Culture and Arts Strategy Consultation

Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 23rd November 2015.

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Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker 12:00 pm, 23rd November 2015

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure wishes to make a statement.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Le do chead, ba mhaith liom ráiteas a dhéanamh os comhair an Tionóil faoi lainseáil comhairliúcháin ar dhul chun cinn na straitéise ealaíon agus cultúir.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to the Assembly announcing the launch of a consultation to develop a culture and arts strategy. I have chosen to make the statement to launch the consultation because I believe passionately in our arts and culture. I believe that arts and culture deserve to be enjoyed, supported and funded and to be accessible, equally, by all. That is an important and fundamental right, and I believe that its importance warrants a public statement. I hope that the consultation will lead to a new and forward-looking strategy for arts and culture in the North of Ireland from 2016 to 2026.

In January of this year, I established the Ministerial Arts Advisory Forum (MAAF), under the chairmanship of Mr Bob Collins. The forum included representatives from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure; the Grand Opera House; the MAC, Lyric and Playhouse theatres; Beat Carnival; Community Arts Partnership; Belfast Film Festival, Féile an Phobail; the Arts and Disability Forum; Young at Art; the Arts Council; New Lodge Arts; Audiences NI; the Crescent Arts Centre; and ArtsEkta.

Following a number of meetings, the forum developed a set of proposed aims and themes for a culture and arts strategy. This consultation document develops the input from the ministerial arts advisory forum. I welcome its involvement and contribution to this important process thus far. I want to put on record my appreciation to the members of the ministerial arts advisory forum.

Arts enrich the lives of individuals, communities and wider society. Culture is all around us and belongs to everyone, and arts are an intrinsic part of our culture. In my time as Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, I have made it a priority that the work across my Department is embedded in the principles of promoting equality and tackling poverty and social exclusion. In my view, arts and culture provide an excellent platform to promote those principles and, more importantly, to see how they can translate into making real difference on the ground in hard-to-reach areas and areas of isolation.

Arts and culture can and should be open and accessible to everyone. They should not be viewed as rightful entertainment for some and beyond the reach of others, whether financially or simply by perception or understanding of what arts and culture means. They should be available to all. I want people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to have the opportunity to participate in and enjoy the arts and cultural experiences of their choice. I acknowledge that there is a balance to be struck between access and quality and a need to ensure that, by widening access and participation in arts and culture, quality is protected. The principle of equality should be fundamental and underscore all those ideals. Very importantly, making arts and culture available to everyone should not be interpreted as a path to diluting the arts. Arts and culture matter to people. Everyone does not make the same cultural or artistic choices.

Access and participation in arts and culture can transcend the internationally renowned performances in our theatres to the weekly rehearsal for a play to be performed at a local community centre. Who knows where or what background our next international star will come from?

In sports, men and women may not make the Olympic teams, but that does not diminish their enjoyment or commitment to their chosen sport. Many thousands who do not participate in sport still achieve great enjoyment and pleasure from participating in events as a spectator. Not all children who play football on a Saturday morning may reach international level, but there is still great enjoyment to be had. Our arts and culture should be accepted and valued in the same manner across all sections of the community.

Carnivals, pantomime, traditional and popular music and pipe band competitions all engage highly successfully with a range of people. The impact of arts on children, people who are ill and those with dementia demonstrate the very personal power of the arts. Those and many more examples resonate with people and within the community.

I am pleased today to reiterate my support for and appreciation of the value of the arts. Today's launch of a consultation on a 10-year strategy, which I believe should be similar to the highly successful Sport Matters strategy, is a sign of my firm commitment to arts and culture. I believe that it is essential that there is a clear, overarching strategy for arts and culture that transcends and cuts across all of government; a strategy that recognises the true benefits of access and participation in arts and culture and makes equality central to its aims; a strategy that is underpinned by appropriate government recognition and support.

I believe that arts and culture should be given a higher priority when it comes to Budget allocations. In my time as a Minister, I successfully argued for in-year funding to support arts and culture and for interventions for marginalised and disadvantaged groups. Arts and culture are an obvious way to build on the principles embedded in Delivering Social Change and Together: Building a United Community. Through strong leadership, innovation and government support, they can help to move us from a community emerging from conflict to a shared community and a more cohesive and peaceful society. Culture and arts are also vital contributors to the economy and to social and economic regeneration. I want to make sure that our arts and culture sector is fit for purpose, promotes and supports equality and social inclusion and meets the needs of a modern, digital society.

