Against a backdrop of ongoing debates about identity and the question of what it means to be from Northern Ireland, re-imaging was the topic of the day in Derry’s Playhouse on Thursday as a funding pot of £3.1m was announced to re-image communities across the North.
Hoping to address racism and sectarianism and change the negative and contentious imagery which has defined many communities on both sides of the political divide here, the money for ‘Building Peace through the Arts’ has been put forward by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the International Fund for Ireland and the Special EU Programmes Body under the Peace III programme.
It will be available to those groups who express a genuine desire to change the physical landscape of where they live, creating shared and more inclusive spaces.
Launching the programme, the Deputy First Minister said: “Building Peace through the arts will address signs of sectarianism and racism within the north of Ireland and the border areas, using arts projects to promote the ethos of a shared future whilst allowing for cultural expression.
“The Executive recognises the need to create a shared society where there is genuine opportunity for all.”
Geraldine O’Donnell, project co-ordinator with Top of the Hill 2010, recently oversaw a re-imaging project in her own community.
“Thanks to the help of local artist Locky Morris, we’ll soon be able to unveil our ‘Shortcuts’ sculpture,” says Geraldine,
“It was the result of months and months of research in the local community in Top of the Hill and Locky worked with young people from the Whistle Project as well as older people and people who grew up here. Thanks to the support of the Housing Executive we saw the removal of the territorial kerbs and lamp posts and we’re now in the process of clearing a space around the sculpture.
“People in the community are really proud of the art which symbolises the shortcuts people took from Top of the Hill to work in the shirt factories. Local people had great input and they really took ownership of the piece so for us the re-imaging project has been very positive and it’s something I’d encourage other communities to do.”
Speaking at Thursday’s launch, Chief Executive of the Arts Council, Roisin McDonough, said: “The Arts Council is delighted to be taking the lead role in delivering this important programme which places creative regeneration at the heart of local community neighbourhoods. The Building Peace through the Arts – Re-Imaging Communities programme will provide an invaluable opportunity for communities in Northern Ireland to promote tolerance and understanding while using the arts to find positive, new ways to express identity and tradition.
“The arts introduce a new dimension to the process of building reconciliation within and between communities and this programme will enable artists and local groups to make an even stronger contribution to creating a better future for everyone. “The Building Peace through the Arts - Re-Imaging Communities programme will support the delivery of 80-100 community-based projects across Northern Ireland and the border areas over the next two years, offering grants of up to £15,000 for small projects and up to £50,000 for larger-scale projects.”
Hilary McClintock, Community Development Officer with the Waterside Area Partnership, says the latest round of funding will be a real opportunity for communities across the city to move forward in a more positive and inclusive light.
“Re-imaging has already made a huge difference to several communities in the Waterside including Lincoln Courts, Drumahoe and Bond Street.
“It’s about taking away something which marks a tradition and form of cultural expression from the past and replacing it with something which has involved all sections of the community. The artists involved work with all age groups, for example the children were very much involved with the Lincoln Courts project.
“Re-imaging within communities makes areas more welcoming and allows people to play a positive role in their community. I know there are other areas in the Waterside who are raring to go with their projects and we’re delighted to see this funding being announced,” she said.
The Building Peace through the Arts - Re-Imaging Communities Programme is now open for applications from groups across the North and border areas in the Republic of Ireland. To find out more, please contact the Arts Council on + 44 (0)28 9038 5228 or visit the website at www.artscouncilni-org.