Why The Arts Matter: Nothing About Us...

New community artwork unveiled in the Shankill area


The sun is shining. The crowds are out, led across the green toward Hopewell Crescent by taxi tour guides intrigued by the suits and cameras. Flags flutter in the breeze, and former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Naomi Long MP chats with Shankill residents for old time's sack. It's a lovely day for a launch.

The artwork on show isn't hidden behind a red velvet curtain. But that wouldn't have seemed so out of place. Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us is a giant work - produced digitally - made up of hundreds of photographs of people and places from the Shankill area, and is framed in a gaudy gold frame. Quite theatrical, in a way.

Artist Lesley Cherry - who worked with residents on the piece - points up at this photo and kneels down to view another as locals do the same. They recognise faces here, enquire about others there. The 2D piece inspires interactivity.

The murals in this area hark back to a time when armies fought on the fields of Ulster and locals were made martyrs by paramilitary bullets. Nothing About Us... represents the future. The message: the people of the Shankill are embracing change, and want to be seen to be doing so.

'The community wanted to move on and highlight their own social needs,' reveals Cherry. 'The slogan Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us really summed that up. They want to expand and develop their future, for their kids and for people who live in the area.'

Cherry is a member of the the Lower Shankill Community Association, and the unveiling of Nothing About Us... begins Phase 2 of their Re-Imaging Communities Programme, supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The project was funded by the Shared Communities Consortium, led by the ACNI. To date 155 projects across Northern Ireland have successfully been awarded funding through the Re-Imaging Communities Programme, helping to restore pride to communities and move Northern Ireland toward an aesthetically pleasing shared future.

'One of my first events as Lord Mayor last year was to launch ten Re-Imaged works here,' Long recalls, surveying the houses around and about. 'I said at the time that the launch marked a beginning, not an end. Today we have another beginning and I congratulate the Lower Shankill Community Association who have directed this project independently.

'This evocative artwork symbolises the essence of Re-Imaging: giving voice to the community by concentrating on issues that affect their daily lives. I congratulate all on providing a shining example of a community moving forward, in partnership and belief in a shared future.'

Roisin McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and chair of the Shared Communities Consortium said: 'The Arts Council’s Re-Imaging Communities Programme has taken a sustained approach to regeneration, providing residents and community groups with the means to reclaim their neighbourhoods and restore civic pride. [This work] reflects an outlook of today and a statement for the future.'

Learn more about the Re-Imaging Communities Programme here.