Our rural areas are also equally important. Equality of access and participation also means regional and geographical access.

It is not enough that quality arts are centred in towns and cities; it is vital that the outreach extend across the whole of the North.

We already know that arts and culture provide a platform as an economic driver, create job opportunities, support tourism and promote the North of Ireland on the international stage, as well as bring communities together. We have many examples such as Culture Night, Belfast Mela, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the Walled City Tattoo, City of Culture, the Beckett Festival, and Pride. I could recite many more.

I want arts and culture to be a serious and important career choice for our children, one that is fully recognised through our education, training and employment systems. The creativity and specialism in the creative industries has long supported the wider economy. Those industries are well recognised as key drivers of sustainable economic regeneration and job creation. Ultimately, I want to deliver a strategy that underpins all those benefits and supports us all in moving towards a civically engaged, internationalised, vibrant, progressive and cohesive society. I want to deliver a strategy that provides equality for all. I also want to deliver a strategy that is sustainable and which develops our heritage and our cultural and artistic resources and ensures a lasting legacy for future generations. Therefore, I encourage a wide range of responses to the consultation. Make your views known, particularly if you have something to add to the proposals.

There has been much focus in recent weeks on the arts and culture sector, particularly in light of decisions that I had to take to reprioritise my Department's budget. In that regard, it is worth stating to the House that my Department's opening budget position for 2015-16 was about £10 million — approximately 10% — less than in 2014-15. From that starting position, funding to the arts was undoubtedly going to be impacted. I am pleased to say that, as a result of funding reallocations as part of the November monitoring round, I successfully secured reinstatement of funding for the arts and sports. I was delighted to announce last Thursday that £620,000 has been reinstated to the Arts Council's budget. That funding can now be passed on to the 32 arts organisations that had been impacted by the earlier cuts.

I have listened to many representations made to me over recent days and weeks. I witnessed the passionate protests made in the grounds of the Assembly recently and pledged to do my utmost to secure additional funding so that some or all of the money taken from arts organisations could be reinstated. I made a strong case for its reinstatement, and I am pleased that Minister Foster took account of that in the reallocation of moneys. I thank her again for listening to my arguments.

As I have consistently said, cuts to the block grant by the Tory Government are causing huge difficulties for the Executive and are having a detrimental impact on front-line services. The culture, arts and leisure sector is a highly valuable sector and one that brings a multitude of benefits to those who actively engage and participate in it. I believe that it deserves to be financed publicly to the requisite standard. That is not to say that culture and arts can be given an endless pot of money. However, I firmly believe that there has, for a long time, been a misunderstanding of the valuable services delivered by our arts and culture organisations, particularly how they can promote equality and tackle poverty and social exclusion. I want arts and culture to be recognised as an equal partner when Ministers discuss the allocation of budgets; I want arts and culture to be recognised for the tremendous benefits that they bring to our community, our economy and, more important, to the lives of the people who participate in them.

I look forward to the consultation in the time ahead and to receiving responses. This is a public conversation on how we, as a society, want to support arts and culture. I know that arts and culture are dear to many people here; the recent attention focused on funding to the arts proves that. I ask that all stakeholders, including politicians in the Chamber, are energised to help me to make a resounding case for appropriate and sustainable funding for arts and culture as we move forward. Access to arts and culture is a right for everyone; it is not merely a privilege. We can all agree on that. Arts and culture deliver a range of benefits to people who participate and engage in them, not least in terms of mental health and well-being. Let us make sure that their many benefits are maximised for everyone.

When finalised, the strategy will be the first overarching, cross-departmental strategy for arts and culture in the North of Ireland.

Tá mé tiomanta don cheart bhunúsach gur chóir go mbeadh deiseanna ag gach duine sult a bhaint as na healaíona agus as an chultúr. I am committed to the fundamental right that the opportunities to enjoy the arts and culture should be available to everyone. I hope that that aspiration can be fulfilled by delivering a successful, engaging consultation to inform future direction. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP 12:15 pm, 23rd November 2015

I suppose I welcome the publication of the document insofar as we have been waiting for it for some time.

