1 September 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Festivals of every type have grown to be an important part of the Co Monaghan economy, their significance accentuated in recent years by the corrosive effects of the financial collapse on many previously dependable income and revenue streams.
The value of these events, of course, transcends the monetary – they have the salutary effect, peculiar to the artistic, of reinforcing local identities and community solidarity while, temporarily at least, transforming them through the infusion of different ideas and cultural practices.
Interaction with the visitors these celebrations attract generates its own form of renewable, and renewing, energy, that can leave the host communities, if they are receptive to it, refreshed and reinvigorated.
The financial benefits of our county’s range of festival activities are significant, and tend to be foregrounded in the times that’s in it, but their cultural value should not be underestimated.
Monaghan Town will this weekend host the annual Harvest Time Blues Festival, now firmly established as one of the leading regional music events in the country and a magnet for an international band of followers of this form of musical expression.
The commercial value of the blues weekend is patent – the host venues receive a welcome late-summer boost in business that spins off to the wider trading and hospitality sector.
Although the income generated this year may be somewhat diminished by the lack of spending power being experienced by the public at present, it will nonetheless be a significant and welcome fillip for the town’s traders, many of whom undoubtedly now factor the event into their annual projections for prosperity, or indeed viability.
But you won’t have to be a publican or restaurateur to get a boost from the festival ‘buzz’. Monaghan Town will be a lively, happy place to be this weekend where even the casual observer can tap into the flavour of the event and experience a boost to their spirits.
It might seem strange for a music associated with struggle and strife, and that was born in conditions of deprivation and discrimination, to be a touchstone for elation.
But the endurance of the heart, and the phlegmatic approach to adversity, that typifies the blues form resonates as powerfully with the modern mood as it does with the eternal struggles of the human condition.
In fact, the celebratory defiance of the blues makes it the ideal mood music for contemporary Ireland.
Events such as Harvest Time Blues and the other annual festival events hosted by Co Monaghan communities make a compelling case for continued investment in the arts.
Arts funding is normally the first to suffer when budgetary constraints are forced on a government or local authority.
Given the severe financial difficulties confronting all sectors of public administration at the present time, which have also impacted adversely on private sector investment in the arts, it seems at first glance difficult to sustain an argument that now is the time when more rather than less money should be spent on fostering the creative wellspring of the country.
However, meaningful recovery cannot be accomplished without the creative instincts of the population, its young people in particular, being stimulated.
The qualities of imagination and vision that delineate a successful entrepreneur are kindred to the instincts that foster distinguished artistic and literary expression.
Without a climate in which such attributes can develop, potential goes unrealised and talent is stifled.
There has never been a more pressing need in this country to create both educational and community environments where creative instincts can thrive.
This requires a leap of faith by those responsible for investment, as such talent takes time to mature and often proceeds through trial and error experimentation when results are less significant for their innate value that the progression towards development that they mark.
Such incubation periods are accepted as part of the research and development processes of industry and science on which investment is lavished.
They are no less important to the cultivation of artistic and creative talent, although they often function as an excuse to restrict spending in this sector.
Double standards such as this are dangerous at a time when an increasing reliance is being placed on creative industries to provide future employment and economic growth.
Such industries can only thrive in an environment where imaginative abilities are stimulated – not stymied by a poverty of resources.
Essential to the creation of such an environment is the contribution made by artistic and cultural festivals such as those that have brightened what has been a largely drab summer climatically in Co Monaghan.
It may take a leap of faith, or some entrepreneurial imagination, to recognise this creative connection, but the evidence is all around us in the lives of the young.
Young people are often criticised for the amount of time they spend on social networking sites.
While a great deal of the energy expended in this direction is towards the trivial, a not insignificant portion of the activity engaged in on such sites is creative and experimental, evidence of young people testing the potentialities of this form of communication to create art, or at least the beginnings of it, and transmit ideas in new and exciting formats.
The creative potential of Facebook, Twitter and similar networks is vast and many young people are exploring it in very interesting but largely unrecognised ways.
There is a dividend to be reaped here, just as there is a major dividend to be reaped from the positive environment for creative expression that our county’s annual festivals can generate.
Creativity is key to recovery.
As the Director of the Arts Council, Mary Cloake, commented recently: “Through the experience of the arts, we can experiment with what we want to become, using the imagination to create a society in which we and our children can prosper and flourish.”

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