Belfast, City of Culture
Article submitted by Bryson Charitable Group, Eurodesk UK Partner.
Belfast and Northern Ireland have made their mark on the tourist trail over the past years with the opening of Titanic Belfast and thanks to our alter ego as Winterfell from Game of Thrones. There are, however, so many more reasons to visit our little part of Europe, not least the vibrant arts and culture scene. No matter what time of the year you visit, you’re most likely to hit on a festival of some description and there are an amazing range of venues and events happening right across Northern Ireland and its capital city of Belfast.
Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is famous for the bars and restaurants, but nestled in the middle of the area and acting as the hub of some of the most exciting events in the area is the Black Box. With a larger performance space and a smaller Green Room café style area, it hosts a great range of alternative and community events. It is also, joyously, a European Solidarity Corps hosting project, with one volunteer annually who focuses on the outreach activities with people with learning disabilities. This includes Black Moon, a club by and for people with learning disabilities and its offspring Mini Moon, which is geared towards children with learning disabilities and their families. Their Creating Connections also engages older people with a learning disability in a range of culture and arts activities.
Round the corner from the Black Box, in Gordon Street, are another two exciting spaces. One is the Oh Yeah Music Centre, the idea for which was driven by Gary Lightbody (of Snow Patrol) and Stuart Bailie, another influential figure in the local music scene. With a great little performance space and an exhibition of Northern Ireland Music, it’s an excellent place to check out homegrown musical talent and it is especially supportive of young bands. A few doors down is the Belfast Community Circus where many of our volunteers over the years have learnt trapeze, silks, juggling, unicycle and more. Many of them have also helped out at the Festival of Fools, the circus and street theatre festival which takes place each May.
In fact, volunteering at local festivals and venues is a great way for those making Belfast their home to scratch the surface of the city and support the amazing range of activities which happen year round. One of our oldest arts festivals is Belfast International Arts Festival, which began in Queen’s University Belfast and ran uninterrupted throughout the Northern Ireland “troubles”. Scheduled in October each year, their wide range of theatre, dance, music and visual arts provide a great way to get through the darkening evenings of approaching winter.
Close to Queen’s University is another important arts venue for Belfast, the Crescent Arts Centre, which is also a European Solidarity Corps hosting project. The Crescent is the go-to for many Belfast residents who avail of the classes in a wide range of dance, music (especially traditional Irish music), art, literature and languages. Previous Bryson EVS volunteers have certainly made their mark on the Crescent, with a former volunteer teaching art and another ex-volunteer greeting visitors at the Reception Desk. Two of the Crescent’s festivals mirror the strength of the dance and literary involvement, with City Dance and the Belfast Book Festival being hosted there annually. The Crescent, along with nearby independent bookseller No Alibis, play an important role in supporting the local literary scene, which is vibrant with many wonderful local writers. Belfast’s first Poetry Jukebox sits at the front of the Crescent. The idea came from the Czech Republic and was introduced by a Czech EVS volunteer, so even the grounds of the building are influenced by European volunteers! The ex-EVS volunteer brought the idea to local poet Deirdre Cartmill, who became one of the driving forces in getting the Poetry Jukebox up and running. With a rotating programme of poems, the Poetry Jukebox is available for anyone to take a few minutes out of their day to stop and listen to quality writing.
Moving to the East of the city, there are more celebrations of Belfast’s strong literary tradition. C S Lewis Square has changed a previously neglected area - and has provided a suitable surface for Victor, Belfast’s skateboarding dog. The EastSide Arts Festival is based nearby and has grown significantly in the past years. It really makes the most of some of the interesting locations in this part of the city – from a painting and drawing session in the Victorian swimming baths to a musical sleepover in the disused Church, there are always interesting events to choose from.
Round the corner is another exciting development for East Belfast, with VAULT Artist Studios, born in a disused bank and now based in an old college building. It brings together artists of a wide range of disciplines in a temporary space, providing opportunities for collaborative working and inspiration.
Many of our international volunteers in Bryson Charitable Group love to get involved in the cultural life of Belfast and they make the most of the many opportunities for engagement. If you’re aged 18-30 and are interested in volunteering for up to a year, why not take the chance to make a new home in another country and explore more deeply what it has to offer? European Solidarity Corps volunteers support the work of voluntary and community organisations through full time volunteering (normally 30-38 hours per week) and are provided with accommodation and an allowance during placements which last up to 12 months. Who knows where European Solidarity Corps could bring you?
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