Belfast Manifesto

Proposal for Belfast Artists Manifesto 2016. Open call for contributions

Sheelagh Colclough

Ends 05 March 2016

Proposal for Belfast Artists Manifesto 2016

Is a manifesto of/for Belfast Artists needed? Possibly, but probably not.

Why bother? I think it would be really interesting, a document that provided a snapshot of a place and a time from a seemingly ever growing artistic population who often get words put in their mouths.

Wouldn't it just be a cacophony of contradictory statements? Hopefully, thus proving Belfast artists are still humans and not professional arts automatons. It would be really disappointing if it was just a load of on message arts management speak about inclusion, impact and investment.

What good would it do? Maybe none, maybe some. At the very least it would hopefully produce a reasonably accurate reflection of current individual thinking which one would hope would be interesting in itself.

What if it does nothing? Then it just adds to the inertia. It may produce a clear path to action or it may just be proof of the depth of difference or uniformity in the current crop of Belfast's artists.

Why now? A lot of campaigning for the Arts has been done here in recent years in the context of government cuts, naturally some individual artists agree with some of the statements, methods (and manifestos) that have been made, some with nearly all, some with nearly none. Against this background and that of a city with its ranks of artists swelling and the promotion of them as a cultural draw and to some extent a cultural force I think to be complicit in the illusion of homogeneity would be a mistake. I personally think the lack of disparate voices in the Arts, and the possible fear of hearing or expressing them, even in the face of decreased public spending, is a weakness not a strength.
Here are some thoughts from some blog from some guy called Zach Sumner on the point of a manifesto:

"The word manifesto traces its roots to the Latin manifestum, which means clear or conspicuous. A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one’s beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions. It is simply a document that an organization or person writes that declares what is important to them. A manifesto functions as both a statement of principles and a bold, sometimes rebellious, call to action. By causing people to evaluate the gap between those principles and their current reality, the manifesto challenges assumptions, fosters commitment, and provokes change."

My proposal is to work with a team of interested individuals and devise an agreed framework and method/s of collecting the necessary data (interviews, questionnaires, surveys etc.) from as many Belfast based artists as possible. Community, contemporary, whatever way artists wanted to self define would not be as important as the spread and scope of the process. The data would then be collated and synthesised into an agreed set of very possibly self contradictory statements which would form the manifesto. The results and documentation of the methods and process would be exhibited at PS².

If you are interested in the idea of a Belfast Artists Manifesto and want to contribute- either by writing your own and/ or helping to formulate a collective manifesto, please come to one of the short session on Friday, 05 February 2016 at 12-1pm and 5-6pm in PS² or contact pssquared[@]
For more information on Sheelagh Colclough and the Sheelagh Foundation see

Initial responses

'Can I ask why it should just be Belfast focused. There are many artists and arts organisations outside of Belfast and why shouldn't they be included also – surely that would make for a stronger more collaborative case?'

'Manifestos aren't written by collective consensus. A state of mind between political calculation and drunkenness, analysis and poetic imagination might be difficult to achieve in a group, but who knows.'

'I have to say, I'm not sure I'd be overly optimistic about it. I think this kind of initiative, starting with very good intentions, tends to result in the kind of compromise that leaves everyone dissatisfied. Looking at those examples you give, the Tzara one is really interesting, the Gilbert & George one is just silly.'

 'Of course I come. I believe art can change the world.'

M A N I F E S T O // M A N I F E S T O

The following are examples of manifesto excerpts to provide some context to the project.

Arts Matter NI Manifesto-  Excerpts

Arts value should inform all policy areas, departmental strategies and budgets and can be expressed in terms of human, social and economic value and impact Appreciate that publicly funded arts organisations and public subsidy for the arts are central to keeping the arts accessible, available and affordable to everyone in Northern Ireland Appreciate that publicly funded arts organisations are key to nurturing artists, practices, innovation, events and creative landmarks of the future Recognise the transformative power of the arts in addressing the unique set of demographic and post-conflict challenges that prevail in Northern Ireland Recognise the facility the arts provide promoting connections and dialogue between people from all backgrounds, supporting cohesion and understanding through challenging, inventive and transformative artistic processes Support the funding of community-based Arts participation in education, health, justice and the workplace to strengthen creativity and drive innovation – the key to economic recovery, the creative industries and global competitiveness. BBC-NI Arts Cuts reviewed

IMAGINE! The Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics -An Alternative Manifesto for NI- Excerpts

End of aesthetic deprivation Each citizen to be given an annual quota of tickets giving them free access to arts venues for pleasure and therapy. This will also reduce how some performance and exhibitions spaces are seen as elitist or out of reach. Make arts and culture an integral part of life Culture should be better integrated into society. In Europe, where arts funding is on a par with health and education, children grow up to view it not as elitist or unattainable but simply as an integral part of a healthy way of life. Disband the Ulster Orchestra Put the huge resources that have been ploughed into this organisation into establishing a new one that can provide an economically viable and more effective alternative. One that might promote classical music more effectively and give the broader population something to be proud of. Invest in the arts The Arts are good in themselves, but also encourage socialising and by providing a better environment, inward investment.

Bauhaus Manifesto- Excerpt

So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting, and which will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.

Dada Manifesto- Excerpt

To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC to fulminate against 1, 2, 3 to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs and big ABCs, to sign, shout, swear, to organize prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence... I write this manifesto to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air; I am against action; for continuous contradiction, for affirmation too, I am neither for nor against and I do not explain because I hate common sense... And so Dada was born of a need for independence, of a distrust toward unity. Those who are with us preserve their freedom. We recognize no theory. We have enough cubist and futurist academies: laboratories of formal ideas. Is the aim of art to make money and cajole the nice nice bourgeois? Rhymes ring with the assonance of the currencies and the inflexion slips along the line of the belly in profile. All groups of artists have arrived at this trust company utter riding their steeds on various comets. While the door remains open to the possibility of wallowing in cushions and good things to eat.

Gilbert and George’s Art For All Manifesto- Excerpt

We want Our Art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life and not about their knowledge of art. The 20th century has been cursed with an art that cannot be understood. The decadent artists stand for themselves and their chosen few, laughing and dismissing the normal outsider. We say that puzzling, obscure and form-obsessed art is decadent and a cruel denial of the Life of People.

Grayson Perry's Red Alan Manifesto- Excerpt

Nothing in Art is New or Old fashioned only Good or Bad.