Posted on Thursday 15 March 2012 by Ulster Business

Not just for show

Ahead of its opening next month, chief executive of the new Metropolitan Arts Centre Anne McReynolds spoke to Symon Ross about the economic benefits it will bring to Belfast

By all accounts Belfast’s brand new arts venue, known as the MAC, has left everyone who has visited gob-smacked.

The centre will, in its own words, be selecting, creating and mixing up music, theatre, dance and art to bring audiences the very best of local and international talent under one roof.

While that’s an exciting prospect, less has been made of the substantial economic impact the £18m building will make when it opens on April 20.

Some 400 jobs were sustained in the course of the two-year construction of the project but it seems clear that the bodies that funded it – DSD, Laganside Corporation, DCAL, the Arts Council and Belfast City Council – did so because they believed the benefits of the MAC would go beyond arts and culture.

Chief executive Anne McReynolds is in no doubt it can make a big economic contribution.

“We are focused on the fact that we are opening in a period of difficulty and economic strain. Our thinking around that, which is now firmly understood in Government, is that investment in the arts is indeed that. It is investment. The economic outturn from an organisation as significant as the MAC will have impact way beyond just the spend we generate ourselves,” she said.

She points out that most of the restaurateurs setting up in St Anne’s Square are doing so because of the MAC, and that it adds another string to the bow of Belfast’s cultural tourism offering.

“There is going to be a little cultural and gastronomic hub in St Anne’s Square that is will make it such an attractive place for not only local people but also visitors from out of town. It will have significant economic return,” she added.

“Obviously we have been involved in delivering the MAC because we believe in arts, we are arts people. But there are other agendas that we will develop such as cultural tourism. It has been a long established ambition of the NITB and Belfast City Council in particular for Belfast to really begin to maximise its potential in a European framework.”

To that end the MAC has already started developing partnerships with the likes of The Merchant to develop attractive packages for tourists.

She also sees huge potential to work in partnership with the corporate sector, and not just for their sponsorship money.

“You have to work with the corporate sector in Northern Ireland if you want to be part of the wider economic framework. There are some very smarts and enlightened businesses here who appreciate that what they can achieve by aligning their brand with ours is important in terms of them pursuing their business objectives,” she says.

As an arts centre the MAC will be a hub for creative talent in Northern Ireland and an important step on the creative industries ladder that will further enrich our burgeoning film industry.

“I don’t know that everyone who talks about creative industries fully appreciates the fact that there is an intrinsic link between the visual artists, the set designers and builders, the costume makers, the prop guys who work in theatre, who then go forward into film. This is an industry where there is a real co-dependency. If you don’t have organisations like the MAC you don’t have Game of Thrones, or if you do they come and bring their entire crew with them,” says Anne.

Politicians too have very much come around to this realisation and now see the tangible benefits from having a vibrant arts sector, she believes.

“I have seen attitudes change over the last 20 years that I’ve been working in the arts. People like me always knew the arts was not distinct or separate or luxurious, that it had the capacity and potential to be part of a civic offering. If we’re plugged into the heart of the community what we can deliver is absolutely critical to the development of a healthy economy. We are absolutely part of the civic infrastructure too.”

The MAC by numbers
• 2 Theatres (350/120 Seater)
• 3 Art Galleries
• 1 Rehearsal Space
• 1 Dance Studio
• 3 Education & Workshop Rooms
• 4 Offices for Resident Art Groups
• 1 Café & Bar
• 1 Artist-in-Residence Studio
• 1 Permament Artwork

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