A clergyman-turned-artist has urged businesses in Northern Ireland to get creative to help boost every sector from architecture to tourism.
Keith Drury, a former Presbyterian minister, spent years liaising with businesses and the civil service during his role as the first director of mission at May Street church in Belfast city centre.
He presided over the church’s popular lunchtime services and prayer sessions catering for workers in the city during their lunch hour.
But in a drastic career change, he is now enjoying success as an artist, with an exhibition currently on show at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh, including portraits of Archbishop of Armagh Seán Brady, former First Minister Ian Paisley and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in their Chuckle Brothers guise, a portrayal of the Presbyterian Mutual Society saga and one of former Strangford MP Iris Robinson.
Mr Drury was awarded a commission for Belfast City Hall to create a painting to reflect the Irish history and heritage of Belfast city, which is now part of City Hall’s permanent display collection.
Indeed, he had something of an entrepreneurial start to his art career.
“I remember going to the Ulster Museum’s art collection as a teenager and thinking, in a youthfully arrogant way, ‘I could do better than that!’,” he said. “So a few weeks later my father put a set of paints down in front of me and told me if I thought I could do better, to go ahead.
“I first went into what was quite a posh gallery on the Ormeau Road and the owner would very trustingly give me a painting, I would take it home, copy it, and take it back to him.
“He would look at it and give me advice and it started from there.”
He has strong views on what working with the business community in Belfast has taught him about his new career, and on the need for different sectors to liaise more closely.
“There is a real lack of engagement between the business community and the arts community,” he said.
“My first degree was in business administration and I worked alongside property developers, city workers and the civil service for a long time when I was in ministry.
“I say quite often that I thought the church can stifle creativity and going to so many meetings made me realise that the business world can be the same — everything is itemised, everything is definite, everything is set in stone, there is not enough fluidity, very unartistic.
“This is a shame because the different sectors can give a lot to one another. The business world needs to engage with creative arts in the wider spectrum. In the same way, art itself can be presented as a business model.”
He added: “Some businesses pay thousands for advertising, which gets hidden away at the back of a paper or magazine, and I hear people complaining that their ad was in the wrong place or similar.
“That same business could engage the arts and commission someone or fund a piece of public art or a painting, get input from the local community, the media would take an interest and that would generate a lot more interest than an advert in the back of a paper — art can be used as a business model in terms of promotion.
“If you go to other cities across the world, everything from architecture to simple shops are like artwork — it’s all a fantastic backdrop, a great marketing tool, a great tourism tool, a great backdrop and something in which Belfast is sadly lacking.”