Saturday, 24 September 2011

Culture Night in Belfast

Last night I attended this year's Culture Night in Belfast.  It was based around the Cathedral Quarter and attracted a large number of people, including many families.  The chair of the Cathedral Quarter Steering Group, Paul McErlean, led a group of city councillors, MLAs and other guests on a tour of some of the performances and I was able to join the group.  Unfortunately his task was rather like that of herding sheep and we tended to wander off on our own to see some performance or other that took our attention but his efforts were appreciated.

With around 90 performances or events in the programme there was something for everyone - from a poetry reading on the pavement in Hill Street to art exhibitions, folk music, singers, dance, choirs, circus, magic, a Belfast rap artist in a car park off Talbot Street and even some performances that defied description!

Some of the performances were in the open-air in locations such as Writers Square and others were indoors in venues such as the Black Box, Belfast Cathedral, Oh Yeah and St George's Church.  The War Memorial museum in Talbot Street was also open and they had music from the 1940s to set the scene.

The Queen's Island Male Voice Choir were performing in the Cathedral and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society were encouraging people to join in with them in St George's parish hall in High Street.  I was pleased to see the inclusion of these two new elements as it enhanced and expanded the diversity of the programme.

Last year I met with Paul and some others to talk about the inclusivity of the programme and suggested the inclusion of aspects of our culture such as Ulster-Scots and male voice choirs.  The fact that the meeting had even taken place drew some criticism from people I can only describe as cultural fascists but it was a useful meeting and last night showed that the organisers of Culture Night had recognised an opportunity to expand the range of events.

We have a rich cultural diversity in Northern Ireland but in the past some elements of that diversity have been marginalised, and the Ulster-Scots tradition is an obvious example.  The inclusion of Scottish country dancing is very welcome and I am sure it will encourage other performers from the Ulster-Scots tradition to get involved next year.  If we are to build a 'shared and better future' in Northern Ireland then the programming for major cultural initiatives, which are intended to reflect diversity and inclusivity, should include as much of our diversity as possible.

The nature of the night is that equipped with a map showing the location of all the performances you wander round the area from performance to performance and in the course of the night you will see a wide range of art forms.  The inclusivity of the programme is therefore important in contributing to the creation of that 'shared and better future' through enabling people to see and experience art forms they might not normally encounter.  When I went to St George's parish hall I saw several people I knew taking part in the country dancing.  They are not regular country dancers and for some it may have been their first time but they clearly enjoyed it.

This was the first time I was able to get to Culture Night and I will certainly go back again next year, to what I am sure will be an even more extensive programme.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree Nelson, it was a great event. I look forward to the next one.