The 8th Imagine! Belfast Festival proved to be a successful offering involving 147 events and 359 speakers & performers during 21-27 March 2022. The eclectic week of talks, workshops, theatre, poetry, comedy, music, exhibitions, film and tours attracted an audience of 9,210 online and in-person attendees. Most of the events (82%) were free as the festival returned to live events after two years operating online. Although Covid continued to impact on our programme with 17 events cancelled due to illness, we were still able to roll out a huge range of events including headliners such as Michael Ignatieff, Tom Robinson, Helen Thompson, Michael Longley, Ece Temelkuran, Bill Neely and a host of exciting arts and cultural events – with many sold out or oversubscribed.
We have conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the festival through an audience survey(3.5% sample). Our survey found that 95% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations. It was particularly pleasing to find that 60% of audience members were attending a festival event for the first time and 37% 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.
Other outcomes included:
- 12% of attendees came from outside Northern Ireland. Of these, 13% stated the festival was the main reason they were visiting Belfast.
- Audience spend: Our sample spent an average of £35 attending our events
- Number of festival partners: 52
- Number of international participants: 40 with 27 events organised by participants from outside UK & Ireland
- Number of free events: 121 – 82% of total events
- Average ticket price: £7.8
- Number of workshops: 14
- Number of venues used: 35
- Media coverage: Total number of items: 98. Reach: 4,022,796. AVE: £181,881. PR value: £545,644
Positive feedback was also elicited from survey respondents, detailed as follows:
- 95% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations with only 1% reporting dissatisfaction (increased from 94% in 2021)
- 95.3% of people answered the question ‘after attending the festival, would you be more likely to attend other politics-related events’ (88% last year)
- 97.8 of respondents stated they were more likely to recommend the festival to family and friends after attending one of our events with 1.6% stating they felt the same
- When asked whether the festival promotes Belfast and Northern Ireland in a positive way, 98.4% said yes, with 1.6% responding as ‘don’t know’
- People appeared to be reasonably well informed about the festival. 92% of the sample stated they were either well or somewhat informed about the festival prior to attending an event
- Respondents overwhelmingly found the subject matter of the event/performance as the main reason for attending the festival. However, familiarity with the speaker/performer was also cited as a factor.
We also asked whether respondents considered themselves to be disadvantaged and found that 21% of the sample considered themselves to fall into this category which suggests were able to significantly engage with vulnerable and less well-off sections of the community.
We invited the public to suggest and organise events in November 2021 and received a record 98 proposals, most of which we were able to support. This was a higher than expected level of public participation in the festival which resulted in more events than planned taking place in the 2022 programme. We also had a greater variety of events with more place-making events, exhibitions, music and discussions/workshop events compared to previous years.
The following organisations and venues were involved in the 2022 festival:
Academy of Ideas; Ulster University; Queen’s University Belfast; The Open University Northern Ireland; Accidental Theatre; Agora; Black Box; Blackstaff Press; Carnegie UK; Centre for Democracy and Peace Building; Centre for Investigative Journalism; Champion Things; Community Dialogue; Community Arts Partnership; Community Foundation NI; CRAICNI, Crescent Arts Centre; Gael Linn; Diabetes UK; Housing Rights; Involve UK; Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Merrion Press; Northern Visions /NVTV; Northern Slant; Marie Curie; Queen’s Film Theatre; Inside Ireland; International Futures Forum; International Page and Stage; International Socialist Group; Limin-Alley; Lyric Theatre; No Alibis Bookshop; Northern Slant; Pen International; Prison Arts Foundation; QFT; Second Collective; Shared Future News; Slugger O’Toole; Soloman Democracy Institute; South Belfast Eco-Quakers Group; Spark Opera; Strand Arts Centre; The Scoop; The Bare Project; Ten x9; Trans Writers Union; Trocaire; Wave; and Weave Creative.
In addition, we commissioned the International Peripatetic Sculptors Society from Glasgow as artists in residence who worked with us on a number of projects during the festival week. Other place-making events included three community installations and a range of innovative workshops with Limin-Alley, the Ring of Steel project with Kabosh, and Peace Wall Stories with Stephen Walker at the Cupar Way interface. In total, we supported 11 exhibitions with Second Collective, Loving Earth, the Marie Curie Day of Reflection and Open University Northern Ireland. We were also delighted to co-produce This Sh*t Happens All the Time with the Lyric Theatre – a powerful new one-woman play from Amanda Verlaque, which used personal experience to explore misogyny, coercive control, and queer-baiting.
We are very appreciative of the funding provided this year by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Reconciliation Fund, VSB Foundation, the Arts Council for Northern Ireland National Lottery Project Fund, the National Lottery Community Fund, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast City Council, Open University Northern Ireland, Film Hub NI/BFI FAN Film Exhibition Fund and the Community Relations Council. We were pleased to attract a new funder this year – Film Hub NI/BFI FAN Film Exhibition Fund – for a film strand on censorship. On a budget of approximately £93,500, we were delighted to be able to deliver such an extensive and a wide-ranging programme and not lose any money!
Thanks to everyone who helped us make our festival such a success. We look forward to returning in March 2023 with another packed programme of events.