Belfast Telegraph

A spectacular show, but does it leave some out in the cold?

With just weeks to go to the start of this year's Belfast Festival at Queen's, Maureen Coleman asks if it is a festival for all the people or too elitist?

A Decadent Spiegeltent party, a Somalian singer, a Kenneth Williams impersonator and an exhibition on undergarments and armour are all features of this year's Belfast Festival at Queen's.

A Decadent Spiegeltent party, a Somalian singer, a Kenneth Williams impersonator and an exhibition on undergarments and armour are all features of this year's Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Now in its 44th year, the festival - the largest of its kind in Ireland - sets out to promote cultural development through the arts and despite funding cuts has, once again, produced a packed programme of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and cabaret.

Undoubtedly, the festival's organisers have landed some spectacular coups this year in the form of Argentinian tenor Jose Cura and Alan Bennett's award-winning The History Boys.

But the festival has also been criticised for being too elitist and marginalising certain communities in Belfast.

Heather Floyd of Community Arts Forum says that while this year's package may be "exciting and varied", the festival is in danger of leaving some sections of the community out in the cold.

According to Heather, many people living in disadvantaged communities will not be assisted in attending due to lost funding for two key posts, audience development and community outreach. Although an audience development worker is in place for the duration of the festival, Heather believes this needs to be long-term and not a "fly-in, fly-out" position.

She also says these posts helped encourage community groups to engage in the festival over the past three years, but that this is now under threat.

"In order for marginalised groups to be able to engage with mainstream festivals, many factors need to be in place, including subsidised ticketing, sustained outreach work and transport," she said.

"Without this support, it is unlikely that individuals from these groups will be enabled to attend events."

Heather says it is crucial for an internationally renowned festival like Belfast Festival at Queens to ensure access to art for all the community.

"Festivals are a signifier of the cultural vibrancy of a city," she said.

"By failing to extend artistic opportunity to the majority of its citizens, could Belfast be accused of marginalising sections of the community that had previously been supported to engage more fully in its cultural life, a cultural life so crucial to social cohesion and regeneration?"

However, arts critic Grania McFadden disagrees that the festival is in any way too high brow or that it marginalises sections of the community.

"With artists like Ross Noble, Declan O'Rourke, the Gipsy Kings, Marie Jones and a huge free fireworks extravaganza to open the festival, there must be something for everyone, whatever height their brow," she said.

"This year, organisers have gone for a couple of spectaculars, such as the Spiegeltent, Alan Bennett's The History Boys and Jose Cura, as well as more off-beat shows like the Dutch Elm Conservative, who were nominated for a Perrier comedy award last year or Pigeon & Plum's Mac-cabaret, a Victorian music hall show.

"Nowhere else would we see something like that, or catch the New York Times' funniest show of the year, All Wear Bowlers, if not at a festival.

"Everyone's free to go or not, as they please. Belfast has dozens of festivals throughout the year, catering for music, literature, dance, food - you name it.

"Everyone is welcome at all of them. The invitation is out there, it's up to the public whether they accept or not."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph