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

Image Source, Getty Images

illustrate, Gary Lightbody says art brings joy to many people

  • author, Robbie Meredith
  • Role, BBC News NI Education and Arts Reporter

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

Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody made the comments during an interview with BBC News NI’s Sunday Politics programme.

He added that Northern Ireland spends much less per head on the arts than neighboring Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

He said art was a “life raft” for many people.

“Insufficient appreciation of art”

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

But according to recently released figures from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), arts spending per head of population is twice as high in Wales as in Northern Ireland.

According to ACNI figures, per capita arts funding expenditure in Northern Ireland was £5.07 in 2023/24, compared with £10.51 in Wales and £21.58 in the Republic of Ireland.

illustrate, Gary Lightbody interviewed by Mark Carruthers on Sunday Politics

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

The Department for Communities (DfC), the executive department responsible for arts funding, admitted that ACNI funding “has fallen by 30% in real terms over the past decade”.

“If we can be on par with Wells per capita, I think that’s the No. 1 goal,” Lightbody said.

“That should be the minimum we’re at.”

He also said Stormont’s view of the arts was “undervalued to say the least”.

“Our government probably thinks that the arts will take care of themselves,” he said.

“That doesn’t take into account all the institutions that need funding to continue to operate.”

Image Source, Getty Images

illustrate, Gary Lightbody says arts like theater can help people feel connected

Lightbody also said he realized that other “really important services should take precedence over the arts.”

“Education, health care, infrastructure, all of those are critical,” he continued.

“I completely agree that these are the most important things in society.

“We have to keep everyone alive, we have to educate, we have to try to house as many people as possible – all of these things are critical.

“But we also need a reason to live and a reason to enjoy happiness in this world, and I think art can bring a lot of happiness to people.

“That’s probably the most important thing besides sports.”

He also noted that a small increase in support for the arts “will change many people’s lives” compared with funding for other public services.

Things like writing, drama, music, poetry, singing and dancing make people “feel connected,” Lightbody said.

“Music has always been an interest of mine,” he said.

“Music has always been the sound in my head above all other sounds!

“It’s been a life raft for me and I think it’s been a life raft for a lot of people.

“We would be very short-sighted as a country, as a community, as a people, as a place if we did not at least respect the value of art being respected elsewhere.”

“Art creates us, us”

Lightbody said that when he talks about arts funding, he doesn’t think about “people like me or people who are doing great work.”

“I’m talking about people who don’t have it, and there’s no way they can do it any other way than to get a little bit of funding.”

He told Mark Carruthers on Sunday Politics that the success of Northern Irishmen such as Van Morrison, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds and Lisa McGee “doesn’t tell the whole story” .

“There are so many artists out there who, with a little help, don’t have to turn to other fields and leave their art behind,” he said.

Image Source, Getty Images

illustrate, Gary Lightbody was awarded an OBE for services to music and charity.

“I know a lot of incredible artists who have to do this.

“This is not a problem that one person can solve, this is a problem that the government should help solve.”

Lightbody said he would be “pleased” to discuss the future of arts funding with Stormont’s communities minister.

“I believe there is a persuasive case that art can bring so much impact to any society, to any culture,” he said.

“That’s a big part of who we are.”

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

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