Two themes strike me on reading it, and it is only an initial reading. There is a strong focus, as it says on the cover, on:

"Improving society and outcomes by promoting equality and tackling poverty and social exclusion."

The other aspect of the development of the arts, which arts organisations feel strongly about, is the inherent value of the arts themselves in addition to the benefits that they bring generally to society.

It strikes me in looking at the document and comparing it with the original project initiation document from September 2014 that we are well behind in timescale. The document of 16 September 2014 said that the document would be going out to consultation in April 2015, and we are now at the end of November. It said that it would go out for 20 weeks' consultation, and I see that that has now been reduced to 12 weeks, because 20 weeks would have taken us through to the election. Even with the reduction in the consultation time to 12 weeks, if that ends in the middle of February, it will take more than four weeks for a consultation process to be properly considered by the Minister. That would take us through to around St Patrick's Day, which would mean that you are almost getting to that point with purdah and so on where any action or decisions around this are almost impossible, and that is disappointing.

In that context, when did the Minister or her Department receive the document from the two groups involved in the process — the ministerial advisory group and the cross-departmental group — and why has it been so late in coming forward? How does she propose to deal with the fact that a proper examination of the consultation responses will take us through almost to the election?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member, the Chair of the Committee, for his statements and, eventually, his questions.

I received the final draft consultation in early summer. Given the work that we needed to do on the consultation, and then given the period that we were in with the Stormont House Agreement talks, in my opinion today was the best opportunity for me to publish the consultation. A 20-week consultation would not have allowed me to provide any comments or even to try to prepare a way forward, particularly for the new Department for Communities. That is why it was reduced to 12 weeks.

I am pleased that the Member agrees that there is a need for an arts and cultural strategy. I know that through his work and other work, particularly around Ulster-Scots culture and heritage, he will use his influence to talk to that community and communities to ensure feedback to the consultation.

Many artists in the culture and arts sector are probably some of the worst paid. We need to ensure that they are not impoverished as a result of a new strategy. As well as that, we need to ensure that opportunities, particularly in cities and towns, but more importantly in rural communities, are availed of.

It is an opportunity for all the elements included in the statement — it was a lengthy statement — to try to ensure that we have full and robust feedback into the consultation. I believe that I have enough time to ensure that whoever comes behind me finds the new Department in a better place than I found the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure when I came in.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

Before I call the next Member to speak, I remind Members that I will be unable to extend the same leeway as I extended to the Committee Chair. Please come directly to your question.

Photo of Cathal Ó hOisín Cathal Ó hOisín Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire as an ráiteas sin. Given the importance of traditional music and the fact that Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann brought some £43 million into Derry and the north-west area, is there an opportunity in the arts and culture strategy for a greater reflection of traditional music?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The short answer is yes. The Arts Council recently had a review of the traditional music sector. I know that the Member is aware of it through his work with Comhaltas. As recently as last week, I was talking to a group of young people who wanted to know what support they could avail themselves of and what opportunities there were for support in the future for kids who are trying to use music — pop or rap — as a way of working through crime prevention initiatives on interfaces. I advised them about the consultation and encouraged them, as I encourage the Member and everyone else, to use the opportunity to make their views known. We need to ensure that this is as inclusive as possible of age, gender, political background and where people live.

Photo of Karen McKevitt Karen McKevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her statement. A few weeks back, at the start of November, the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee met and engaged with a number of arts groups that were established as part of the Ministerial Arts Advisory Forum, some of which you mentioned. After discussion on how we could go forward with the strategy, they indicated to me that the forum had not actually met. That was only a few weeks ago. Will the Minister outline to the House how many times the forum has met, when it first met and what communication those groups offered as part of the strategy?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I established the ministerial arts advisory forum in January this year. I do not have the details at hand, but I will get a breakdown of when and how often the forum met for the Member As recently as last month, I was speaking to the Arts Council, which raised the expectation of the strategy coming forward. I told the council that it would happen before the end of November. I was not asked for a meeting of the forum before that, but I am certainly happy to give the Member those details and to bring them forward. Other members who did not appear before the Committee have not indicated to me that there is a problem with meetings or their frequency. I will certainly provide the Member with those details.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP

