Belfast Telegraph

Difficulties of Belfast Festival at Queen's are consequence of city's burgeoning arts scene

By Matthew McCreary

It's the kind of shock announcement that's been coming for some time for the Belfast Festival. Back in 2007 I was tasked with co-ordinating the 'Save Belfast Festival' campaign for the Belfast Telegraph, after similar noises were made about whether the university could continue its financial backing of the festival.

While moral support was there, it nevertheless became clear that something had shifted in the relationship between the festival and its alma mater. In those times of increasing austerity and pressure on educational budgets, there seemed to be a feeling that the festival, like many arts organisations, should look to other sources of private, sponsorship-based revenue for its long-term future.

That wasn't an easy thing to do given the global financial crisis, but not only did it manage to carry on with what was a surprisingly good, tightly-programmed festival that year (thanks to a £150,00 cash injection from the then direct rule Northern Ireland government), it went on to secure a three-year sponsorship deal with Ulster Bank worth £1m, a partnership which has lasted for several years. With the backing of Queen's gone, the festival's future would seem at best uncertain, at worst non-existent. In truth, the festival always aspired to, but never quite reached, the heights of its Edinburgh counterpart, in that it never managed to become as sentimentally woven into the fabric of its home city. To this day, it still weathers accusations - sometimes justified, sometimes not - of elitism and of catering for a narrow minority of tastes.

It has also been increasingly coming up against the kind of thriving year-round arts and entertainment programme in Belfast that was never really there to offer competition during the 'glory years' of festival. In a sad way, it seems the festival's difficulties have been a consequence of the city's success.

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