react with offence on behalf of the people of Belfast.” I was interested to know why did he decide to locate the play in middle-class Cyprus Avenue in east Belfast. “I wrote the play when I was living in Castlereagh Street in east Belfast. I used to walk up to Cyprus Avenue when I was writing it. There has always been something magical about it. It’s such a beautiful street. The play is pretty autobiographical and I think in some ways it was about my fears of becoming middle class. I come from Ballybeen, Dundonald, but obviously becoming an actor and having plays staged in the Abbey pushes you into starting to associate with people of a different class than you grew up with. I went to England for the first time when I was 17 years of age to do a drama course. Everyone, apart
from me, was English. One them called me ‘Irish’ at one point. I was shocked and really taken aback. I couldn’t comprehend how he could perceive me as being Irish.” I asked David about the line in the play said by Eric. “Maybe I’ve been led to believe I’m British by successive governments of the English crown to further their own nefarious purposes.” David replied: “One of the reasons that line is in the play is that a lot of people think that Protestants only believe they are British because of colonialism and that it's not a real identity. Not long after that line; Eric says: ‘But is that all I am? A puppet? A patsy? Is that the sum of all I am’? It may be a case of Eric saying there may be some historical truth in the colonialism argument but it is not everything he is, It’s more complicated than that. “What are your views on loyalism now,” I asked “My views on loyalism are changing all the time. It's changed since I wrote the play. I wrote it not long after I got married and moved to Glasgow. My wife and I started to talk about having children. I think it was also about my own fears of becoming a father and bringing a child up in Glasgow and coming from Belfast. What is my culture? What is my identity? I would call myself loyalist. I would call myself British. But am I going to take my son or daughter to Orange walks and Rangers games? I can’t see myself doing that. There is so much violence, aggression and complicated history associated with those things. I still love to watch an Orange walk or a Rangers game. But as I get older, I find myself becoming increasingly
distanced from it all. I still love Belfast although I haven’t been there for years. I feel very disconnected from what is going on there. “I keep writing about Belfast but increasingly it is about the Belfast of my childhood. It appears to me though that Scotland is becoming more like Northern Ireland since the independence referendum took place. Issues of being left or right didn't matter very much when you were growing up in Northern Ireland. It was about whether you were a unionist or a nationalist. And now it feels that Scotland is becoming like that. The dominant conversation now in Scotland is whether you are a unionist or nationalist. “I’m less comfortable calling myself a loyalist now and that’s partly because of the whole Scottish referendum thing. There are a lot of distasteful things about Scottish nationalism and I’ve felt alienated from it. There is something distasteful about all forms of nationalism. I have thought that maybe it's time to stop calling myself a loyalist. I want to write the kind of things I would want to see. I don't really know what other people should be doing or what we all should be doing. I just try to follow my own individual path. I tend not to go to the theatre very much. I get most of my inspiration from TV and movies. I find it hard to get inspired by anybody in Scotland.” I asked what did he think about what Gerry Adams would say about the play? “People who have seen the show have tweeted him about it but he has offered no kind of response.” In the play, Eric appeared to be having some kind of psychotic breakdown. Was this in anyway a representation, I asked, about what he thought about the present state of loyalism. “A lot of people who have seen Cyprus Avenue consider it to be a very anti-loyalist play. There was even a reviewer in London who took issue with it and said it was clearly written by an Irish Catholic Republican which he obviously got very wrong.Vicky Featherstone, who directed the play, said it was about the problem of loyalism which I think is accurate. Often in loyalism, we have defined ourselves as being in opposition to something which becomes a cul-de-sac. It’s not a pro-loyalist play or an anti-loyalist play. It’s about my own feelings about growing up in Northern Ireland.”