I also thank the Minister for her statement; it is helpful. She mentioned the "balance ... between access and quality" a couple of times. Will she explain exactly what she means by balancing the two and how, in that sense, quality is protected?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I have heard an argument voiced by some, albeit a minority, who feel that a particular focus on access and the participation of hard-to-reach communities would somehow dilute or dumb down the quality of the arts because of the funding or support available. A small group of people hold that view, but it is not the case at all. I assure people that we need to concentrate on where the specialities lie. Some people, for example, work particularly well with people in a hospital or healthcare setting. In the same vein and manner that the Sport Matters strategy involves other Departments and bodies, the arts and culture strategy will, hopefully, do the same. That should mean that other Departments and bodies have a role to play in distribution to the arts and culture sector.

We need to ensure that quality is not dumbed down. I do not accept that argument, and I never have. If anything, we will ensure greater outcome and output for the people involved and, hopefully, better sustainability for all in the future.

Photo of Anna Lo Anna Lo Alliance

I thank the Minister for her statement and welcome the consultation. As the Minister is aware, Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of public funding for the arts in the whole of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. What safeguards will there be in the new strategy to ensure that the arts and culture sector is adequately resourced, not just to survive but to grow and thrive?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Funding in other jurisdictions — particularly in the South, but also in Wales, Scotland and England — is proportionate. That figure does not take into consideration the money given to the arts and culture sector by other bodies and Departments, and I think that it needs to do so. Notwithstanding that, do we need to ensure that there is more money? Absolutely. Do we need to ensure that there is better sustainability? We absolutely do. I believe that other Departments have a role to play in the delivery and sustainability of arts and culture across this island, particularly in the North. There is so much that we can do collectively to get a better outcome for us as a community. This consultation provides us with an opportunity to do just that.

Photo of Gordon Dunne Gordon Dunne DUP

I thank the Minister for her statement. Can the Minister assure us that the strategy includes an equality impact assessment to ensure equality of funding for festivals and events, particularly in unionist areas?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I will ensure that an equality impact assessment is done on all aspects of feedback from the consultation. Ensuring that there is particular funding for unionist areas is the complete opposite of an equality impact assessment. However, if the outcome is found —

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

You would know all about equality.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

However, if the outcome shows that there is a disparity in funding, it will be flagged up in the equality impact assessment. The good thing about equality impact assessments is that they are based on evidence and fact, not on rants from Back-Benchers.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

When Members ask a question, they should have the manners to listen to the answer. If I hear another remark such as the one that you have just made, Mr Humphrey, I will respond immediately. It was completely out of order, and I think that you are well enough aware that that is the case.

Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister's statement to announce this consultation. Minister, will you ensure that the strategy is well embedded in the 11 new super-councils?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The short answer is yes. The 11 new super-councils played a very proactive role, as did the old councils, in the roll-out of the Sport Matters strategy through the implementation group. I anticipate that the same energy and focus will be brought to our 10-year arts and culture strategy. I know personally that the role Belfast City Council plays locally in the arts and culture sector is valued. I believe that each council has a lot to offer to the sector.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

Why were no organisations based in rural areas included on the ministerial advisory forum?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Some of the organisations work right across the North. I know of some of the work that the groups have done, and done very well. They do it to the best of their ability. I want to ensure that there is a focus on rural communities, as the feedback over the last few years has been that there is not enough happening there. They would like to see more, and I think that that is a valid concern to raise. That is no criticism of the groups involved in this forum. The work that they have done, particularly in rural communities, has been valued. It is important that rural communities are as visible as any others in the feedback.

Photo of Rosaleen McCorley Rosaleen McCorley Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an ráiteas ar maidin. I thank the Minister for her statement. An dtig leis an Aire cur síos ar an tacaíocht atá tugtha aici do na healaíona ó tháinig sí i gceannas ar a Roinn? Will she outline the support that she has given to the arts since coming into the Department?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin 12:30 pm, 23rd November 2015

Support for the Arts Council is in the region of £75 million. That has also helped towards programmes in places such as the MAC, the Lyric and others. That has been distributed to many arts groups, including some of the bigger of the 32 annually funded groups, for years.

