Belfast will, for the first time, stage the Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics from 9th-15th March 2015.

Belfast will, for the first time, stage the Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics from 9th-15th March 2015.

Imagine! presents a packed programme of lectures and seminars, films and humour, all aimed at celebrating the citizen’s role in politics. A political quiz and theatre productions add to the drama, each event seeking to fire concepts required to progress Northern Ireland’s political discourse.

Amongst the festival’s main supporters is the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the UK social policy research and development charity, whose Northern Ireland adviser is Quintin Oliver. Oliver’s own political lobbying firm, Stratagem, is organising an event and also sponsoring the Great Big Politics Pub Quiz on Thursday 12th March.

He sees a vital overlap between two ostensibly different fields, one which can foster results. “Arts comes in many shapes and forms, politics comes in many shapes and forms. The underlying issue, I think, is ideas.”

That theme of ideas – he refers to it as the “unifying golden thread” – is one Oliver is keen to emphasise, one which has attracted the lobbyists to this “invigorating” festival. “That’s what excites Stratagem: we do politics.” The latter, he suggests, can be seen by the outside world as being “dull, mundane and boring. But, if you link that to ideas, you then generate creativity and the urge of differentiation that allows you to bring arts, creativity, ideas and policy into one place.”

Stratagem holds an interactive symposium on Friday 13th March focusing on the UK’s political waters in the immediate wake of May’s general election. In keeping with Imagine’s wider goals, a focus on positive participation and engagement should drive the seminar. Stratagem’s choice of Jeane Freeman from Women for Indy in Scotland, and Nerys Evans, of Deryn in Wales underlines its vision for a wider canvas to NI politics.

As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, its post-election role could be fascinating. “Are we going to be Prime Minister-makers or are we going to be ready for the new government?” says Oliver, who speaks of the “great platform” offered by Imagine, of “probing these issues and linking them back to a festival of ideas.”

In an age of austerity it is crucial to discern ways of engaging with the structures of government, local and national. Oliver cites the recent festival launch at Belfast City Hall, hosted by Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon, as a telling example of how connections can be made in less than 30 minutes. “We had the stimulation of the programme being launched. If we can do that in less than half an hour, what can be achieved in a week of 50 or 60 brilliant events?”

Matthew Coyle

Photo: Kevin Cooper/Photoline

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