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Some of the colourful visual performances created by Amanda Coogan
Born to perform VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Visual performance artist Amanda Coogan tells VIEW editor Brian Pelan why she believes that Belfast is a rich, vibrant city and reveals how her upcoming piece of work Run to the Rock was inspired by imprisoned ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, use of Shakespeare to show defiance
manda Coogan who was brought up, along with her two younger siblings, by two deaf parents, believes that this had a huge image on her decision to become a performance artist. “We are all very proud to be part of the deaf community and to have been brought up in the deaf culture,” she said. “Up to two and a half years of age, before my brother and sister were born, I communicated with my parents solely through sign language. It meant you had to express everything through the body. “Outside of my work when I have the time I work as a sign language interpreter.” I asked Amanda to expand on her idea of the performance artist and why she decided to move to Belfast from Dublin where she grew up. “I’m a performance artist from the visual arts. Performance art and my practice is a lovely new form of art that crosses over the disciplines of the visual art and theatre. My primary material is the body or the activities of the body. “Love took me to Belfast. My partner got a job up here so the family and I moved to Belfast almost two years ago. We are absolutely loving it. “Belfast is a really vibrant city with so many rich resources. It’s beautiful, small and accessible. There are so many great museums, theatres and galleries, and art happenings going on all the time. “Even walking down Cavehill and along the Lagan Tow Path are inspirational to me.” “I’m just at the very beginnings of rehearsals of a new piece called Run To The Rock which will premiere at the Belfast International Arts Festival in the Mac. It opens on October 21. There are nine performers in it at the moment but it is still all to play for. It’s a very interesting piece of work commissioned by the British Council in London who wanted me to have a look at a Shakespeare reworked project. They charged me with producing a contemporary piece of live art which was inspired by Shakespeare. “I worked in Cape Town in South
Passionate: Amanda Coogan
Africa and found that a complete works of Shakespeare had been smuggled into Robben Island where ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were held for many years. Thirty two of the ANC leaders chose a bit of text and signed their names against it. The selected texts inspired them at that time. “Mandela chose: “Cowards die many times but the valiant never taste of death but once” from Julius Caesar. I have chosen six of these choices including Mandela’s selection. This is a snapshot of their thinking in 1977. “Performance art is the easiest accessible contemporary art form because it's another human being in front of you. So whatever they are doing it has no meaning until the audience looks at it. Whatever occurs in your mind, when you look you at a piece of performance art, this is what it means. It’s not didactic, it's not old fashioned romantic hero artists telling the world their great thoughts. It’s the total antithesis of that. It’s a sharing, a meeting, a coming together of two people.” How is the funding shortage for the arts affecting your work, I asked. “Funding is a problem for all contemporary art practice,” said Amanda.
“But I think that is changing in terms of performance art. People are getting excited by it once they are exposed to it. The challenges for me are boringly financial. The commissioned work does not pay the amount of hours that you put into the work.” If there wasn't a financial impediment what would like to do, I asked Amanda “In the first instance, if money was not an issue, I would want to work with 1,000 people. We would all be performing at the same time, perhaps in front of Belfast City Hall. It would be vibrant and visceral.” I was also interested to know how did her work relate to contemporary political issues in Ireland such as abortion, gay rights, austerity, homelessness, etc. Did her work touch on any of these themes? “Absolutely, all the time. First and foremost and the most fundamental thing that I can’t get away from is that my material is a female body. “I also believe that art which sits on the fence is not interesting. The aim of my work is to have someone love it or absolutely hate it. I have failed if they are indifferent. I did a piece in 2013 called ‘13 Women’. One of my research points for it was the housing crisis in Ireland. Another piece of mine called ‘Yellow’ specifically touched on the Magdalene Laundries and the incarceration of women.” We finished our conversation by discussing a recent news item about a Muslim woman being told to remove some of her clothing on a French beach. “As a Western woman and someone who was brought up in the Irish culture which was so conservative about the body, it was an emancipatory thing to take clothes off and expose the body. And then things are turned on their head and it is shockingly oppressive to order a woman to take clothes off, surrounded by four men. It beggars belief.” I look forward to seeing her next performance and I doubt that I will be indifferent to it. “At 70 or 80 years of age, I would still like to be performing. It's what I do,” said Amanda.
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Royal heavies, 2007: Sheelagh Colclough
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Jo Egan chats to multidisciplinary artist Sheelagh Colclough who has been working in the arts in Northern Ireland for over 14 years. Her art has propelled her into a number of roles including facilitating, devising and coordinating participatory art projects, exhibiting, researching, delivering training, and producing commissioned artwork and installations
hen I finally catch up with Sheelagh Colclough - she’s in Helsinki by way of Kiev and Estonia, polishing her presentation at the following day’s conference. The question: What happens when you use people instead of paint to make art? is at the heart of our conversation. The contemporary arts world is currently (and has been for some time) interested in creating socially-engaged work. It’s the sexy way to make work and those that can pull it off have become minor gods in the international arts arena. Their poorer cousins, Community Artists, have been questioning the democratic and ethical processes demanded by the work for years. Sheelagh’s background in Community Arts is informed by four guiding principles: Access, Participation, Authorship and Ownership* Jo: How does the artist negotiate the creation of socially-engaged work? Sheelagh: What does participation mean in a socially engaged arts project, how is it negotiated, how are the participants featured, from their billing, social cachet and power they have and how does that spur participants on to further work or is it merely a one off project? There’s a reluctance to see my work as political or address the hierarchies within. The work seeks to interrogate these very elements. Culture is politics and politics is culture. Have you heard of Santiago Sierra, (his work is critical of capitalism and the institutions that support it) He makes the point that participants often get no compensation for their role in the co-creation of the work. How might participants give voice to an artist’s view or temper the artist’s voice. How is it reflected back in terms of power and content? Who is steering that and how much are participants getting out of that. What is an artist’s role and how does that transmogrify when it isn’t paint but people? Jo: So how do you address these questions? Sheelagh: It’s about being able to use the skills I have, to do something I can’t do on my own. It’s making something that is the sum of the parts of those involved. I’ve
