Jennifer Johnston critical of Derry’s lack of ‘artistic ambition’

Local taximan Barney Griffin.  (1712Jb34)
Local taximan Barney Griffin. (1712Jb34)

DERRY based author Jennifer Johnston has heavily criticised the arts scene in Derry - saying there is a lack of artistic ambition in the city.

Speaking on BBC Radio Foyle on Friday, the critically acclaimed author who was last year nominated in the Irish Book of the Decade Awards said there seemed to be a lack of expectation or ambition among the city’s arts community.

She said things were very different when she first moved to Derry in the early 70s - when she said there was an “air of expectation that once the Troubles were gone there would be something truly wonderful waiting to happen

“Sadly that has drifted away,” she told presenter Paul Moore. “Sadly no one seems to have the same expectations that they had.

“I think somewhere in the mid 80s or early 90s there was a great excitement about the arts and the culture and a hope that Derry really could be somewhere great but that kind of trickled away. There is very little happening here now.”

When asked about venues such as the Millennium Forum, the Playhouse and the Void Gallery, Ms Johnston replied: “But do people actually go there?”

She did say she was a great fan of the Void Gallery which she had visited during 2010 - and she had been impressed by the work they carried out.

“They do great stuff, and the young people seem to be enthusiastic about it. That really did cheer me up. As did Pauline Ross’ place - the Playhouse but none of these places could be described as a hotbed of imagination and achievement. Yes, there is no doubt they help a lot of people and there is an amazing enthusiasm for the amateur...

“Indeed I would say that the amateur theatre is so strong in Derry that it killed all expectations of professionalism.”

The 79 year old author compared Derry to Galway saying that the maiden city had much to learn from Galway - a city of much the same size and of a similar cultural heritage.

Praising the theatre groups of the city, Ms Johnston said they played to packed houses, encouraged new writing and the evolvement of the city’s cultural scene.

She did, however, accept the suggestion that Derry’s cultural development may well have been stalled by the years of the Troubles and the lack of investment in the arts adding that she hoped the title of City of Culture 2013 would see a rebirth of artistic talent in the city.

“What I would love to see is students from the university putting on a play somewhere - anywhere - and just see how that grows and grows.”

She said it was incredibly important for the city that a sense of confidence and ambition grows and grows.