When looking at events, such as the City of Culture, you can see the benefits that we have delivered, particularly in the north-west. That is an example of how funding separate from that provided by the Arts Council can be brought in. That success shows that there is a need for additionality and for a joined-up approach. The arts and culture sector would value additional support over and above what it already receives.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister. I am sure that arts groups will welcome the consultation and will respond. The Minister might be aware of a new all-party group here to support the arts and creativity. I hope that she will accept our invitation to come along during the period of consultation so that arts groups who are represented can give feedback directly. Will the Minister explain how she will ensure that the arts will have a clear role, position and space in the next Programme for Government in the absence of a dedicated Department?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

First, I accept the invitation to come to the all-party group. I am using this opportunity to get out and about as much as possible and to talk to people right up until the 18 December or 19 December. I have, from today onwards, arranged to meet a lot of groups on their invitation, and I am happy to meet the all-party group on the arts.

I believe that all the functions of the Arts Council will transfer into the new Department of Communities. It will be the same arm's-length body (ALB), but with a differently named Department. That should ensure that not only are people familiar with the same contacts but there is a security in that arrangement. This is an additional layer that has, in my opinion, been needed for many years. It will ensure that arts and culture are valued not only in the new Department of Communities but right across the Executive. I believe that other Departments have a very strong role to play in the rolling out of this new strategy.

Again, I welcome your invitation and those of many others, and if I can, I will take them up.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I welcome the consultation announced by the Minister this afternoon. The statement refers to the principle of equality and states that it should be fundamental. In the interests of equality, inclusivity and social inclusion, why does the arts advisory forum, which the Minister established, not include representatives from the Ulster-Scots community, the Orange community and the marching bands fraternity?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

It is simply because we asked the arts sector for representatives who were representative. These people provide services to all members of the community and to all communities, not just the Orange Order or marching bands or anyone else, for that matter.

(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Newton] in the Chair)

It is good to see that the Member has an interest in this strategy. I encourage him, through his membership of those organisations, to ensure that not only do they feed into the consultation but those needs that might be fed in for the future are reflective rather than just those of a certain political party.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I welcome the fact that the Minister has brought a public statement to the Assembly on this important issue. I agree wholeheartedly with her that we have world-class artists in Northern Ireland who are enriching the lives of individuals, our community and our economy, and I welcome her support for East Belfast Arts Festival in particular.

I agree with her statement that the strategy must be underpinned by appropriate government support, but my understanding is that funding is as little as 11p or 13p per head of the population in Northern Ireland. What is the target level of funding that she hopes to secure for our arts community's future?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I am taking a needs-based approach rather than a funding-led approach at the beginning. I think that that is important. Some people believe that the arts are getting enough; I am not one of them, to be frank. Some people feel that there are other public services that need to be given greater attention and support.

I support that, insofar as our public purse is obviously going to be stretched, given the context that we are operating in, particularly around Tory austerity.

I believe that, once the feedback from the consultation comes through and the needs are identified, the whole exercise of costing those needs for the future will be done. It is regrettable that Members should start off by saying — I am not suggesting that you are, but I have already heard some of this — "Let's raise it to 15p per person". In my opinion, that is the wrong way to go. That makes it easy for people who do not want to give support to walk away from giving support.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaimse buíochas fosta leis an Aire. Bhí an ráiteas iontach cuimsitheach, agus caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil mé ag teacht léi in achan rud atá ráite aici ann. Ceann de na deacrachtaí a bhíonn ag grúpaí ealaíne ná maoiniú gearrthréimhseach, agus ba mhaith liom a fhiafraí den Aire an gcuideoidh an comhairliúchán seo le heagraíochtaí ealaíne samhail maoinithe inmharthana a chur chun tosaigh? I must say that I find myself in agreement with the majority of the Minister's statement, but one of the difficulties that arts organisations often bring up is the short-term nature of the funding awarded to them. How will the consultation and, indeed, the strategy help ensure that arts groups have a sustainable form of funding rather than short-term funding?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas agus aontaím leis sin go hiomlán. Thank you very much for that. I completely agree with you. One of the things that has been consistently and constantly raised is the short-term approach to funding and security, particularly when groups are trying to plan for big events one or two, or more, years ahead. The opportunity for that to be fed into a consultation is huge, because it will inform the needs across the sector for at least 10 years. I appreciate that needs and themes change, but, if anything, the consultation has the opportunity and possibility of providing better sustainability for the sector, not just from the Arts Council but across Departments and bodies. I believe that the short-term approach and the lack of sustainable funding are things that the arts sector collectively wants to change.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The statement contains many fine words, such as:

