We were delighted to deliver the 5th Imagine Belfast Festival comprising 152 events, 459 speakers & performers in 50 venues across the city during 25-31 March 2019. The eclectic week of talks, workshops, theatre, poetry, comedy, music, exhibitions, film and tours attracted an audience of 8,285 people – an increase of 76% on last year’s festival.

We have conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the festival through an audience survey involving 662 returns (8% sample). Our audience survey found that 97% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations. It was particularly pleasing to find that 55% of audience members were attending a festival event for the first time and 39% 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. The majority of events (65%) were free with many sold out or oversubscribed. We were also delighted with the quality of the performances in our programme, confirmed by audience feedback and media reviews.

At a glance

  • Total audience: 8,285 (76% increase from 4,699 in 2018)
  • Audience feedback: 97% of survey respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations (98% in 2018)
  • New audience members: 55% of respondents were attending a festival event for the first time (56% last year) and 39% of the sample had never been to the venue before (45%)
  • Visitors: 10% of attendees came from outside Northern Ireland (11% last year). Of these, 9% stated the festival was the main reason they were visiting Belfast.
  • Audience spend: Our sample spent an average of £31 attending events
  • Number of events: 152 (23% increase on the 124 events organised in 2018)
  • Number of performers/speakers: 459 (23% increase from 374 last year)
  • Number of free events: 98 (76 in 2018) – 65% of total events
  • Number of venues: 50 (61% increase on the 31 used last year)
  • Media coverage: 51 items (32 last year). £97,536 estimated AVE
  • Ticket income increase of 199%

Now in its fifth year, the festival is designed to celebrate and support the role of the citizen in the cultural and political life of Belfast. Aimed at engaging people in political/cultural discussion and debate in the broadest sense, it also encourages participation from people not normally involved in politics. The festival is not aligned with any political party or particular interest group and this was successfully communicated to our publics.

Aims

Our aims are:

  • To provide a high-quality showcase for new ideas on politics, culture and activism in Northern Ireland
  • To encourage the participation of under-represented groups in political/cultural debate and discussion
  • To stimulate reflection and debate on difficult and controversial issues
  • To promote free speech

The festival employs a mixture of curated and distributed programming models and supports partner organisations to deliver a range of performances, screenings, exhibitions, tours, workshops, conferences, debates and discussions. Over 55 partners were involved in the programme. This year we directly curated a record 32 events which included talks by Anthony Barnett (with open Democracy), Gavin Esler, Mary Harney, Michael Maguire, George Monbiot, Lionel Shriver, Peter Tatchell, Richard Wilkinson, and an exhibition by Rita Duffy. In addition, we organised four comedy shows with Robin Ince, Shazia Mirza, Tim McGarry and Paddy Cullivan and music events with Duke Special and Colin Hassard. We were also able to advertise the Artivist Academy during the festival and organise a number of provocations such a wood pellet model competition, a mock election poster campaign and a street art commission with the Italian/French artist Clet Abraham.

We invited the public to suggest and organise events in October 2018 and received 55 proposals, most of which we were able to support. This was a major increase on the 36 proposals received last year. The festival had a greater variety of events with more conferences, comedy events and workshops compared to last year. We were delighted to have such a high proportion of audience participation events, such as workshops, rather than just lectures and talks. The categories of events included:

      • Lectures, debates and talks 35% of total events (36% in 2018)
      • Theatre 3% (9%)
      • Comedy events 4% (2%)
      • Workshops 25% (7%)
      • Exhibitions 4% (7%)
      • Film screenings 8% (8%)
      • Music 6% (3%)
      • Tours 9% (26%)
      • Conferences 4%
      • Performance art 2%

We were delighted to use a number of new venues, particularly those outside the city centre, such as 343, NICVA, Spectrum Centre, Vault Artist Studios and Trinity Lodge. As well as the above venues, new partners included Aisling Ghéar, Ardoyne Youth Enterprise, Beat Carnival, Bryson Group, Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, Collaboration for Change, DC Tours, Deloitte, DRILL NI, Inside Ireland, Linen Quarter BID, NI Tour Guide Association, open Democracy, OUTing the Past, Proper Tea Housing Co-op, The Corridor, The Transnational Institute, and Ulster Museum.

In addition, we worked with Framewerk Gallery in recruiting an ‘artist in residence’ this year for the first time – the Cork based artist Vicky Langan. We were also pleased to work with QFT in programming our documentary film strand and to present a number of premieres such as the Kabosh production of ‘A Queer Céilí at the Marty Forsythe’. High level seminars and conferences were supported with open Democracy, OUTing the Past LGBT+ history conference, and Belfast City Council. An innovative Participatory Budgeting workshop and small grants scheme supported by Building Change Trust was also showcased at the festival with groups invited to bid for £500 to support local democracy projects.

Despite our limited budget and reliance on volunteers, we look forward to building on this success with our partners and the people of Belfast.