Drawing on his experience of growing up and becoming a writer during the Troubles in northern Ireland, Damian Gorman asks whether the arts really matter at all when the going gets rough.
There is a famous story that when Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort he replied, ‘and then what are we fighting for?’ Like many people I have mixed views about the man, but there is something in the story that gets me: his unswerving note of conviction that this activity – the making up of things – really matters; and matters so much that it actually might be worth fighting for.
I am not always so convinced myself. It is my job and, most of the time, a good percentage of me does believe that the telling of stories to each other, the creative framing of expression to each other and to strangers, is a good thing. When I'm in good form it's 80 or 90% of me believes this; sometimes it's as low as 51 – 49% in favour, but even then the tension creates a kind of torque which can generate an energy in me. I never quite lose the faith completely. And the basic faith is this: that the making of things I referred to – the telling of stories; painting of pictures; the conjuring up of music; the poetry of movement; the shaping of space – all these things can have impact, power and significance. As a writer the telling of stories is the one I know most about, and I do believe that you can measure the health of a society by the quality of the stories it's prepared to tell itself, and to listen to.