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Snow Patrol: Lightbody says Stormont short-sighted on arts funding



Snow Patrol: Lightbody says Stormont short-sighted on arts funding

By Robbie MeredithBBC News NI education and arts correspondent

Getty Images Gary LightbodyGetty Images

Gary Lightbody said the arts bring joy to so many people

Stormont is “short-sighted” when it comes to public funding for arts like music, drama, and writing, according to one of Northern Ireland’s biggest musical exports.

Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody made the remark in an interview for BBC News NI’s Sunday Politics programme.

He added Northern Ireland spent much less per head of population on the arts than neighbouring countries in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

He said the arts were a “life-raft” for many people.

‘Under-appreciation of the arts’

The Irish government introduced a minimum basic income for around 2,000 artists, musicians and performers in 2022.

Stars like Michael Sheen and Katherine Jenkins have criticised recent cuts to arts funding in Wales.

But according to recent figures released by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), Wales spends twice as much on the arts per head of population compared to Northern Ireland.

According to ACNI, Northern Ireland spend £5.07 on arts funding per head of population in 2023/24 compared to £10.51 spent in Wales and £21.58 in the Republic of Ireland.

Gary Lightbody

Gary Lightbody spoke to Mark Carruthers for the Sunday Politics programme

The Arts Council is the body which distributes funding to venues, arts organisations, writers, musicians, filmmakers and performers.

The Department for Communities (DfC) – the Executive department responsible for arts funding – has acknowledged that funding to ACNI “has decreased, in real terms, by 30% over the last decade”.

“If we could even have parity per capita with Wales, that’s the first goal I think,” Lightbody said.

“That should be the lowest limit of where we’re at.”

He also said that there was an “under-appreciation, to say the least” from Stormont towards the arts.

“Our government perhaps has a view that arts will just take care of itself,” he said.

“That doesn’t take into consideration all the institutions that require that funding to keep going.”

Getty Images TheatreGetty Images

Gary Lightbody said the arts, such as theatre, helped people feel connected

Lightbody also said he realised that other “really vital and important services should be above the arts.”

“Education and healthcare and infrastructure, all these things are vitally important,” he continued.

“I totally agree that those are the most important things in a society.

“We have to keep everybody alive, we have to educate and we have to try and house as many people as possible – all these things are vitally important.

“But we also need reasons to live and reasons to have joy in this world and I think art is something that brings people so much joy.

“It’s probably the main thing other than sport.”

He also pointed out that compared to funding for other public services, a small increase in support for the arts “would change an awful lot of lives”.

Lightbody said that things like writing, drama, music, poetry, singing and dancing made people “feel connected”.

“Music has always been the thing for me,” he said.

“Music has always been that voice that has risen above all the other voices in my head!

“It’s always been that life-raft for me and I think it is for so many people.

“We’re very short-sighted as a country, as a community, as a people, as a place if we don’t at least respect the arts to the value that it’s being respected in other places.”

‘The arts makes us, us’

Lightbody said when he talked about arts funding, he was not thinking of “people like me or people that are doing well”.

“I’m talking about people that aren’t, and can’t possibly do it any other way other than getting a little bit of funding.”

He told Mark Carruthers on Sunday Politics that the success of people from Northern Ireland like Van Morrison, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds and Lisa McGee “doesn’t tell the whole story”.

“There’s so many artists that just with a little bit of help, they wouldn’t have to move on to something else and leave art behind them,” he said.

Getty Images Gary LightbodyGetty Images

Gary Lightbody received an OBE for services to music and charity.

“I know so many incredible artists that have to do that.

“This is not a problem one person can solve, this is a problem that a government should be helping with.”

Lightbody said that he would “gladly speak” with Stormont’s communities minister about the future of arts funding.

“I believe that there is a persuasive case to make that the arts brings so much to any society, to any culture,” he said.

“It is a vital part of what makes us, us.”

You can watch Sunday Politics on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10:00 BST or on iPlayer here.

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