Democratic: Sheelagh Colclough
also been looking at how Northern Ireland fits into a global model of culture as a source of global regeneration. How we have experienced it in a peace dividend way. What’s particular to Belfast – and what’s the same? Have you heard of the term Glocalisation? Jo: No. Sheelagh: Well, you will. It’s all about Glocalisation now. Jo: So what’s Glocalisation? Sheelagh: We are familiar with identikit ideas of branding. It’s imbued with something of the local so in Belfast’s case that might be ships and linen but it fits into an identical model of public art and public space that’s a global approach and with that are rules about how you want people to behave in relation to these public art works. The Great Reimagining by Bree T Hocking looks at how urban space is constructed and contested in post-conflict Northern Ireland. For instance, look at the Balls on the Falls. Public art can appear to send out the image of harmonious communities to
tourists and investors while underneath the divide between two communities still exists. Public policy contributes to different strategies of rebranding the city while containing the problems. In public consultation processes, we are used to legitimising these kinds of cultural projects which are effectively branding projects. In Northern Ireland, we like to keep people in their boxes so traditional forms of cultural expression can be fraught with sectarianism, almost as much as any kind of arts objective. Jo: How are these behaviours negotiated? Sheelagh: Some are demonised, some not. The powers that be presume that things that are demonised can be rehabilitated but it’s not so easy here. Cultural is sectarian and its forms are sectarian. Lots of movements won’t acknowledge this and therefore perpetuate the problem. Some funders and artists believe that if somehow if we just got people to go to the theatre a lot of social problems would disappear or if we had plays about sectarianism it would vanish from the streets. I’m incredulous about implicit values that this attitude reveals. A certain kind of culture is deemed neutral. It’s not always explicit but it’s certainly an implicit belief and informs a lot of outreach thinking. Jo: So how to turn this around? Sheelagh: It’s about cultural democracy, creating a real participatory democracy within the work you are co-creating. Jo: What do you want to see happening in the future? Sheelagh: I would like to be invited into a community to make work. Jo: If socially engaged art is being used as a device to control people how do we subvert this? Sheelagh: By making the process as democratic as possible with a participatory process, a universal wage and funding spent on creating work where those involved in the creation feel a real sense of shared ownership.
* Aspirations arrived at by community artists in discussions facilitated by the Community Arts Forum, Belfast.
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Headlong into a night of art
Belfast’s art galleries open their doors on the first night of every month. VIEW editor Brian Pelan and photographer Hannah Mitchell joined the merry band to sample the art, the wine and the street life that surrounds the event. We visited the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast Exposed, PS2 Paragon Studios, Tivoli Barber Shop and the ArtCetera Studio Gallery
By Brian Pelan
n ordinary life in Belfast of bills, work and buses stuck in traffic is transformed momentarily as I enter the otherworld which surrounds art night in the city. My first stop for a glass of wine is the Golden Thread Gallery in Great Patrick Street. A crowd of people are already chilling outside the gallery as I enter. I have one instruction for photographer Hannah.
Snap away but no posed images, please. Her excellent work on the following pages has captured an event which shows that art is thriving in the city despite the endless round of cutbacks and artists holding down other jobs in order to try and pursue their passion for expressing themselves through art. The five galleries that I visited have a range of art which should provoke a reaction – whether it’s positive, negative or indifferent. My own two personal favourites were a back room in the Tivoli barber shop in
Lower North Street, which features work created by students in the Belfast School of Art, and the ArtCetera Studio Gallery in Fountain Street. I was also moved by the photography exhibition called ‘Mother’ by Matthew Finn which can be seen in Belfast Exposed in Donegall Street. As the rain began to fall Hannah and I retreated for a drink in the Sunflower bar. I would urge others to try out Art Night in the city. It stands as a testimony to the creative impulse which still beats despite the age of austerity.
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Mother by Matthew Finn (Belfast Exposed gallery)
Since 1987 Matthew has been collaborating with his mother Jean in a series of portraits that depict her everyday rituals set within her home in Leeds. Documenting everyday ordinary moments, normally passed over for special events such as birthdays, Christmas, christenings and holidays. Matthew has focused to show his mother as a woman going about her daily routine, using the family home as a backdrop. This extraordinary project, now in its 29th year, lets viewers into a home reminiscent to how we all live. Following his mother from middle age to elderly woman now suffering from mixed dementia and leaving the family home into a residential care home, his images serve to show the warmth and fragility of life
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Reaching out to schools Philip Crawford, head of Creative Learning at the Lyric, tells VIEW of the onging work to attract young people
By Brian Pelan
he cafe at the Lyric in Belfast is too noisy for an interview, So Philip Crawford, head of Creative Learning, at the theatre and I head to the quietness of the boardroom to talk. “The Creative Learning department has been operating here for the last five years since the building opened,” said Philip. “My predecessor Carol Moore did a lot of research with communities and actors to ask people what their expectations would be about a department like this. Nowadays if you are going to fund things for the arts it's not going to be based solely on the production of a play. They will want to know how is it going to reach out to other communities and to other people rather than just the audience. And that was the idea based behind the creation of our department.” What are the main goals of your department, I asked “In the broadest sense it is education,” replied Philip. “But that's not a terribly sexy word in terms of the population as a whole. What we are trying to do is raise the bar. Whether it's the standard of the work of the actors, the provision of continuous professional development, training and raising the expectations of young people who want to go into the arts profession or enhancing the experience of schoolchildren watching a production at the Lyric. We provide
Experience: Philip Crawford
workshops for schools and staff from the creative learning department also go out to visit pupils.” Some people have argued that theatre appeals more to the middle class rather than the working class. What's your response to that? “I know that argument exists. Perhaps in the past that was the case, but not now. The programme that the Lyric's Executive director Jimmy Fey has put forward in the last few years has a variety of material, including new young groups getting access to the Lyric's facilities, our own productions, and theatre that is accessible to everyone in the community. Can you tell me a little more about your outreach work.
