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'The arts are as risky as business but they are vital to who we really are'

By Joris Minne

Published 04/08/2015

Joris Minne at Bistro Este in Belfast with Sean Doran
Joris Minne at Bistro Este in Belfast with Sean Doran

Bomb disposal is possibly the most stressful way of making a living. But coming in a close second is arts festival organisation. Sean Doran is so calm he probably would have cut it well in the former but he's settled for the latter and Northern Ireland (and Paris, Perth, London and many other world cities) is the better for it.

Putting a Warhol exhibition together or a season of Shakespeare are pretty much sure-fire winners. But more challenging events celebrating Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Brian Friel need courage and commitment. It's a commitment to bringing high-end drama and literature to all, he says.

We are in east Belfast, not far from his new office in Titanic Quarter's Arc. This Londonderry man who now commutes between Paris and Belfast loves his pied a terre here. "There are giants everywhere", he laughs, "the sleeping giant at Cave Hill in front and the vast yellow gantries in the shipyard behind me".

Doran's dedication to the greatest and sometimes impenetrable art does not make life easy.

"It's always surprising when politicians, for instance, accuse arts people of being elitist, that where they live people have no time for the arts," he says. "Everybody is open to everything: the only difficulty is access."

Doran has already scored major international successes in Australia as the festival director in Perth (permanent staff 33, annual budget $18m), in Paris where he runs a parallel Beckett week and in London where he was the first man from here to direct the English National Opera. The Wilde festival was a big success, he's putting final touches to the Happy Days Beckett festival in Enniskillen and about to unveil a Friel Festival to mark the Derry playwright's work.

The Friel event, in a variety of locations between August 20 and 23, will take the audience from Magilligan (where they will see Lovers) by ferry to Greencastle and Keeley's Seafood Bar. There will then be performances of Dancing at Lughnasa in Letterkenny and Belfast's Lyric.

It's very high quality and home grown. Is it difficult? With the look of a man who has spent decades persuading funders to back weird and sometimes baffling arts productions, he smiles.

"Business people understand me better than most and this empathy which translates into funding is based on respect for anyone who has an idea, calculates the risks but sees the prize.

"The objective is to interpret and enliven the art of, in this case, Wilde, Beckett and now Friel, all of whom have created some of the world's greatest drama. But it cannot be a slave to the finance or the numbers. I am realistic about the appeal some of this work might have, but it is an absolute and critical necessity that these works are produced regularly for the good of our society, our sense of collective identity and to show the world who we really are."

The Bill

Bistro Este, east Belfast

Sean had: Crispy ham hock rillettes with pickled celeriac,

Granny Smiths and radish: ..............................................................................£5.00

New season asparagus with crispy hen’s egg, chorizo crumb and pecorino: ....£5.00

Joris had: Salt cod croquettes with pickled cucumber,

salsa verde and pea shoots: ...........................................................................£5.00

Asparagus: .....................................................................................................£5.00

Total: ............................................................................................................£20.00

Belfast Telegraph

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