The eclectic week of talks, workshops, theatre, poetry, comedy, music, exhibitions, film and tours included the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked, US Activist Carmen Perez, national co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, and the often-provocative journalist, Peter Hitchens. Satire and political caricature were represented by veteran cartoonist Martin Rowson, and the renowned Oxford Professor Danny Dorling who assessed the extent to which inequality created the momentum behind the leave vote in the Brexit referendum. The programme also featured stand-up comedian Jarlath Regan and other internationally renowned performers such as the conductor Patrick Ayrton, and poet Leyla Josephine, alongside writers such as Eoin McNamee, Michel Bauwens and former politicians Austin Currie and Nelson McCausland. We are very appreciative of the funding provided by the Building Change Trust, VSB Foundation, Ulster University, Open University, Queen’s University Belfast, and Community Relations Council.
A record 4,699 audience members attended the wide ranging programme which attracted very positive media and audience feedback (see appendix 1 for comments). We measured and recorded this feedback through an audience survey involving 340 returns (7.2% sample). Our audience survey found that 98% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations.
It was particularly pleasing to find that 56% of audience members were attending a festival event for the first time and 45% 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 programme, confirmed by audience feedback and media reviews. The majority of events (61%) were free with many sold out or oversubscribed. We invited the public to suggest and organise events in November 2017 and received 36 proposals, all of which we were able to support. This was a major increase (177%) on the 13 proposals received last year. The festival had a greater variety of events with more tours, screenings and workshops compared to last year. We were delighted to have such a high proportion of audience participation events rather than just passive lectures and talks. The organisation of the major thematic event ‘Democracy Day’ by Building Change Trust on 14 March attracted over 300 participants and we were delighted to support two innovative performance art projects developed by young artists Kate Guelke (Bare Necessities) and Ben Weir (the Public Pulpit).
We were also delighted to use a number of new venues this year including Ormeau Baths, St Anne’s Cathedral, the War Memorial Building, Bean Bag Cinema and the Barracks. As well as the above venues, new partners included the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Young at Art, Ad Hoc Theatre Group, Mockingbird Theatre Group, Northern Slant, Craic NI, Pat Finucane Centre, Spark Opera, New Notions Cinema and Positive Money NI. We were also pleased to have a greater spread of events outside the Belfast city centre and work with tour organisers such as Kabosh theatre, Sailortown Regeneration Group and Turas to explore different aspects of the city.
At a glance
- Total audience: 4,699 (2.6% increase from 4,580 in 2017)
- Audience feedback: 98% of survey respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations (95% in 2017)
- New audience members: 56% of respondents were attending a festival event for the first time (58% last year) and 45% of the sample had never been to the venue before (37%)
- Visitors: 11% of attendees came from outside Northern Ireland (8% last year). Of these, 16% stated the festival was the main reason they were visiting Belfast.
- Number of events: 124 (44% increase on the 86 events organised in 2017)
- Number of performers/speakers: 374 (23% increase from last year)
- Number of free events: 76 (79 in 2017) – 61% of total events
- Number of venues: 31 (35 last year)