An Open Letter to Arlene Foster MLA
Room 310, Parliament Buildings, Ballymiscaw, Stormont, Belfast BT4 3XX
Dear Mrs Foster,
On Friday last week you attempted to sneak an announcement through, foretelling the culling of the Tourism Events National Sponsorship Scheme for 2015/16. One should never make assumptions but I assume that you in turn assumed that the creative heart and soul of the city would be preparing themselves for a weekend of revelling and darkening the doorsteps of various “dens of iniquity” and would somehow miss this revelation.
By now, you are surely aware of the disgust and contempt for this decision within the events and arts community. It’s taken us a few days to gather our collective thoughts and mobilise but in part that’s down to the few days of disbelief that such a decision had been made without consulting those directly involved.
Your petty squabbles with Mark H. Durkan, and subsequent waste of money from the public purse, suggest that you’re not a fan of people making decisions without first going through the proper channels. Who was questioned, talked to, or even given a second thought before you robbed some of the lowest funded and highest achieving events, festivals and arts initiatives of money which your department had previously promised in good faith?
Many different groups have been drastically affected by these cuts. I personally have worked alongside the hardworking teams of staff and volunteers of Open House Festival and Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, both of which have been hard hit. These festivals have given me some of the happiest days I’ve had in this city and have enabled me to experience things the Belfast of old would never have been privy to.
I don’t need to reiterate the financial implications of this decisions. They have been outlined in the media several times already particularly by Adam Turkington on his well informed post on Slugger O’Toole.
I count the many people met through these festivals as friends, and this includes Americans, Australians, Germans, French and others from across the globe who for a short while have brought themselves to our city and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. None of these people come for Orange Parades or ‘Peaceful’ Protests. They come for the vibrancy of a great city, one where religion, race and creed don’t matter. A rare side of Belfast the media and in particular the politicians on the hill need to sit up and now take notice of.
Let me take you to New York City in 1932 for a moment. The iconic photo of men lunching at the top of the Rockerfella Centre had just been taken and represented a huge cultural shift. New York was clawing it’s way out of the depression of the 20s and doing this through immigrant workers creating a living, breathing city, infecting it with their cultures, music, ideas and passions. Babe Ruth was knocking baseballs out of the park at the World Series and the idiotic idea of prohibition was being done away with as people once again got out of their houses enjoyed dancing, cabaret, a beer and a bit of jazz.
That very spirit of thriving New York is the one which you and your comrades actively seek to destroy with these cuts. Sporting events, music festivals, events like Mela and Culture Night Belfast mean little to you and your like and yet the country bleeds deep from the pockets maintaining senseless policing of Loyalist intimidation camps and squandering millions on legal cases to entrench the religious mandates of the few.
For hundreds of years now the issues in this country have been orange and green. This is no longer the case. This matter is black and white. Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland is suffering under Conservative rule and Stormont ineptitude. The old trenches dug years back are filled up with disenchanted youth from all communities. From the orange community, from the green one and now more than ever from that community that encompasses the forgotten masses with no religious affiliation.
While the questions are raised and petitions are filed, which building are you lunching atop? Can you hear us up there Minister Foster?
Editor of Folk and Tumble
DJ with Revival Belfast, Open House Festival and Culture Night Belfast