Belfast Telegraph

Unbuttoning the MAC: Belfast’s latest landmark project gets ready for the big unveiling

By Jane Hardy

Things just keep getting better and better for Belfast. You wait ages for a new Belfast building, let alone an iconic new cultural centre bristling with modernity, then two come along at once.

Or to be accurate within a fortnight of each other as the new MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) that replaces the old OMAC (Old Museum Arts Centre) — the big Mac as it’s bound to be dubbed — opens in just two days, just a couple of weeks after the globally-praised Titanic visitor centre welcomed its first visitors.

It really doesn’t get any better for Belfast and the financial predictions suggest that between them, the two buildings should generate some £50m (£45m from Titanic Belfast and around £5m from the Mac) of extra revenue annually, plus up to 800,000 extra visitors to the city.

It is also a welcome beacon of employment, with around 400 builders involved in construction, 24 people now employed full-time, 70 casual jobs and 109 volunteers kick-starting the ambitious project.

It’s been three years in the making since building began on December 11 2009, and the results look good, and expensive.

But it isn’t just about the money as director Anne McReynolds explained.

“We’re bringing world-class art to our world -class city.

“Previously, the cultural infrastructure here, including the National Lottery, favoured the regions, with Ballymena, Omagh and Strabane benefiting. Now we’ve redressed the balance.”

Architects Hackett Hall McKnight have done a good job on the foyer of this £18m building — think a splash of London’s Barbican Centre with a dash of the National Theatre.

Yet the views outside are 100% Belfast.

We may be in an economic recession but there is an imaginative pricing philosophy to attract punters.

“If you book early, as with an air ticket, you will always get a good deal in terms of access to theatre, but if you wait, you’ll pay more,” said marketing and communications director Aine McVerry

“Tickets range from £9.50 upwards, but the galleries are free.”

Opening the art is a heavy-hitting show featuring William Conor and LS Lowry of the famous “matchstick men” canvasses that depict the industrial northwest of England.

Ms McReynolds said calmly of a typical Salford scene by Lowry: “That’s worth £2 1/2m”, adding that there is a complex insurance system in place.

No expense has been spared and funding from the big public bodies, from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to DCAL, plus private funding, has clearly been productive.

Everywhere there are classy touches, like the vast pale leather chesterfield in a space near the lifts.

You can eat in the brand new canteen and while there may be no Big Macs in the big Mac, there’s quality that reflects the guiding principles of one genuinely special building.

www.themaclive.com

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