“We do a lot of work in Creative Learning into welcoming people into the Lyric. We have just finished A Midnight Summer's Dream with the Royal Shakespeare Company. (RSC). We went out to 15 schools, including those in areas of multiple deprivation. “It's extremely important for us to develop new audiences and to look and see what people want,” said Philip. “We deliberately try to create an eclectic mix such as putting on a Marie Jones play and a George Bernard Shaw production. The Lyric Theatre belongs to the people of the country.” Are community theatre and amateur groups connected in an organic way with the Lyric, I asked. “The amateur theatre-makers in the country have been engaged with us in the last five years through a project called Open Stages with the RSC. We would run workshops here and also where the groups meet such as Enniskillen and Bangor. For example, The Belvoir Players in Belfast were recently involved in a project called Dream 16. “It enabled them to play alongside professionals from the RSC at the Opera House in Belfast. They also played on the RSC stage in Stratford.” Is there a vision for where the Creative Learning Department at the Lyric wants to be in the next four to five years? “We are looking very carefully at how we can strengthen our ties with schools. Trying to build on this work is our lifeline.”
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Edwards and Co Solicitors celebrate Arts award success or nearly 50 years, Edwards & Co. Solicitors have been providing high-quality legal support to clients across Northern Ireland, maintaining a professional service that treats every client as an individual. We pride ourselves on our unrivalled commitment to clients’ needs. Over the years we have recovered millions of pounds in damages for people who have been injured at work, in road traffic accidents and in their everyday lives; we have been at the forefront of ground-breaking litigation and judicial reviews; we have acted for large trade unions and professional bodies in vigorously pursuing their members' cases to achieve excellent results. We have experience in dealing with noise-induced hearing loss claims. Our team covers the full spectrum of legal services, providing individuals, small businesses and charities with practical advice to resolve their problems. Our unique service the better way provides education, facilitation and mediation to commercial and 3rd sector organisations. In 2008 we established our first Partnership with Arts and Business and since then have worked with a number of Arts organisations. In January this year a number of our staff had the privilege of attending the Allianz Arts and Business Awards ceremony in the wonderful setting of the Grand Opera House. We were delighted to have been shortlisted for an Award in the category of Employee engagement with our Partner, the Lyric Theatre. Having previously won awards for Employee Engagement and Business of the
year in 2010 and 2014 respectively, we were well aware of the strength of competition that we faced. Undaunted though, we persuaded our Senior Partner Dorcas Crawford to have an acceptance speech ready (just in case) and were therefore thrilled that she and Philip Crawford from the Lyric Theatre (our Arts Partner) were both called upon to accept the award. Whilst the awards ceremony was simply stunning, showcasing just some of the artistic talent that we have in Northern Ireland, the highlight for us was that we were also joined by our third partner the project leader from the Northern Ireland Prison Service and one of the young men from Hydebank College. Our award winning project comprised three strands: • Sponsorship and support of the Lyric Theatre Summer School • Voice and presentation skills training with the Royal Shakespeare Company. • Confidence building workshops and the production of a Radio play with Hydebank College.
As our Practice Manager stated at a recent Arts & Business seminar, “Does Arts & Business NI work? The answer is yes, our business has been working with A&B NI for 8 years and it ticks all the boxes. Do you want to develop your staff? Do you want to train them in presentational skills? Do you want to brand and market your business whilst getting your name out into your market place? Then you need to work with Arts & Business NI and integrate the arts into your business. Our creative journey has been an eyeopener for our business and I highly recommend getting involved. The programmes are amazing and the results are second to none. • Edwards and Co. Solicitors is a company registered in Northern Ireland (registered number NI 638481), and with its registered office at 28 Hill Street, Belfast and is regulated by the Law Society of Northern Ireland.
