Belfast Telegraph

Queen’s Festival director quits job after six months

By Victoria O'Hara

The director of one of Northern Ireland’s leading arts festivals has left the post less than six months into the job.

Mark Prescott’s shock departure as the director of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's comes as the event celebrates its 50th year.

The 38-year-old, originally from London, was appointed last summer and began the job one week before the festival opened in October 2011.

He was responsible for overseeing the festival and planning a major programme for the anniversary celebrations.

Mr Prescott was former head of cultural campaigns at the London Mayor's Office, where he devised and directed multi-disciplinary festivals and initiatives.

It’s not clear why he has left what is seen as a plum post in the arts world, but some sources indicated that Mr Prescott may have had plans to expand festival events outside Belfast, and that could have created some friction. A spokesman for Queen’s said: “Mark Prescott had been working for the university in the role of interim director for the Ulster Bank Festival at Queen's since October 2011 and was involved in the delivery of Festival 49, and in the initial planning of Festival 50.

“On March 26 Mark left this role to pursue business interests in London.

“Work continues on preparations for 2012 and the delivery of another successful festival in its 50th anniversary year for the city and for Northern Ireland.”

Mr Prescott took over the position in a tough economic climate and faced the challenge of working within a tight public funding budget.

Regarded as a veteran arts professional, he said after taking the job that far from being daunted by the prospect, he was “very excited” about taking the helm for the annual fortnight-long programme.

Pro-vice chancellor at QUB Tony Gallagher had warmly welcomed his appointment, saying the festival was “very fortunate” to have him

Speaking at the time, Mr Prescott described his first experience at running the festival as “exciting and terrifying, both at the same time”.

Mr Prescott had taken over from Graeme Farrow, who had held the post since 2006.

Mr Farrow left the post to take up a new job with the Derry/Londonderry City of Culture 2013 team. During his five-year tenure as director, the festival’s box office sales doubled.

Background

The festival was started by undergraduate Michael Emmerson, who began running a small event based on the QUB campus in 1962. The festival grew and 10 years later had already attracted such names as Dizzy Gillespie, Ravi Shankar, Laurence Olivier and Jimi Hendrix.

By the early 1980s the event had expanded into a two-week-long arts extravaganza across the whole of the city.

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