Art & Conflict

The annual ACNI conference examines the role of the arts in divided societies. See below for full and abridged podcast recordings of selected speeches

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness provided the opening address to delegates at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s annual conference last week, stressing the importance of  tolerance in the cultural well being of society after the attacks on Romanian families in the south side of Belfast.

'Art can play a role in acknowledging difference, giving voice to the unheard and challenging the status quo as well as celebrating what we have, who we are and what we can be,' commented McGuinness.

'I want to take this opportunity to say how disgusted I am at what has been a shameful attack on innocent people. The sight of over 100 people assembling in a church hall is something that I think will outrage the vast majority of people within our society... I'm a political activist and my role as deputy first minister is to work in partnership to bring about change, and I believe that many in this room can contribute to that change.'

The conference, this year entitled Art & Conflict, took place in Belfast’s Grand Opera House and featured a prestigious line up of local and international speakers, each examining the ways in which artists respond to and represent societies in conflict.

The conference was chaired by writer and broadcaster Fergal Keane, and featured renowned civil rights activist Justice Albie Sachs and his wife, architect Vanessa September; acclaimed war photographer Jenny Matthews; Newry-born artist Sean Hillen, creator of the Omagh memorial sculpture ‘Garden of Light’, and Zoe Lippett, curator of the Northern Ireland Collection, Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Belfast poet Michael Longley, winner of the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, also spoke in detail about his literary works in conversation with writer Glenn Patterson.

Delegates from those arts organisations funded by the ACNI, as well as independent artists and interested members of the public who did attend were treated to an insightful and inspiring series of speeches, talks and even a video tour of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, led by Sachs himself.

After the conference, ACNI chairman Rosemary Kelly commented: 'The conference has provided a wonderful platform to examine the increasing reach and importance of the arts in the process of healing and supporting societies in transformation.

'We are delighted to have been able to welcome such respected figures as Justice Albie Sachs to the stage today to talk about the art which was produced against the backdrop of the Troubles, as well as in a global context.'


Rosemary KellyClick here to listen to chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Rosemary Kelly's opening address at the Art & Conflict conference.

'As an arts community this day and what we put into it  - and, indeed, what we take away from it - may make some contribution to shaping our future and informing the wider view of the place of art within [society].'

Martin McGuinnessClick here to listen to deputy first minister Martin McGuinness's full special guest speech at the Art & Conflict conference.

'I believe that the Arts Council carries out a vitality important role in the development of the arts sector. It continues to ensure that the needs of local artists and the arts are promoted, and that more and more people from all communities and walks of life can enjoy all that the arts have to offer.'

Justice Albie SachsClick here to listen to Part 1 of justice Albie Sachs' guided tour of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Listen to Part 2.

'Do you feel that you're in a court? It's too beautiful for a court. It's warm, it's bright, it's open, it's friendly. But why shouldn't courts be warm, bright, open and friendly, especially a constitutional court that supports the basic rights of all human beings?'

Michael LongleyClick here to listen to an abridged podcast recording of novellist Glenn Patterson in conversation with Ireland Professor of Poetry, Michael Longley.

'I think of myself as a slightly schizoid personality. There's no way that I'm going to disown the English side of my background... but I was brought up in Belfast and Dublin, lived all my life in Ireland, so I'm Irish too. So in a way my childhood reflected that schism.'

Topics