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Above: Support for the importance of arts in Northern Ireland and below, young people involved in a drama training workshop
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The arts have survived because the people involved in it are passionate and resilient
Aspirational: Niamh Flanagan
Niamh Flanagan. executive director of Theatre NI, takes time out from her busy schedule to tell VIEW why the arts needs our full support for it to live up to its full potential
iamh Flanagan, the executive director of Theatre NI, has been in the position for three months now. “Theatre NI is an organisation representing venues, performance artists and theatre makers,” said Niamh. “Our role is to attempt to connect the community/voluntary and professional sector and to advocate on behalf of the sector and provide skills and development in various forms. What are the main challenges facing your organisation, I asked. “The main challenges facing us is that we are a very small organisation. I look after the more strategic end of things, but I'm also very involved in operational matters because we have such limited resources. We have just appointed an admin and development worker. Her role is to connect with the sector to develop relevant training. “Investment in the arts is a big issue. If you don't invest in something it starts to die. The conditions that some people are working in are appalling in the arts sector. For example, many performance artists have to do multiple jobs in order to try and make their theatre. I don't think that is OK. There needs to be some sort of investment to allow people to create work without the pressure of doing long hours in other jobs,” said Niamh. “If people are going to work in the arts sector they need the opportunity and time to think, create, improve and rehearse. There is a serious journey involved in creating a good piece
of theatre or performance art. Should the government invest more in the arts, I asked “Absolutely. Government invests money in targeting foreign companies to come to Northern Ireland and provide jobs. That is fantastic. But you also need to invest in the arts. What would society look like if we didn't have arts in the future? What would society look like if there wasn't any music? I put it to Niamh that some people argue that the arts should operate in the same way as business. If they make money they will survive and those who don’t should be wound up “I would counter that argument by saying that the Government should invest in the arts because of what it should look like in the future,” said Niamh. The arts tell us who we are. Also, there are a lot of arts which are very successful. I reject this idea that the arts sector is all about looking for money. During my time working in the private sector for big companies in London, I witnessed some dreadful waste within the corporate sector. Whereas in the arts sector I have seen some people with amazing brains and entrepreneurial skills being efficient and effective. That is why the arts have survived because the people involved in it are passionate and resilient.” What does the phrase 'community arts' mean to you, I asked. “For me, it means arts in the community. I would also have a very broad
definition of the word 'community'. I don't hold with any narrow definition of community arts which just refers to nationalist or unionist communities. Community arts should represent a broad base of people who are involved in a wide range of issues. What is also important though is the quality of the arts. I'm a big advocate of professional development so that communities are getting the best possible art. Do you think that politicians are paying enough attention to the arts, I asked. “There seems to be a disconnect or possibly a lack of understanding from them about the breadth and depth of what the arts are in Northern Ireland. Cuts in the arts are really short-sighted. I would challenge politicians to think seriously about it. How do you hold onto your vision for the arts amidst the austerity which is taking place. “People living here never had a lot compared to other places in the UK. I’ve lived in Manchester and Sydney in Australia. People who live there take what they have for granted. Manchester was once a grey, Northern city where it rained too much. If you go back now, it is thriving. We need to be more aspirational and demand more. We also need to collaborate more and take a few more risks. Despite all the budget cuts we have survived and created amazing stuff. I really believe in the people who are involved in the broad arts sector.”
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Belfast composer Conor Mitchell
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
A day in the life of a composer
y reflection dazzles me in the glass doors. They’re slow to open, tempering me without permission. The sun is bright and when I go inside the room is black-blue – my eyes adjust to the MAC. There is no music. David Hockney’s goggled self-portrait meets me. His hair is the colour of mine. Dyed white-blonde to mask its absence. I see a pencil stuck to a wall. I almost buy it, then don’t. I write music with cheap pencils. My piano is upstairs. It’s waiting in a white room. I’ll avoid it. If I feed it one note it’ll ask for more. Greedy little shit. Never satisfied. Better leave and distract myself with possibilities. A new venture. Back into the streets. I am in an abandoned church in north Belfast. A possible venue for a new piece of work. A man in a suit with expensive glasses talks to me, younger and far better dressed. ‘Peace process baby,’ I think ‘possibility was a given, not a right to fight for.. to write music about’. That’s what happens. His assumption of a future has saved this building. Its past tied up in his future. I fall in love with the empty relic. The city has outgrown it. The walls are begging to fall but Belfast won’t let them. I blush at the well-dressed boy. I fall in love with him too. I could marry him.. here.. in this church? “No heating,” he says. “Too soon for that. That’ll come later”.Yes, later. Not yet. Not now. Later. He leaves down the aisle. ‘Maybe when the heating’s in,’ I think. A taxi. Stranmillis. A meeting at 1.30. I walk into the Lyric like I have earned the right to be there – a bravadoed
Hockney winks to Hewitt from across the city. Both preserved in pencils neither could afford
entitlement I mock in others too. I smoke and close my eyes to conjure the old theatre with its grey brick walls. I see the stairs to my right as I come in the door and the sketch of John Hewitt, actor. He was all my ambition once. I open my eyes. New stairs dead ahead, A Matter of Life and Death. Pictures on the wall – paintings of people I know and I don’t. One is an actor, one is a singer. The singer I don’t know. “He’s famous,” says a person waiting by a window, “some band”. ‘Oh’, I say ‘I don’t listen to bands’. I feel superficial and order a coffee and traybake made of caramel. I move on. Upstairs they rightly rehearse a Shaw. The nerves of centuries rattle the new walls. The dead writer quickening the living.
