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

Belfast Culture Night was suspended for a year after organizers called the festival “too big and unwieldy”.

The organizers said in a statement that after an extensive strategic review, the decision was made to “suspend the celebration of art, culture and heritage in the city center in its usual form.”

Among the reasons cited were rising popularity without adequate funding and the expectation that artists should work for free.

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

She said the decision will “disappoint some in the community” but it will pave the way for the development of an “exciting new format” that will boost the Cathedral Quarter as well as the arts and culture sector.

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

The strategic review recommended a “total rethink” to address concerns raised by stakeholders, the community, and the wider audience of Culture Night.

Ms Picken said: “The pandemic and the restrictions of the past two years have given us the opportunity to take a closer look at Belfast Culture Night and take the time to ask what exactly we would like to turn this event into.

“One of the questions we had to ask was whether Culture Night Belfast is achieving the results we originally hoped for.”

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 community to connect with a much wider audience was lost.

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

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Ogham Grove 2021, Bernie McAllister / Argyle Images

Belfast’s Culture Night first began in 2009 and has grown into the largest free cultural event in the city, attracting around 100,000 spectators in 2019.

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

It turned out that the culture seemed to be lost in the general “noise” of the event, and that this left many visitors unimpressed.

The announcement comes at the same time as the Cathedral Quarter Trust, the organization behind Belfast’s cultural night, which is also developing a new strategic plan to be unveiled later this year.

While many attendees will be concerned about the news, Ms Picken said she believes it will be a “challenging but exciting time” for the arts and culture community.

“Over the years, Belfast Culture Night has grown exponentially while the resources to run the program have remained the same,” she said.

“The idea that artists could, should or should give away their time for free is no longer acceptable, especially after Covid.”

Because the review has been underway for the past two years, she said that many of the organizations and artists consulted supported her, but it’s clear something needs to change.

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

The trust has now promised that previous members and viewers will be updated on progress at regular intervals.

“We understand that many of those who have participated in the past, and those members of the community who are looking forward to this, will be disappointed by the decision to take a year off,” she said.

“We want to make sure we can fully focus on successfully planning for the future. We are developing some interesting ideas on how to take the event into the future, and this requires some planning time.”

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Ogham Grove 2021, Bernie McAllister / Argyle Images

Last year’s Culture Night featured an Ogham Grove installation and an accompanying digital track.

With support from the NI Arts Council, the trail has just been re-launched as Fionn’s Window and allows visitors to the Cathedral Quarter to take an interactive journey based on the ancient alphabet of the ogham tree.

Susan added: “We are very excited about the future – we know people will miss the cultural night in Belfast, but we plan to return in 2023 with something even better.”