The Imagine! Virtual Festival took place during 25-27 March with a packed programe of 40 webcasts examining political and cultural issues, including the threats presented by COVID-19. We had originally organised 92 events for 25-31 March however we had to cancel these because of the pandemic. Of course, we could just have walked away from the project and saved ourselves a lot of work and hassle! However, having invested so much effort in preparing for the festival and listening to the views of our stakeholders, we enlisted the support of funders and key partners such as RV, the 343, Accidental Theatre and Alan Meban and ended up broadcasting 40 online events during 27-29 March.

The webcasting programme included the award-winning journalist and writer Paul Mason; best-selling author and news editor Sam McBride; and open Democracy editor, Adam Ramsay talking about the current threats to democracy across the world. Keynote topics that were addressed in the webcasts include climate extinction; how to combat the Coronavirus; the impact of this crisis on the arts sector, and ‘Is more economic growth the answer?’. Other speakers include Neil Jameson, the founder of Citizens UK; Margaret Henry, Director of Thrive; Allison Morris, Irish News security correspondent; Grainne Walsh, Director of Stratagem public affairs consultancy; Professor John Barry responding to the planetary emergency; and Robin McAlpine on the future of the UK.

Leading local film-maker Nicky Larkin also previewed the world première of his documentary exploring the creation of The Belfast Ensemble’s provocative Abomination: A DUP Opera and we were delighted to partner with Film Devour in showcasing a number of short films from local directors.

In addition, the festival organised a number of events interrogating aspects of local history with a talk by leading historian, Barry Sheppard, on Bicycles and Protest; a book launch by Fergus Whelan on Belfast United Irishman William Drennan and the history of Whiskey and politics in Belfast with Martin McAuley. Poetry was also represented with a special reading by the award-winning local poet, Chris Agee. We also had music from local artists Joby Fox and Emer Maguire.