A new floating state of the art cultural centre has opened on the Lagan in celebration of Belfast’s unique industrial past.
The barge MV Confiance has been restored as part of Lagan Legacy’s plans to create a dedicated maritime museum which tells the story of the River Lagan and Northern Ireland’s industrial and maritime heritage.
At Friday’s launch at the Lanyon Quay, founder/director of the Lagan Legacy Derek Booker said: “This is the greatest untold story, until now.
“The museum will act as a focal point for our industrial heritage, bringing to life the history of the River Lagan through interactive exhibitions and changing displays to provide a unique visitor experience.”
He thanked the funders: the Heritage Lottery Fund, which contributed £624,000, Northern Ireland Tourist Board £150,000, and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland £90,000.
The barge houses an exhibition, a multi-use heritage and arts space, and a café in the pipeline, boasting panoramic views of the river. Ronnie Spence, chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland Committee, said:
“We are delighted to be involved in this project which will raise awareness of, and increase access to, Belfast’s rich maritime heritage.
“This fantastic resource will create new opportunities to attract and engage both local people and visitors to the city with our unique industrial past, and demonstrates the importance of our heritage in creating a brighter, more sustainable future for us all.”
Director of operations at the Arts Council Northern Ireland, Lorraine McDowell, said: “The Arts Council is pleased to offer its support to this fantastic new performance space on a barge in the heart of Belfast. This newly furbished arts space will provide a unique location for theatre and dance organisations from across Northern Ireland to come together to train and perform.”
Siobhan McCauley, NITB director of product development, said the barge would bring history to life for visitors.
“It will also complement the Titanic Quarter and become part of Belfast’s maritime trail.
“It is hoped that this project will not only increase tourism in the area but also promote employment in the local tourism industry.”
Rosemary Kelly, of the Arts Council, used the occasion to raise the arts sector’s concerns about the future. “The Arts Council and artists don't expect to be exempt from the cuts. But we ask that the cuts are fair.
“We look at the draft budget and the cut of £4.2m may not seem like much, but it could do irreversible harm to this tiny but vital sector.” She likened today's economic climate to that of 1930s America and said President Roosevelt had included artists in the New Deal “in the hope that their work would bring some hope to the lives of the masses”.