WHERE else other than Belfast’s Culture Night, could you walk through the darkened streets of the cathedral quarter meeting artists, musicians, dancers, wrestlers even a dragon, and for it all to seem to perfectly normal. The annual event now in its fourth year continues to go from strength to strength. Events took place throughout the county on Friday 21 September to mark the all-Ireland celebration of all things, in the name of culture.
Culture Night’s aim is to showcase and celebrate the creativity of artists and. Offering free taster sessions on the night, that aim to increase awareness to the public of what’s on offer to them within their local community.
In Northern Ireland events took place across the province, from Armagh, Sion Mills, Castlederg, and Newtonstewart too. Londonderry, currently preparing to become the UK City of Culture for 2012-2013, took the opportunity to showcase the talent of those within its community, with dance recitals, film screenings, street art and music taking place across the city.
But the biggest celebrations where seen in Belfast, with events taking place throughout the city, with the cathedral quarter of the city seeing the biggest cluster of performers, with over 70 venues offering a wide range of events.
On a wonderful autumn evening, those walking round the city could have been mistaken that they had walked into the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with such a wonderful upbeat carnival spirit engrossing the city. Performers and artists were out on mass on the streets, ranging from the conventional musical and art displays, to the more outlandish and bizarre.
One such example saw a ringing telephone box on High street, if someone answered it, he or she would be told a joke. Another such bizarre performance saw a masked flash mob of musicians hijacking The Chipie fish shop on North street and treating the patrons inside to some upbeat acoustic music.
Some might turn their nose up at some of the events on display, all in the name of culture. But any event that encourages creativity and getting the community involved can only be a good thing. Encouraging children to get involved with the arts at a young age can only lead to positive things in the future.
Children were urged to get stuck in and get their hands dirty with various workshops encouraging their creativity, constructing LED badges and luminous balloons being only two examples. On Saint Anne’s square the documentary, Caine’s Arcade was shown, which documented the story of a young American boy, who built his own arcade from cardboard boxes, several of his creations were recreated and children were encouraged to create their own variations of Caine’s games.
For this reviewer though, the highlight of the entire night was the cabaret performances throughout the evening at Belfast’s Clown college, yes Belfast has its very own clown college. Situated on Gordon street on the north side of the cathedral quarter, the normally secretive building, threw open its doors to the public, offering half hour performances, varying from the comic, musical and acrobatic throughout the night
The only real criticism one could level at the event’s organisers is the size of the event was just too great, making it impossible to ever get round everything on the night. Even those with the most thoroughly planned out intentions, may have found themselves side-tracked by an unforeseen event. There really was something for everyone to enjoy, for the first time the wrestlers of Pro Wrestling Ulster were out performing, drawing crowds who watched them wrestling on the cool September evening.
As Northern Ireland enters its terrible teens 14 years after the 1998 Belfast Agreement, Culture Night help show the progress the province has made in its post-conflict era. The upbeat positive attitude bursting through the streets of Belfast was wonderful to behold. The events on display crossed the religious divide and were enjoyed by those of all ages. It’s sad such a vibrant city can’t always have such a positive outlook in these depressing economic times
Events like Culture Night are wonderful cross-community schemes that show there is more to Northern Ireland than the cliché politics of Green and Orange. They showcase what talented artists and performers Northern Ireland has and hopefully such annual events will help persuade such talented people to stay within the province.
Written by William McClean