Seamus Heaney’s bronze bust has been moved. Being cleaned probably. I play with the idea of running upstairs, kidnapping Mary O’Malley’s bust and putting it in Seamus’ place instead. Mary, where she belongs, looking out on her theatre. Would she recognise this traybake? This coffee? This city? I dander back with a head full of deadlines and notes I didn’t write down. The piano growls silently from the other end of town. Let it growl. The city I know has come and gone and built itself again. Its church appears empty but to the beautiful boy, it is crammed. The glassy doors reflect the sun in the MAC’s morning and the Lyric lets me pretend I’m important again for an afternoon, like it’s always done. Hockney winks to Hewitt from across the city. Both preserved in pencils neither could afford. How do you write in this city? The new, the old, the saved, the abandoned, the rebuilt. This place changes day-by-day but stays the same. The bronze busts of poets sit in place of the dreamers. So do we dream and build? Or do we reflect, like Heaney? What notes of music came today as I worked in this, my city? All of them, Belfast. All of them: the new, the old and the remembered. • Words by Conor Mitchell, who is an opera, music-theatre and orchestral composer/playwright/ theatre-maker from Northern Ireland. He is the recipient of the 2016 Arts Council Northern Ireland Major Individual Artist’s Award.
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
‘The grey, the grit, the twang’
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Jo Egan talks to dance and visual artist Oona Doherty who has performed and created internationally since 2010. Previous collaborations include TRASH Dance (Netherlands), Abattoir Fermé (Belgium), and Emma Martin (Ireland)
o Egan :What excites you about making work in Belfast?
Oona Doherty: The grey, the grit, the twang, the pre-conceptions people have of Belfast. “How is it up their now?” people in Dublin have asked me. The ignorance of the depth of cultural activity that is in Belfast. These are all fertile grounds to shock. Belfast is still punk. What also excites me about Belfast is the idea in my work of cellular generations, of blood line and linage. I’m a Doherty/O’Hara. My blood is from here. The constant challenge of respecting that, of listening to old chi* that is in the concrete, the conversations, the bars, the flats. And working hard at the production of new chi and new ideas.
Jo: What is at the core of your work, is there a seam of gold you are mining?
Oona: Generating fresh chi/fresh energy. I’m constantly trying to find the most extreme honesty on a subject, whether that be a socialist context like in my solo
Hope Hunt and ideas around masculinity and spiritual freedom. Or the purity of a movement like in my solo Leather Jacket Deluxe. I believe in some teachings of the Tao. That philosophical and scientific elements within the universe are all connected. That on some level, the homeless man’s shoes in matter are connected to the surface of the sun, the stars. The connection between an old man’s last breath, a pint glass falling and a baby blinking. It all sounds a bit poetic, but I have no other way of explaining myself. Words simply don't do justice to the thing I am hunting for. Dance gets me a bit closer to it. Salty sweat pouring from a moving body is a little step closer to ‘the feeling’.
Jo: In what way has Belfast made you the artist you are?
Oona: I moved here from London when I was ten. My voice was different and I didn't fit in. This I think made me watch more than be really ‘in’ stuff. I’ll be honest; I always felt a bit outside of Belfast
even when I’m right here in the middle of the town. Now I’m older I realise this is just a facet of ego, existentialism and can happen anywhere in the world. But my internal dialogue looking out, was looking out on to Harland and Wolff against Silver Grey. Napoleon’s nose, Divis Flats. Belfast gave me strong kinetic memories: My legs sticking to the leather of the black taxi seat. A hot summer going to Andytown swimmers. All girls Catholic School. The smell of Mass. Boys in bands in bars. It was my youth really, and everybody’s history makes a big impact on them as a person. Mine was in Belfast. Jo: As a pioneering artist what mark will your work make upon the cultural landscape?
Oona: I hope to make physicalitydance, dance theatre of the same status as literature in this country. Who knows, I’ll definitely make a dirty smudge in trying. • *Chi is a Chinese word meaning aliveness, life force energy or life breath
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Above: A scene from On Emotion; a theatrical collaboration between Mick Gordon and Paul Broks) and below, Elliot Levey in Mick Gordon's play On Ego
A place to call home VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Director and playwright Mick Gordon tells Jo Egan that he is excited about being back in Northern Ireland
theatrical form. Jo: What might the cultural landscape look like?
o: Where did you grow up and how did you first encounter the theatre?
Mick: I was born and brought up in Holywood, Co Down, where I spent my first 18 years. I can remember Frank Carson playing Buttons, he ate a red Smartie and became invisible. I saw Charabanc in the old Arts Theatre, where I first came across Marie Jones, then Christina Reid’s Tea in a China Cup and the conversations that were stimulated with family and friends. So you never know where the trigger comes from but the seeds were planted. My mother was an English teacher and had a love of literature and stories. It’s somewhat of a clichéd tale but it is true. She was the major influence. I studied Modern History at Oxford. After I finished I started thinking seriously about the theatre. I’ve never experienced another medium that is quite so interesting to explore what it is to be a human being as the theatre.
Jo: How might growing up in Northern Ireland have influenced your work?