"Culture is all around us and belongs to everyone".

Does the Minister nonetheless perceive any credibility problem, given her reputation as a serial protester in her constituency at manifestations of Orange culture, or are we going to see a fresh start, with her desisting from such activity?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

As the Member will know from his legal training, a person's right to protest is a fundamental right. I support my right to protest, and anyone else's right to protest, all day long. Unlike the Member and colleagues of his, I support residents in their call for dialogue to change the way forward for contentious parades. I will do that with them and for them all the time, because I think that it is the way to go.

I do not believe that there is anything cultural about playing the 'Famine Song' outside St Patrick's Church. I do not believe that there is anything cultural about people marching around in the actions of a band playing the 'Famine Song' outside St Patrick's Church. I do not think that there is anything cultural about spitting in the face of protesters outside St Patrick's Church. In fact, people from Cardiff, London and Edinburgh are scratching their head at what part of Britishness that represents, because it does not represent them.

If the Member wishes to ask me a question about the strategy, I will be as helpful to him as I have been on previous occasions on which he has asked questions, but, on this, I really wish that he would wise up.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her very detailed announcement to the Assembly. It is very important that we take note of what you said, particularly that making arts and culture available to everyone should not be interpreted as a path to diluting the arts. Arts and culture matter to people. In implementing a strategy of this sort, how will the Minister ensure that all sectors of the arts receive a fair and balanced distribution of funding? It is a matter of great concern to some that elements of the arts are favoured over others.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question. I am sure that he is speaking to the same arts and cultural groups in our constituency that I have spoken to. They have felt that a lot of the bigger funding awards have gone to the same groups for decades. They are happy that that happens but they are also concerned that smaller groups that do very important work are sometimes overshadowed and overlooked. I want to ensure that, in the feedback to this consultation, there is a plan for the way forward to try to accommodate all the different aspects of culture and arts. That includes some of the bigger theatre companies right through to, for example, groups that do therapeutic work with children at risk.

I believe that there is a place for us all and I welcome the opportunity, when the Member and other Members talk to constituents or groups, for them to use this consultation as a way of having the views of such groups heard. The worst thing would be that people miss this opportunity and do not see some aspect of their work in any future strategy.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I welcome the statement and congratulate the Minister for the way in which she delivered it. I am particularly pleased by her recognition of the arts voice that has come to the fore. I realise that the Minister is busy but did she, by any chance, catch, on BBC 2 last night, 'Ireland with Simon Reeve', which covered, in Derry/Londonderry, the Playhouse and various other issues such as art in the Bogside. Does she think that there is any connection there, in explaining to Members present, how important the arts are to Delivering Social Change, Together: Building a United Community, and how we might encourage everybody to help the arts?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his comments and question. I did not see the programme on BBC 2 but will certainly look for it on the iPlayer. I know the work that is done in that and similar communities, particularly where it is still difficult to try to get peace and reconciliation or even dialogue when communities are under pressure. One of the ways in which they have done it very successfully has been through the arts.

A few Sundays ago, I saw a play at Queen's Film Theatre about the First World War and Easter Rising, where children from both communities came together. It was an amazing piece of theatre, but the message, for me, was even more amazing.

I also agree, if I have not picked you up wrongly, that the arts sector's voice seems to be heard above the heads of some people in the Chamber. Our communities out there are taking more risks than people in here. It is easy to sit on the Back Benches and mouth off, but it is much harder to go out and do the job; the work done by people who are actually embedding and investing in their communities, sometimes with very little or no support.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

That concludes questions on the statement.