A great international city needs a great international festival — and today, sees a new chapter for the city of Belfast.
The all-new Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival begins and features 134 events from 23 countries, including 18 UK and Ireland premières, nine Northern Ireland premières, three Irish premières and two world premières.
As part of this year’s festival, the British Council is proud to support Artist in Residence, Amanda Coogan, and the multi-sensory stage spectacular, The Kitchen from India.
Speaking about the importance of this new festival was the British Council’s Director of Arts, Graham Sheffield CBE.
He said: “It is fundamentally important for a festival such as this flourish. Northern Ireland has plenty of performers and ideas that could work on an international stage and has a lot to offer. The Arts have the ability to help people look outwards instead of inwards and share the outlook of both sides of the community. We only have to look at the work the British Council supported during Derry~Londonderry’s Year of Culture to see the powerful impact that the arts has on our communities– likewise, this festival will do the same.”
This year’s Artist in residence, Dublin-born Amanda Coogan, is one of the most exciting contemporary visual artists practicing in the arena of performance art today.
For the festival, she will present her new multi-media work Turn Me On Radio, a combination of sign language, performance, digital sound and live Instagram streaming. Working in collaboration with Deaf communities in Northern Ireland and South Africa, different Shakespearean plays will be weaved together into a performance that empowers both participants and audiences to provide a fresh new look at Shakespeare’s works.
The piece is part of British Council’s 2016 campaign, Shakespeare lives – an unprecedented global celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
Speaking about the piece, Graham said: “Supporting the work of Deaf and Disabled artists around the world has become and remains hugely important to us at the British Council. It drives important change in social attitudes towards the issue of disability and as such it will remain a cornerstone of our arts programme at the British Council.”
This year’s festival will also focus on international work from India and Mexico, including The Kitchen at the Grand Opera House. A show about the healing power of cooking, The Kitchen is a sumptuous spectacle from India of arresting sights, smells and sounds, culminating in something for audiences’ tastebuds too.
For the British Council, these international links are palpable.
Mr Sheffield said: “Historically we have always been very close to India, but I think it’s important for us to rethink the relationships between countries, especially in term of contemporary culture. India has a huge arts scene and some of the most amazing performers and musicians in the world. It’s a great conversation to have, especially as India is poised to become one of the most influential nations in the world and potentially one of the UK’s most important trading partners.
“Mexico is also one of our biggest cultural allies and an important trading partner. These exchanges will help foster a greater understanding and allow us not only to link through art, but also develop partnerships and greater long-term relationships between countries.”
The British Council has long had experience in the festival scene, helping to set up the Edinburgh Festival back in 1947.
For Graham, there’s no reason that the Northern Ireland arts scene can’t be as powerful.
He said: “There’s no reason why Northern Ireland can’t step up to the international stage. Organisations and individuals can’t do it on their own however, there has to be a city-wide commitment.
“If Belfast held some kind of showcase to promote work to international partners I think it would be very successful, and would benefit all of society; from tourism and education to health and well-being.
“This year’s festival is only the beginning and the British Council looks forward to seeing it, and the arts in Northern Ireland, go from strength to strength.”
The Ulster Bank International Arts Festival runs from today (October 9), until November 1. For more information visit http://belfastinternationalartsfestival.com/.