The partnership between the British Council and Outburst Arts began in 2015, when Director, Ruth McCarthy and Chair, Cian Smyth visited the Americas to learn, share and develop LGBTQ experiences.
The pair visited Brazil, Venezuela and Jamaica - spending an intensive two weeks sharing expertise as LGBTQ cultural activists in Northern Ireland as well as their skills in creative entrepreneurship and festival development. They also demonstrated the role of the arts in exploring issues of human rights and diversity — in a region with its own documented problems and violence directed at LGBTQ communities.
Highlights of the visit included meetings with government policy makers including the Secretary of Human Rights in Sao Paulo, Brazil; learning from social enterprises in Caracas, Venezuela and visiting the On the Edge arts festival in Kingston, Jamaica.
Outburst Queer Arts Festival is Northern Ireland’s only, and rapidly growing LGBTQ arts festival.
Speaking about the visit, Ruth said: “For us, the visit was full of so many inspiring experiences both professionally and personally. We had meetings back to back and met so many wonderful people that we would love to work with in the future. I think now we’re home we need to take some time out to reflect and see what’s possible.
"In the Americas, especially in Brazil and Venezuela, there is fantastic work being carried in theatre – both experimental and through new and emerging artists — particularly within the trans community. SP Escola de Teatro in Sao Paulo was mind-blowing in terms of how it works with marginalised voices, particularly trans people at risk, as well as geographically rewriting a dangerous part of the city.
"The arts conference and accompanying meetings in Venezuela were also incredibly inspiring. There are so many possible partnerships and exchanges to explore, it’s hard to know where to begin. From individuals such as lesbian academic and writer Gisela Kozak and international activist Tamara Adrian, we got a very rapid and broad education on the complexities and tensions in Venezuelan politics and society and about how that impacts on LGBTQ rights and culture.
"Jamaica was something else altogether — being both fascinating and upsetting. It was probably the most educating experience we had culturally and definitely blew all previous ideas about Jamaica out of the water. It’s a far more complex, intriguing and confounding culture than is possible to adequately describe here. It’s often the unspoken and the polite that seems most sinister in terms of dealing with its difficult issues and histories, which make it hard to address homophobia and queer experiences through the arts and culture. We got a sense that there is much trust and openness to be developed slowly, even in relation to international LGBT work with local LGBT groups, in order to create or exchange work there. But we would very much love to do that.
"While there we managed to make headline news in the renowned Jamaican newspaper – The Gleaner —which was a bit of a shock, given how anti-gay their media usually is. That was an important moment of respect and visibility and wouldn’t have been possible without British Council contacts and support.
"The visit overall has really broadened our view on what is possible. It’s amazing to think what we’re doing could matter in the wider world and that the models we’ve slowly developed could be useful and very relevant elsewhere. Having profile somewhere like Jamaica is an important result for us as making waves with that kind of audience is a big deal and a way to create social change.
"In our 10th year, we are adding a more international flavour to the festival - because of this project, we're brining exciting, interesting work to Northern Ireland as well as hopefully having a chance to export local talent — which can only make a difference for years to come."
Outburst Queer Arts Festival started in 2007 as a grassroots LGBTQ community-led showcase for queer creativity. Since then it has grown into one of the most innovative and exciting small festivals in Ireland and the UK, with an eclectic programme unlike any other in Northern Ireland.
The overall vision for Outburst is simple: to create a bold, brave and innovative platform in Northern Ireland for new local and international queer arts, performance and brilliant creative ideas. From celebrated cutting-edge international artists to explosive new local talent, Outburst shines a great big spotlight on the best of LGBTQ creativity in theatre, performance, spoken word, film, music, dance and much more.
While focusing on the creative voices and engagement of LGBTQ artists and community, they actively promote Outburst as a festival where everyone is welcome, making it one of the most inclusive, welcoming and diverse queer arts events in the world.