Belfast's multicultural Mela's back in spite of cuts
A Polish dancer in full costume, an African drummer and Bollywood dancers gathered on a rooftop garden with old Belfast in the background - what else could be it but the launch of this year's Mela?
Recognised as our largest multicultural festival, the fact it is even running this month in its ninth year is a triumph of hard work and creativity following funding cuts.
Mela founder Nisha Tandon said she was proud to be able to put the event on after her organisation ArtsEkta lost £55,000 of funding from Stormont.
News yesterday of further cuts from the Arts Council funding was a further blow, but Ms Tandon revealed they have been fundraising, taking part in corporate events and even encouraging businesses to "adopt events".
Ms Tandon said she hoped to break her own record this year of attracting more people to Mela than the 25,000 who attended last August.
The festival returns to Botanic Gardens on August 30 and will include a colourful multi-cultural parade, performances on stage, food stalls, the Global Souk, World of Wellbeing and arts displays.
Some of the new attractions this year include a Little Bollywood event, where children can learn the distinctive dance style, and the Garden of Live Flowers inspired by Alice Through The Looking Glass.
Ms Tandon said the event gave minority communities from across Northern Ireland the opportunity to showcase their cultures.
"Communities across the city and beyond are the lifeblood of the Mela and we are proud to provide this exciting, exuberant showcase for such a vast range of ethnic groups," she said.
"Our minority ethnic communities look to Mela as a platform to express their cultural identity, experiment creatively and introduce others to their inner world.
"That core community strength, and the integrity which flows from it, have enabled us to reach out and attract artists from around the world to join with us in our celebrations."
She admitted it had been a struggle this year to put the event on after losing so much funding.
"We have reduced the programme but people will not see it on the day; we have managed to recycle a little and also fundraise," she said.
"Our Indian Summer evenings and corporate events are generating income, and we are opening a shop on our website.
"It does worry me how ArtsEkta will be impacted by cuts, whether programmes may have to be cut or staff reduced to part-time, but we only received a small amount from the Arts Council, so hopefully the impact will not be huge."
Peter Osborne, chair of the Community Relations Council, was among those at the launch at the Merchant Hotel yesterday.
He welcomed this year's Mela as a "fantastic way to show off multicultural Belfast" and help community cohesion.
"Mela shows what this city is really about, rather than race hate attacks," he said.
Polish dancer Konrad Pawlaszek (36) was turning heads at the launch with his Mazur costume. He will be performing at Mela this year and is excited about showcasing the dance he is passionate about.
Originally from Lublin, Konrad has been living in Belfast for 10 years and says he has noticed a huge change in the city since he arrived.
ArtsEkta will host a further event later this year. On Saturday, October 24, the organisation will be transforming the city centre for Nine Nights - an outdoor theatre spectacular retelling centuries-old Hindu folklore as a thrilling, contemporary Belfast celebration.
- Belfast Mela will run in Botanic Gardens in Belfast from noon-6pm on Sunday, August 30. On the day tickets are £5 for adults, £4 for concessions or £15 for families. Tickets can also be bought at a discount at www.belfastmela.org.uk