Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Belfast Festival chief's farewell as he takes up City of Culture post

As the opening night of the Belfast Festival at Queen's nears, Graeme Farrow is looking forward to enjoying it without any stress.

For the first time in 10 years he will be able to relax and enjoy the shows as he steps down from his post of director of the festival a month-and-a-half before it starts.

After almost six years at the helm, Graeme (below) is leaving to take up a position for the 2013 City of Culture year in Londonderry.

Yesterday was his last day, and speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as he cleared out his office, Graeme admitted it will be "strange" not to be involved when the festival opens in October.

But he said the City of Culture job was one he "couldn't resist".

He said: "It's a strange feeling because I know the work I've put in for 2011 I won't see, as I'm not around in October.

"But at the same time I'm looking forward to attending the festival events as a customer and guest, which will be a very strange feeling because normally the festival itself is a very stressful period and you work all hours of the day and you're constantly trying to make sure everything runs as it should, so it's quite rare I get to sit and just enjoy the show.

"I'm actually looking forward to being a punter, to sit down and not worry about things, that will be quite liberating."

He said he's also looking forward to spending time with his three children - two of whom have birthdays which fall during the festival.

Originally from Sunderland in north east England, Graeme moved to Northern Ireland 18 years ago.

He joined the Belfast Festival team in 1999, and became director in 2006.

He steered it through the funding crisis of 2007 when it seemed the festival was doomed. It has since expanded and rising attendances make it one of the must-see arts festivals in Britain and Ireland. Or, as he puts it, "it's in a really good place".

"I'm leaving feeling satisfied that myself and my team achieved something quite special in Belfast and put the festival on a really good footing, both domestically and internationally," he said.

But leaving now means missing next year's 50th anniversary. Is he sad that he won't be involved?

"Not really," he replied. "I think with festivals every five years or so you need to have a change at the top and it just so happened that the right time for me to leave, to go to a new challenge, was in the 49th year.

"But I'm not getting hung up on numbers.

"Huge as 50 is, it just felt like a good time to hand over to somebody else and I think festivals have a Dr Who type of characteristic, and every now and again somebody needs to regenerate."

He said he felt compelled to take up the post with the City of Culture team because it was a "very different challenge".

"It's an opportunity to actually create something in Derry that leaves a legacy and helps the city grow, particularly within the cultural sector, which is a different proposition and a very compelling one that I just found irresistible," he said.

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