Mick: I don’t feel I approached work in a peculiarly different way. Of course the governing taste of the room is you. You are the first audience, the outside eye. I’ve seen and become more interested in producing original work and work that I’ve stimulated or written. The decision to come back home to live and bring my daughters up here was partly influenced by a conversation with Brian Friel who said to me, having read one of my book of essays, that if I was to continue writing, “You must have a place here from which to write because this is your home”. That struck a chord. Thoughts about home and Belfast and Northern Ireland are very resonant, more than ever.
Energy: Mick Gordon
Jo: What are you bringing back with you?
Mick: There is a common theme throughout the work. I took over the Gate from David Farr. The Gate has always been the home of international theatre, international premiers in a tiny theatre that punches way above its weight. At the National Theatre, as Associate Director to Trevor Nunn, it was my job to identify a new generation of playwrights and indirectly to challenge theatrical form content and the relationship between the two. Then with my own company, I set about mapping the internal borders; what it means to be a conscious human being, self-belief formation identity, the relationships between emotions and decision making. What was similar was using a huge range of theatrical forms to interrogate these themes. I was then invited to Denmark and invited to take over the Aarhus Theatre. I was in northern Europe promoting new writing once again with existing noted theatre-makers to challenge their own ideas of
Mick: It’s notable that Northern Ireland has the lowest per head spend on arts in Europe. I’ve seen what’s happened in Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester, when a significant investment has been made and the benefits to the population personally – socially and economically – so I wonder why that is? Why the common denominator is professional artists under a great deal of pressure? In my tiny survey thus far the most shocking thing that I have found is that theatre companies are stymied from any long-term planning because of the way statutory arts funding is set up. “This is something that I would like to influence. At the moment the departmental budgets are signed off yearly which means that the Arts Council cannot guarantee a funding level for three to five or six years to small, medium and large theatre companies. Therefore you cannot work collaboratively with major international artists unless you’ve planned three, five, ten years ahead. That’s not possible given the current mechanics. In terms of my own work as an artist; going back to Brian Friel’s insistence that I have a base, I will write from Belfast, from home. I will work here with artists that I’ve had a growing relationship with over the years. I have an eye on the younger writers and there are several actors who I adore from Northern Ireland. Regarding unfulfilled ambitions; film and television strikes me as something that is starting to become exciting in Ireland and parts of Northern Ireland. There is a lot of energy there and that would be really interesting.
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Beat Carnival One of the giant puppet heads in Botanic Gardens, Belfast
Why the show must go on VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Jo Egan talks to Beat Carnival organiser David Boyd
efore we begin our chat David Boyd takes me on a tour of the Carnival centre situated at the bottom of the Shankill since 2008. Set in a street of two-up two-down houses, it’s a complete surprise to be shown into a cavernous warehouse which houses 20 years of huge papier-mache carnival heads and large puppet bodies spilling out of oversized containers like a giant’s toy-box. If David ever gives up creating carnival events, he could run tours of the warehouse, it’s such a treat. I asked David what he has he been up to. He tells me he’s been working with artists in the Ukraine. “Ukraine was a big industrial area., said David. “During Soviet times the people had their lives mapped out. That’s now gone. The artists want to make work for the country and themselves but there’s an expectation that the government should organise it. When their building was taken over by a paramilitary organisation the Ukraine artists set up a base in Mariupol on the edge of the conflict zone. I’d really like to go back and continue the relationship.” What learning do you pass on? “First thing would be our experience. We didn’t have money. In the early 1990s, the whole field of community arts had to start from scratch. I had to make a decision to do this full-time despite there being no money. Secondly, encouragement. The division in Ukraine is about Ukraine belonging or being independent of Russia. Within one family there could be stark differences in allegiance. So boundaries aren’t clearly delineated but in general, it’s the same issue. “The arts aren’t here to manage local politics but we do want to bring transformation and creativity to the work. It creates a window of opportunity for different relationships to happen. It might not change a whole area dramatically , but it might. So we look at how creativity can bring people together and improve life. To what extent can we improve people’s lives? “Creating a different picture of the place where we live is fundamental,” said David. “Part of what I look at are the visual images that identify our culture, our identity, that’s important both here and in the Ukraine. Our first Carnival Parade was in Belfast city centre. Nothing like that had ever happened before. Communities
David Boyd: “We’ll keep going as long as we can”
didn’t mix there, people didn’t feel safe so I decided city centre first rather than local. It created a picture of people together on the street in a joyful and welcoming atmosphere. Previously parades were celebratory for a particular community that did not extend to everybody. So what’s in the future for the Carnival Centre? “I’ve given up on the idea of Carnival as Northern Ireland’s big celebration,” replied David. “The big agencies don’t give us the support to do it. Politically it’s always difficult because politicians play to their own communities so there’s more interest in preserving the localised celebrations. “There is a lot of political connivance in festivals. So the notion is that east and west should work together.You can play that game but it’s a different type of thing. Support from Belfast City Council stopped years ago. We’ll keep going as long as we can. “When we were based in east Belfast, Carnival brought people from all over Belfast and Ireland to create the carnival. That led to the involvement of other arts organisations based here. “We are now on an interface at the
bottom of the Shankill and on the edge of the city centre. The Carnival Centre is in a very important and significant location. We have been part of an in-depth process; the Greater Shankill Neighbourhood Renewal Action Plan. It includes strategies for education, housing, community development. There was a culture and arts section but with no actions. We are in a position to help with that and now there’s a Shankill Arts Forum to look at a vision for arts development and to look at what events and programmes we can run to support it.” What do you see happening in the next five years? “We now own this building here on the Shankill,” said David. “We want to create a building that’s fit for purpose for a wide range of activities. We’ll invest money in training and development with people from the area and beyond. We’ll work with other organisations to aid capacity development for them and hope that in five years time we will start to see the results. “We want people to say Greater Shankill is known for its arts and creativity. Wouldn’t that be great? Creating a different picture.”
