Hi Martin! We’re delighted to welcome you to Arts & Business NI as our new Chair. To help fast track the ‘get to know you’ process, please would you answer the following six questions?
1. To kick things off, please tell us a bit about your background – where are you from and what was your path to your current day job?
I’m born and bred in Derry. I’ve spent 32 years in the health service, and my day job is Head of Health Service Pensions, however I’ve had two careers: the ‘day job’, and then there’s my life in the Arts and culture sector. I’ve been Chairman of the OBG (Ormeau Baths Gallery) and of Craft NI, Vice Chair of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, am currently Chairman of the Millennium Forum in Derry, and of course now the new Chair of Arts & Business NI. I believe that being actively involved in the Arts brings balance to my life and helps keep me sane, although it does mean I have frequent flyer status on the Glenshane Pass.
2. You are a very experienced Board Member across many sectors and situations, what is it about cultural organisations that keeps you coming back for more?
The Arts are completely, utterly different from my day job. In particular it’s inspiring to see the approach Arts organisations take to solving problems – and it is exciting to be part of the non-political, creative, out-of-the-box thinking processes that happen. This distinctive approach then supports the magic to happen on-stage or in studios or wherever artists practise their crafts.
3. As the newly appointed Chair of Arts & Business NI, what are the major challenges you see facing other Chairs and Company Directors in the charitable Arts sector (and have you any thoughts on how to face them)?
The main challenge to every sector at the moment is the current political climate. So many important things are not happening because of the void in political leadership. The longer this continues the more the hard work of the Arts sector is being undermined and weakened.
Secondly, increasing pressure on other sectors such as health and education makes it harder for the Arts sector to make its case. Straw Man arguments such as ‘It’s either Arts or Health’ are easy, lazy rhetoric, but they mean the sector needs to lobby both individually and collectively about the value they bring to society, including the clear economic impacts that the sector so obviously contributes. This is a difficult task for a sector already so stretched and exhausted by an extended period of under-investment, and we need political support to succeed.
I believe the private sector is an essential champion for the Arts sector. Businesses are increasingly speaking up with pride and passion about their genuine business-to-business partnerships with Arts organisations. Their testimonials talk of the value the Arts bring to their individual companies and to the communities they work in. Cross sector support strengthens our case, and it is vital we in the Arts help our committed supporters find the platforms to advocate for us.
4. What is the best, most memorable cultural experience you’ve ever had?
Out of the many, many moving and exceptional events I’ve been to over the years the experience that sticks the most with me is Brian Friel’s ‘Performances’ . It was in the Great Hall in Magee College, as part of the Derry-Londonderry 2013 City of Culture and it had a maximum audience of 80 people. It was so intimate and powerful – unforgettable.
5. Scooting forward five years, what would you like Arts & Business NI to have achieved under your watch?
My vision is to work with the Arts sector and our business partners to change the opinions of funders and decision makers so that in five years’ time the Arts sector is fully recognised and acknowledged for the true value it brings to Northern Ireland culturally, socially and economically; and consequently that significant and ongoing financial investment is made in the sector.
6. What’s your favourite quote?
It may be a cliché, but my motto is: "Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, you’ve got to live it!"
Arts & Business is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.