Life in the Belfast lane

Simon Stephens, 07.12.2016
Keeping up with the diversity and vibrancy of Belfast's arts scene
Last week I was in Belfast for a Museums Association (MA) board meeting, which also provided a great opportunity to talk to people about our annual conference and exhibition, which will be held in the city on 8-9 November 2018.

Everyone at the MA is really excited about coming to Belfast, and I am particularly looking forward to working closely with museum, gallery and heritage professionals all over Ireland to shape the programme.

My trip to Belfast included visits to the Ulster Museum, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and Titanic Belfast, a visitor attraction that cost more than £100m to develop and is Northern Ireland's most expensive tourism project.

Titanic Belfast opened its doors in 2012, the same year as The Mac, a fantastic arts centre in Belfast that I also visited.

A tour given by Mac curator Eoin Dara provided a flavour of the aims of the venue and also gave me an insight into the workings of Northern Ireland’s thriving arts scene.

The Mac has really helped raise the profile of contemporary art in Ireland and internationally with initiatives such as the Mac International Ulster Bank Prize.

This is the largest contemporary art prize in Ireland and this year it attracted almost 1,000 entries from 40 countries across the world. The winner was Slovenian-born artist Jasmina Cibic, who collected the £20,000 prize at a ceremony held in Belfast last month.

Other venues that are part of the arts scene in Belfast include the city’s photography gallery, Belfast Exposed, and the Golden Thread Gallery. There is also Catalyst Arts Gallery, which was formed in 1993 and is now Belfast’s primary artist-led organisation. It is run by volunteers.

Catalyst Arts is always a gallery, but has apparently also been a 24-hour cinema, a recording studio, a publishing house, a skip, a radio station, a jumble sale, a wrestling ring, a sauna, a distillery, an agnostic chapel, a banquet hall, a darts team, a leisure centre, a night club and, most recently, a shop.

The diversity and vibrancy of Belfast’s arts scene will be one of the many strands that will be represented at our conference in 2018. I am already looking forward to it.

Links and downloads

Museums Association Annual Conference & Exhibition

Glasgow 2016 keynote sessions on film