We were delighted to present this festival in the run-up to the UK general election.
The festival ran from 9-15 March 2015 with 43 events in 14 venues across the city. Approximately 2,500 audience members attended our events which, given our first year of operation and relatively limited income, was a pretty good outcome.
We measured and recorded our outcomes through an audience survey and box office returns. Our audience survey found that 97% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations. It was particularly pleasing to find that 34% of the sample had never been to a festival venue before which suggests that we were able to reach new audiences and introduce them to new venues and partners. We are also delighted with the quality of the performances in our first programme, confirmed by audience feedback and media reviews. A number of commentators applauded the quality and diversity of our programme and the quirky, innovative range of events we put together. Our unique selling point, as a new civic participation festival in Belfast, was recognised in media coverage and our speakers and performers were very appreciative of the platform we were able to provide for them.
The festival is designed to celebrate and support the role of the citizen in political and cultural life. With talks, theatre, workshops, film, humour and lively debate, the festival provided a unique opportunity for people to have their say and engage with some of the big issues impacting on our lives in a fun, dynamic way.
The exciting line up of speakers included Steve Richards, BBC presenter and political commentator; Philip Coggan, author and columnist with the Economist; leading artist Rita Duffy; and local professors from Queen’s University and Ulster University such as Dave Archard, Arthur Aughey; Derek Birrell; John Brewer; Yvonne Galligan; Dagmar Schiek; and Peter Shirlow.
Other contributors include Lord Alderdice, the late Liam Clarke, David Grant, Margo Harkin, Tom Kelly, Paula McFetridge, Susan McKay, Duncan Morrow and Nicholas Whyte.
The festival covered a wide spectrum of issues such as Voting and Identity; Dealing with the Past; Immigration; Gender Quotas for elections; Faith & Politics; Young People & Democracy; Public Sector Reform; Charities & Politics; the post-election political landscape; and Peace Building & the Arts.
Other events examined wider themes such as the threats to democratic processes; the right to have children; the public value of universities; the tension between free trade & social rights; and issues raised by audiences in a series of informal Café Conversations.
The programme also included cutting-edge theatre from Terra Nova Productions; a special Tenx9 storytelling event on People Power; and workshops that explored identity and the visual manifestation of politics. In addition, a film strand, programmed by Queen’s Film Theatre, featured some of cinema’s sharpest satires and the Great Big Politics Pub Quiz engendered some fierce competition among our political geeks. We also ran a submission process for an Alternative Manifesto which attracted over 200 entries – subsequently shared with our political parties.