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Iconic art galleries join forces to celebrate unheralded champions of the arts sector in NI

Monday 2nd November 2020 at 10am 0 Comments

Arts Care CEO & Artistic Director Dr. Jenny Elliot, and playwright and actor Maria Connolly Image: Arts Care CEO & Artistic Director Dr. Jenny Elliot, and playwright and actor Maria Connolly

Today for the first time, the MAC Belfast will join seven other iconic galleries and the BFI (the UK’s lead organisation for film, television and the moving image), to present a unique photography exhibition where the subjects aren’t celebrities or historical figures, but instead the unheralded everyday champions of the arts sector.

Arts Care CEO & Artistic Director Dr. Jenny Elliot, and playwright and actor Maria Connolly are among the remarkable people throughout the UK who are being honoured by The National Lottery for keeping the arts in their local area alive and accessible for all, or supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities through the arts.

The exhibition – titled, ‘The National Lottery’s 2020 Portraits of the People’ - honours 13 of these artistic champions for making a significant difference to lifting people’s spirits this year, using some of the £30million raised by National Lottery players every week for good causes. The digital exhibition can be visited on the websites and social media of: The MAC in Belfast, Summerhall in Edinburgh, Ty Pawb in Wrexham, The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, Ruthin Craft Centre in Ruthin, Wales, The National Portrait Gallery, London, IKON Gallery in Birmingham, The Photographers’ Gallery in London and BFI (The British Film Institute). The portraits will also be on display at the BFI Southbank in London.

Photographer Chris Floyd, who has spent his 25-year career photographing household names such as Sir Paul McCartney, Victoria Beckham and Sir Mo Farah, has been commissioned by The National Lottery to capture the portraits. The works aim to create a ‘moment in history’, preserving the work of these unheralded champions for posterity and encapsulating the varied and innovative ways art can be expressed.

Dr Jenny Elliott is the CEO & Artistic Director at Arts Care, an arts and health organisation that delivers a weekly programme of art in all its forms, including visual art, dance, music, film-making, creative writing, and even clown doctor visits across five health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland. When lockdown happened, they quickly moved their classes online; the group also began providing art boxes for older people in residential care and for children across healthcare services.

Dr Elliott, who lives in Belfast, said: “Many of the artists are rising up in the context of healthcare, and showing a terrific strength and flexibility in meeting the creative needs and requirements as requested from the core of the NHS. It’s a very powerful thing and demonstrates the significant role of the artist and the arts during this global pandemic.
Arts Care receives funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and is just one of the many wonderful causes that benefit from the £30 million raised every week by players of The National Lottery, which has been “the mainstay of not only supporting our programme but supporting the central core of the operations of the organisation,” Dr Elliott said.

Maria Connolly, from Belfast worked creatively during lockdown to write, produce, direct and act in ‘The Broads’ - as part of her 1 Eleven Theatre Company. The show is centred around the lives of Hollywood greats Judy Garland, Bette Midler and Marilyn Monroe. It was inspired by a programme on elderly people living in isolation and created specifically as a socially distanced piece of theatre. It went on tour in care homes, assisted living accommodations, a rehabilitation unit, mental health unit, the Cancer unit at Belfast City Hospital, as well as the Royal Victoria Hospital for patients and NHS workers. They performed over 60 shows, reaching more than 1,600 people in total.

Maria said: “There’s so many people out there who need theatre at the minute. People are starved of entertainment and even before the pandemic I was hearing stories of people stuck inside homes who have nothing, and nobody ever comes to see them. We were doing three shows a day and it was very hard to leave sometimes because we could see the impact we were having on people’s mental health. To think that a play could do that is just incredible.”

Maria received support from the Arts Council Northern Ireland’s Artists’ Emergency Funding to allow her to produce and deliver the play outside or through the windows of people who were isolating in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Dundonald and Bangor with a four-person cast, with rehearsals taking place over zoom.

The exhibition launches as The National Lottery releases insights1 showing that across Northern Ireland, the public turned to a wide range of artistic activities, with 22% seizing the chance to do more arts and crafts, half enjoying listening to music (57%) and enjoying watching films (57%), and 8% enjoying singing.

With many traditional entertainment venues closed, taking on a creative task also became a comfort for many with 61% of those who interacted with arts and crafts crediting it as a factor in improving their state of mind during the crisis. Two thirds (58%) of people in Northern Ireland who listened to music more during lockdown said that doing so had a positive impact on their wellbeing and a further 35% said taking part in arts and crafts helped them feel more relaxed and less anxious. Importantly, almost half of Northern Irish adults (40%), also believed the mental wellbeing impacts would be long-lasting.

The exhibition is accessible free online across all the galleries’ websites throughout November. In addition to the portraits, award winning filmmaker Jayisha Patel, a beneficiary of the BFI NETWORK talent development programme which is made possible by National Lottery funding, has documented Chris Floyd’s shoots with a behind the scenes short film. The piece looks at some of these amazing people and the stories behind them, the film will be available across the BFI’s social media channels.

Chris Floyd added: “All of the people we are meeting in this exhibition have done something special to help keep the soul of their community alive in these difficult and dark times using funding raised by National Lottery players. Humans are pack animals and our desire, as well as need, to come together – whether physically or digitally - and make common cause is one of our dominant instincts.  This group have all shown a ‘can do’ spirit, a refusal to lay down and give up, despite their own personal and national trials this year.  They have created work and projects specifically designed to fulfil that need for communal strength using the power of the arts.  My aim was to document each of them in a way that showcases and honours that sense of integrity and fortitude, as well as their humour and joie de vivre.”

Jayisha Patel said: “The Covid pandemic has been a sobering time for the film industry as a whole, and we have all had to pivot to keep our passion alive. Capturing these incredibly devoted people for this film was a joyful thing to be part of – seeing how they, with the help of National Lottery funding, have fought to keep the fire burning for the arts in a myriad of ways. I hope this film goes to show the strength and support that can come from taking part in arts projects like these – and how, even through adversity, art and film can thrive in the smallest of ways, and be a benefit to so many, helped along by everyone who plays The National Lottery.”

Roisin McDonough, the CEO of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland said: “People in Northern Ireland have a great love of creativity, art and culture. We know these things can bring us together, enrich our lives, support our emotional wellbeing, and make us happier. Throughout lockdown we've seen that in villages, towns and cities, people have continued to participate and enjoy the arts whether that's at home, digitally, or through socially distanced activities within their communities.

“Artists, arts and cultural organisations, and the individuals within them, have been the driving force behind this. Harnessing vital funding from The National Lottery, they’ve set up creative projects both locally and nationwide for people to enjoy. We want to thank them for making life that little bit better for many people, and we also want to thank the National Lottery players themselves for playing a critical role in supporting the arts during these challenging times. Every week National Lottery players raise an incredible £30 million for good causes, enriching public life in every corner of the UK.”

To find out more about how The National Lottery is celebrating the work done by unheralded people across the UK, visit


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