the 2024 festival

We were delighted to present our 10th annual festival involving 130 events and 376 speakers & performers in 44 venues across Belfast during 18-24 March 2024 attracting an audience of 7,383 in-person attendees and estimated 12,300 online viewers.

Most of the events (65%) were free as the festival rolled out an eclectic mix of film, humour, talks, music, poetry, podcasts, theatre, exhibitions, tours, discussions and workshops. This year we featured keynote artists and speakers exploring a wide range of political themes and they included: Paul Muldoon, Don Letts, Manchán Magan, Sarah Corbett, Eamonn Mallie, Noel Doran, Nuala McKeever and Louise Walsh with special performances from the Ulster Orchestra, Yard Act, Henry Normal and Nigel Planer, Enola Gay, Paddy Cullivan, Ursula Burns and the Colorado based theatre company TINTS, together with a host of other exciting arts, heritage and cultural events with many sold out or oversubscribed.

The festival explored the theme ‘Top EnterBRAINment’ encouraging people to have some fun with politics and we programmed a greater number of events designed to engage younger people in our music events.  This strand included a series of events examining the relationship between music and politics, particularly punk; a special focus on the transformation of rooftops in the city as potential venues, and performances from the Sullivan family of traditional singers from the Ojibwe reservation in Wisconsin, USA. The festival also involved a number of tours, exhibitions, quizzes, live podcasts and talks from a range of experts exploring the big issues of our time. Most of our events were suggested and created in collaboration with the public and long standing partners. We held a public consultation in October 2023 to help develop the programme and we were delighted with such a high quality response.

In developing this festival we hoped to deliver the following outcomes and we are pleased to confirm that we exceeded these projections:

  1. A greater appreciation, understanding and exchange by people and communities in Northern Ireland and beyond of local and international political, cultural and reconciliation issues through the organisation of over 100 talks, debates, training workshops, performances and exhibitions.
  2. Greater public support for reconciliation, cultural diversity, civic activism and deliberative politics in Belfast and Northern Ireland through our festival programme.
  3. The promotion of good relations, cultural diversity and the participation of under-represented groups in civic society through the organisation of festival activities, public participation events, blogs, and workshops.
  4. The greater facilitation of political and cultural discussion through the engagement of at least 300 keynote speakers and performers sharing perspectives and learning on a range of contentious and difficult issues such as dealing with the legacy of the past, diversity issues, the climate crisis, and other keynote issues.

We conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the festival through an audience survey involving 385 returns. Our survey found that 98% of respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations. It was particularly pleasing to find that 50% of audience members were attending a festival event for the first time and 42% of the sample had never been to the festival venue before, which confirms that we were able to reach new audiences and introduce them to new venues and partners. 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 also found that 13% of our sample were visiting Belfast/Northern Ireland with 6% stating they lived in Ireland, 4% came from GB, 2% from rest of Europe and 1% from rest of world. For these ‘out of state’ visitors, 18% said that attending the festival was the main reason for their visit to Belfast.

We are also delighted with the quality of the performances in our programme, confirmed by audience feedback and media reviews. We received record media coverage and our speakers and performers were very appreciative of the platform we were able to provide for them.

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, Future Screens NI, The National Lottery Community Fund,  Linen Quarter BID,  Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast City Council, Open University Northern Ireland, and the Community Relations Council.

Summary (Figures in brackets refer to corresponding outturns for the 2023 festival)

  • Total audience: 19,683 including 7,383 in person attendees and an estimated 12,300 online
  • Audience feedback: 98% of survey respondents felt the festival satisfied their expectations (99% in 2023)
  • New audience members: 50% (57% last year) of respondents were attending a festival event for the first time and 42% (48%) of the sample had never been to the venue before
  • Visitors: 13% (23%) of attendees came from outside Northern Ireland. Of these, 18% (21%) stated the festival was the main reason they were visiting Belfast.
  • Audience spend: Most people spent between £10-19 attending each of our events though 6% reported they spent over £99.
  • Number of events: 130 (141) with another 4 cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control. 5 were virtual or hybrid
  • Number of performers/speakers: 376 (257)
  • Number of festival partners: 64 (67)
  • Number of international participants: 31 (37) including Greece & USA
  • Number of free events: 85 (76) – 65% (54%) of total events
  • Average ticket price: £4.8 (£4.1)
  • Number of venues used: 44 (36)
  • Media coverage: A major increase in coverage with total number of clips: 146 (93). Reach: 6,475,507 (5,027,802), circulation 809,969 (868,688), AVE: £458,485 (£180,769), PR Value: £1,375,456 (£542,306)

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.

2024 marks the 10 year anniversary for the festival which has encouraged performance, discussion and debate on contentious issues through its unique and diverse programming. During the past decade over 1,060 events have been organised attracting an audience of 213,000 people with approximately 3,060 speakers and performers involved. It is estimated that during this period the turnover of the festival directly generated an additional £700,000 for the wider economy.

This year’s festival was organised by an advisory group of approximately 64 partners and delivered by Imagine Belfast Ltd and its outgoing director Peter O’Neill, with a dedicated team of trustees and volunteers. The organisation is registered under the Companies Act 2006, as a private company, limited by guarantee (Company number N1614137) and is also registered with HMRC and the Charity Commission Northern Ireland (NIC101004). We are members of NICVA, Visit Belfast, the International Democracy Festivals Association and the Belfast Festivals Forum.

Mission: The mission of the festival is to provide high-quality showcases for the discussion of contemporary political and societal issues including new ideas on politics, culture and activism.

Aims: Our aims are:

  • To organise an inspiring annual programme of performance, discussion and debate.
  • To encourage the participation of under-represented groups in political/cultural debate and discussion.
  • To stimulate reflection and discussion on difficult and controversial issues.
  • To promote free speech, good relations, cultural diversity and equality.


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