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Belfast Culture Night suspended for a year after becoming ‘too big and unwieldy’

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Aerial photo The Ogham Grove installation at last year's Culture Night in Belfast.

Aerial photo The Ogham Grove installation at last year's Culture Night in Belfast.

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

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Aerial photo The Ogham Grove installation at last year's Culture Night in Belfast.

Belfast Culture Night has been suspended for a year after organisers branded the festival “too big and unwieldy”.

A statement from the organisers said that after an extensive strategic review, the decision had been made to “suspend the city centre celebration of arts, culture and heritage in its familiar form”.

An increase in popularity without funding to match it, and an expectation that artists should work for free were among the reasons cited.

Susan Picken is the director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast.

She said the decision would be “disappointing to some within the community,” but that it would make way for the development of an “exciting new format” that would boost the Cathedral Quarter as well as the arts and culture sector.

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Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast

The strategic review has recommended a “complete rethink” in order to address issues raised by stakeholders, community and the wider Culture Night audience.

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Ms Picken said: “The pandemic and the restrictions of the past two years gave us an opportunity to examine Culture Night Belfast in detail and take the time to ask what exactly we wanted the event to grow into.

“One of the questions we had to ask was whether Culture Night Belfast was achieving the outcomes we had originally hoped it would.”

She added: “We felt the event had become too big and unwieldy and the original intention of providing a platform for our artistic and cultural communities to connect with a much wider audience had been lost.

“We listened to what our stakeholders, partners and audiences had to say and we believe taking a year out to properly develop plans that put art right back at the heart of what we do is the best way forward.”

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The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

Culture Night Belfast first started in 2009 and has grown to become the biggest free cultural events in the city, with an estimated audience of around 100,000 in 2019.

The review was carried out with Belfast City Council as part of strategic efforts to develop cultural events in the city.

It found that culture has seemingly become lost in the overall “noise” of the event, and that it had left many visitors feeling unimpressed.

The announcement comes at the same time as the Cathedral Quarter Trust, the organisation behind Culture Night Belfast, is also developing a new strategic plan to be revealed later this year.

Although many contributors will be concerned by the news, Ms Picken said she believed it would be a “challenging but exciting time” for the arts and culture community.

“Over the years Culture Night Belfast has grown exponentially whilst the resources to deliver the programme have not,” she said.

“The idea that artists could, would or should give their time free is no longer acceptable, especially post-Covid.”

With the review taking place over the last two years, she said that the many organisations and artists consulted were supportive, but clear that things needed to change.

“At Cathedral Quarter Trust we’re excited about the plans for the future and look forward to sharing them with our colleagues and audience in due course,” she said.

The Trust has now promised to keep previous participants and audiences kept up to date with the progress at regular intervals.

“We realise many who took part previously and those members of the community who look forward to it will be disappointed by the decision to take a year out,” she said.

“We want to make sure we are able to give our full attention to successfully planning for the future. We are developing some exciting ideas on how to take the event forward into the future and taking some time to plan is necessary for this.”

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The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

The Ogham Grove 2021 by Bernie McAllister/Argyll Images

Last year's Culture Night featured the Ogham Grove installation and an accompanying digital trail.

Supported by Arts Council NI, the trail has just relaunched under the name of ‘Fionn’s Window’ and allows visitors to the Cathedral Quarter to follow an interactive journey based on the ancient Ogham Tree Alphabet.

Susan added: “We are really excited about the future - we know people will miss Culture Night Belfast but we plan to be back in 2023 with something even better.”


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