Liam Neeson praises NI council programme connecting communities with the arts

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council's Creative Citizens programme drew Northern Ireland's only nomination in the UK-wide Hearts for the Arts awards

Ballymena harpist Alexandra Hanna played in Joe’s Barber Shop as part of the Creative Citizens programme celebrating local musicians

Liam Neeson has voiced his recognition of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and its 'Creative Citizens' programme, after being shortlisted for the UK’s National Campaign for the Arts, Hearts for the Arts Awards 2018.

Nominated in the Best Local Authority Arts Project Encouraging Community Cohesion category, the Mid and East Antrim Council is named as the only council in Northern Ireland to be shortlisted in the awards.

The Hearts for the Arts awards celebrate the work of councils, councillors and council officers throughout the UK, who have overcome financial challenges to ensure the arts stay at the centre of community life.

Launched in 2015, the Creative Citizens programme, a partnership between Voluntary Arts Ireland and Mid and East Antrim Council, empowers local people to actively engage with local and regional organisations, services and networks, encouraging creative collaboration throughout the community.

Liam Neeson OBE, Freeman of Ballymena and renowned actor commented on the programme: 'The Borough has always had a deep creative pool in all the arts. It’s wonderful and, personally exciting for me that this pool is being tapped into and explored by this wonderful creative alliance. I’m very proud of you all!'

Lord Puttnam of Queensgate CBE, Producer of Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields, the former chair and CEO of Columbia Pictures said: 'The Creative Citizens programme is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to experience the arts.'

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The above artwork hangs in the Braid Arts Centre and was part of the Creative Citizens programme in association with the Interethnic Forum to celebrate cultural diversity in the Borough

On receipt of the nomination as finalist, the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor Paul Reid, said, 'We are extremely proud to be shortlisted alongside some fantastic local councils throughout the UK. Our Creative Citizens programme gives local people the opportunity to explore the value of creative citizenship, as well as championing the importance of arts in bringing together people from all parts of the Borough.'

An alternative to a direct arts programme, the Creative Citizens programme enabled the council to embark on a new approach to sustain and develop cultural infrastructure throughout the community, by directly responding to the needs and interests of local residents.

Local Government Association said: 'It’s very difficult for an authority to let go, so their approach to engaging the community was brave and clearly paid off. As a result, the project looks to be sustainable, having generated capacity and energy within the community itself.'

Rosalind Lowry, Arts & Events Development Officer, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said, 'Engaging with the public resulted in over 20,000 people participating in over 150 arts and culture related events, ranging from Church trails to Café sessions and has proven to be one of the largest cross community projects the Borough has ever seen. It has offered new opportunities for local people to experience the arts in some cases for the first time and in the most unusual places.

'This is why the Creative Citizens programme works!'

The shortlist was judged by representatives from this year’s partners in the awards: UK Theatre, Arts Development UK, Culture Counts, the Local Government Association, and What Next? The winners of the Hearts for the Arts Awards 2018 will be announced on Wednesday February 14.