Letter of Concern from Peter McCaughy, Artist and Senior Lecturer, Glasgow School of Art
It was with deep concern that I learned that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have withdrawn funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery. As a senior lecturer at Glasgow School of Art and an Irish artist based in Scotland, the Ormeau baths Gallery, with its ambitious curatorial policy and dynamic range of shows has been a vital lynch pin in my continued interest in and understanding of Art activity in Northern Ireland. In particular I have found Hugh Mulholland an excellent ambassador for Art in Northern Ireland and know him to be highly regarded in the wider arts community.
I cannot stress enough how this looks at a distance. It appears that individual egos and discriminatory policies are influencing a hugely contentious decision. This undermines the Northern Irish Arts Council in the eyes of the international arts community. There is a wide sense of shock here in Scotland that such a central and valued resource is to be axed. In all the available details it appears that this is a disproportionate response to matters that OBG was seeking to resolve. If this turns out to be the case this shock will quickly turn to anger at the perception that individual personalities are being allowed to drive what is an appalling decision.
I have witnessed the rise of the Scottish Arts community to international standing over the last 20 years -this cultural renaissance was achieved with the support of enlightened Arts council and City Councils who have come to understand the subtle relationship between supporting, guiding and allowing the arts sector to be independent at the same time.
It is particularly tragic that this decision comes hot on the heels of the widely acclaimed and successful show ‘The Nature of Things’ which is the sort of show which was signalling that Northern Ireland was at last going to get some of the international attention showered on Scotland for the last number of years.
You obviously do not realise how tenuous these achievements within the art world are nor how sensitive the international arts community are to the smell of bureaucratic meddling. You risk losing the respect a central figure like Hugh Mulholland has gained for the Irish arts scene at an international level. You risk throwing the Northern Irish Arts infrastructure back ten or fifteen years. Maybe this is your aspiration? Perhaps you don’t like progressive curatorial policy and would prefer everyone to be filling mediocre galleries with mediocre paintings. You really risk isolating yourselves as a backward thinking, conservative, small minded council. I urge you to rethink this decision, I warn you to be prepared to have every decision you make scrutinised by an angry international arts community that will vigorously pursue any sense of unfairness and discrimination.