20,000 reasons why Mela festival is the real face of Belfast
Carnival 'crucial' after rise in racist attacks
Belfast's biggest event celebrating our minority ethnic communities is more important than ever given the recent rise in racist attacks, organisers have claimed.
Mela founder Nisha Tandon described how the festival has grown since humble beginnings in the Indian Community Centre – and can now expect more than 20,000 visitors.
"The first Mela was 2007 under Arts Ekta, before that there was a smaller event in the Indian community centre," he said.
"This is the eighth year under the Arts Ekta banner.
"The first event attracted just 2,000 people and then the following it was 5,000. In 2009 we had our biggest audience even though it lashed out of the heavens. By 6pm Botanic Gardens was still full.
"After that it just kept growing every year, last year was the biggest yet with 20,000 people attending."
Along with the audience growth, the content of Mela has also grown.
"Now we have specially commissioned pieces and act as a showcase for minority ethnic artists from a host of different traditions, from Polish to Brazilian, Latin America as well as Indian," she said. "Some of the artists we have showcased have gone on to have their own exhibitions."
However, all this doesn't happen overnight and Mela takes around a year to prepare.
"A lot of work goes in behind the scenes from funding applications, commissioning artists and co-ordinating volunteers which is a great way to give people the opportunity to learn, particularly with our outreach work," she said.
"We run our outreach programmes all year round outside the actual Mela event.
"This goes from helping people to get involved with their communities and we have a range of programmes across Belfast, from one in the Lower Ormeau with local kids and the Roma community to drumming events in Belvoir.
"We are a very small team so we pretty much start organising the next Mela as soon as the event has finished."
Finances have been tough for Mela especially since the event lost some of its funding this year. "Finance is always the big issue as there are plenty of departments who still have not bought into the minority ethnic communities," she said.
"If we had proper funding we could run this as a week-long festival.
"Mela is now a major tourist attraction, we have minority ethnic people coming from across the UK and Ireland to watch and take part."
She added: "This year with the backdrop of racist attacks, Mela is more important than ever."
Belfast Mela is a celebration of not just the Indian community but all of Northern Ireland's minority ethnic communities.
The event – now in its eighth year – will take place at Botanic Gardens on Sunday, August 24 bringing together a host of performers from across the world with an ethnic food experience and global souk. Last year it was attended by 20,000 people.
Tickets for the event which runs from 12-6pm are £5 for adults, £4 for concessions or £15 for families, with discounts available by booking online at www.belfastmela.org.uk.