Belfast City of Light:
Looking and Listening to Belfast with Bronagh Lawson
What if, in the city of Belfast that is conflicted both emotionally and physically, a non-churchgoer artist decides to follow an artistic thread of visiting every church in Belfast for a service, simply looking and listening to what is going on?
Bronagh Lawson decided to do just that. After thirteen years of setting up and running cross-community, cross-border development programmes on interfaces in Belfast, she went back to her artistic roots and simply followed a thread of creative enquiry.
Ten years later, she considered how she could encourage others to see an alternative view of the spiritual life of the city. Belfast: City of Light was published in 2019 and is a true account of that journey. May it start a thousand conversations. There will be an opportunity to ask questions. If you read the book first it will make more sense!
Born in Newtownards to Frances and Paddy Lawson, who had returned to Northern Ireland to oversee the design and building of the Ulster Museum extension, Bronagh sent her first two years on the Upper Newtownards Road with her three older sisters before moving to Portaferry in 1968. After Frances and Paddy separated in the seventies, the girls and Frances moved to a council house in Strangford. Educated at Down High School. Downpatrick, in 1986 Bronagh attended art college in Bristol and then gained a first-class degree in Textiles and Fashion at Winchester School of Art, Hampshire. Moving to London on graduation, she won a Fulbright scholarship and attended Parsons School of Design in New York (now the new school).
Bronagh sometimes visited Northern Ireland and despaired. Returning from New York pre-ceasefire, she spent some time as a participant on various cross-community development programmes before deciding to use her creativity in a different way. For thirteen years she set up and ran cross- border cross community development programmes mostly within the enterprise sector in interface areas in Belfast. With this gift of a time, she investigated her own socialisation of being brought up in rural coastal Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and heard many stories from people in the city similar to life she saw only on the TV growing up-and often switched off as it was so horrific.
Bronagh returned to her artistic practice after collapsing in work one day, finding years of experience to fuel her output and her exhibitions most significant being The ebb and flow of East Belfast a series of 150+ fine art etchings which have been exhibited in The Engine Room Gallery, An Culturlainn, Saint Patrick’s center and The Irish Architectural archive in Dublin for the 100 centenary of the Easter Rising supported by the British Council and the Department of Art Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Her visual art is held in a number of collections including UTV, Belfast Trust, Irish Architectural archive, Ulster Museum (jewelry) and her first book captures her open-minded curiosity of what would happen as a non-church goer decided to visit every church in Belfast for a service simply following an artistic thread.
She was chair of Belfast Print workshop member of the Women’s Coalition, an equality specialist co-founder of the Hydrangea project a Belfast Chicago collaboration with School of Art Institute Chicago looking at contemporary art underpinned with Art therapy that acts as a healing mechanism she has won awards for her work of developing art and dementia programme with the live and learn team at Ulster Museum and the NI digital heroes award for her development and running of Creativechangeni, an online hub, on a voluntary basis connecting and linking artists and galleries in Northern Ireland.
She is current chair of Pssquared.org, an artist led charity based in the city centre and is currently lobbying for assisted studio space for artists with learning difficulties after spending 3 years working on projects with this cohort. She is arts columnist for Belfast Media Group and is published online and in the Andersonstown News every Thursday.