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
Welcome to Night Vale, above, and Serial, left, have both showed the high standards of podcasting
VIEW, Issue 39, 2016
A world in your ear
Writer Harry Reid urges the public to harness the power of podcasting
f words are the clothes that an individual or organisation dresses their ideas in, then it’s tempting to view podcasts as a tailor-made catwalk to showcase them to an intended audience. Yet podcasts, when creatively and skillfully produced, have the potential to be much more than this. Done well, they are vivacious lexical dance-floors, choreographed by their producers to allow free spirited – yet focused – exploration, examination and expression of ideas on any subject, including, as we shall see, any and all aspects of the arts. What’s more, for their originators, podcasts offer the opportunity to fully craft and control the content and perspectives they wish to disseminate. This is in qualitative and quantitative contrast to having their concerns and analysis mangled by both the reductionist sound bite culture of much traditional print and broadcast media, and the selective editorial spin such outlets commonly subject, even the limited attention they are habitually prepared to grant, to consideration of social issues. For anyone as yet unacquainted with the potential joys and uses of podcasts, they are basically digitally recorded audio programmes distributed via the internet on platforms such as iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher and then listened to on any suitable device such as a smartphone. Although large traditional broadcasters like the BBC and RTE produce a spectrum of what they call podcasts, though usually excellently produced, these are mostly existing radio broadcasts simply available to download on demand. In contrast, like many forms of digital media, podcasts can be produced and distributed by anyone with ideas but no significant resources. In the case of podcast production, essentially all that is required is a decent microphone; editing software, such as the free Audacity; a device to run it on and time investment. This presents budget constrained not for profit organisations with spectacular opportunities, providing they are prepared
to devote focused time to: • Appreciate the sensibilities and nuances of podcasts as a distinct medium, • Embrace decent editorial and production values to produce a quality podcast, and, • Build an audience through savvy promotional use of social media channels, particularly Twitter. For many people, podcasting began on October 3, 2014, with the appearance of Serial, which, characterised by superb storytelling, became an online audio phenomenon that won both a vast audience and a prestigious Peabody Award for its sheer quality. In fact, by that stage podcasting had been around for more than a decade with many well-produced and interesting shows developing a large and loyal community of listeners. Without doubt though, Serial, by so successfully capturing the public imagination on both sides of the Atlantic, acted as a tipping point in terms of the volume of people integrating podcast-listening into their everyday mix of media consumption, There are now 300,000 individual regularly produced podcasts with collective audiences counted in the multi-millions. Of course, like all forms of digital media, podcasts are subject to a bell curve of quality. Some are the audio equivalent of a selfie posted by a music or game fixated individual who really should get out more while a huge chunk are mediocre, but then in every subject area, there are enlivening gems.
The arts arena is blessed with a huge array of high-quality podcasts that broadly divide into three distinct strains. Firstly there’s a select group of podcasts that are art forms in their own right by ingeniously conjuring fictional worlds in a theatre of the imagination. Perhaps currently best known of these is Welcome To Night Vale, a Twin Peaks meets The Twilight Zone weirdfest. More conventional perhaps, but boasting spellbinding storytelling, are the highly inventive Limetown and grippingly enthralling The Message. While there are many worthy contenders for the second category of podcasts intelligently discussing and reviewing the arts across all forms, both NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and Slate’s Culture Gabfest stand out for their verve, wit and enthusiastic eclecticism. Quality podcasts in the third strand of examinations of a particular art-form abound. Cinephiles will be enriched by the charming You Must Remember This, while connoisseurs of fine writing in all its varied forms could do not better than Longform. Limited space precludes more than the cursory overview above, and it should be emphasised that dance; visual arts; photography; music and all other art-forms are served by great specialist podcasts. Having listened to a vast array of podcasts I’m happy to reply to emails from readers requesting additional recommendations of quality podcasts in the arts or other subject areas (contact me via email@example.com) • Harry Reid will be tutoring a series of three one-day training masterclasses being hosted by View under the collective title of ‘A Way With Words’. These will respectively cover ‘Effective Writing’, ‘Effective Public Speaking & Presentations’ and ‘Podcast Production’. Details of programmes; dates; venues and fees will be published soon in the Training section of the View website.
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