The inaugural Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics was launched at Belfast City Hall today (11 February) by the Lord Mayor, Nichola Mallon and writer and performer, Nuala McKeever. The seven day festival features a packed programme of 37 events in 12 venues across the city and is supported by 20 partner organisations.
The festival is designed to celebrate and support the role of the citizen in political and cultural life. With talks, theatre, workshops, film, humour and lively debate, the festival will provide a unique opportunity for people to have their say and engage with some of the big issues impacting on our lives in a fun, dynamic way.
The exciting line up of speakers includes Steve Richards, BBC presenter and political commentator; Philip Coggan, author and columnist with the Economist; leading artist Rita Duffy; and local professors from Queen’s University and Ulster University such as Dave Archard, Arthur Aughey; Derek Birrell; John Brewer; Yvonne Galligan; Dagmar Schiek; and Peter Shirlow.
Other contributors include Lord Alderdice, Liam Clarke, David Grant, Margo Harkin, Tom Kelly, Paula McFetridge, Susan McKay, Duncan Morrow and Nicholas Whyte.
According to founder and Festival Director, Peter O’Neill:
'More than ever, our society needs to cultivate a culture which provokes imaginative ideas and ways of engaging with each other on the big issues of our time. We want to encourage participation from people not normally involved in political debate and stimulate a discussion on new ideas and activism. There’s something for everyone in our programme – most of the events are free and spread across the city. So join us in sparking some new ideas on politics and culture.'
The festival covers a wide spectrum of issues including, but not limited to, mainstream political debate. The touchstone topics in the programme, which are likely to be prominent in the forthcoming general election, include Voting and Identity; Dealing with the Past; Immigration; Gender Quotas; Faith & Politics; Young People & Democracy; Public Sector Reform; Charities & Politics; the post-election political landscape; and Peace Building & the Arts.
However, other events examine wider themes such as the threats to democratic processes; the right to have children; the public value of universities; the tension between free trade & social rights; and issues raised by audiences in a series of informal Café Conversations.
The programme also includes cutting-edge theatre from Terra Nova Productions; a special Tenx9 storytelling event on People Power; and workshops that explore identity and the visual manifestation of politics. In addition, a film strand, programmed by Queen’s Film Theatre, features some of cinema’s sharpest satires and the Great Big Politics Pub Quiz is resurrected for those who want to have some fun whilst raising funds for Amnesty International.
The festival is independent, non-partisan and non-aligned. Its aims are:
- To provide a high quality showcase for new ideas on politics, culture and activism in Northern Ireland
- To encourage the participation of under-represented groups in political/cultural debate and discussion
- To stimulate reflection and debate on difficult and controversial issues
- To promote free speech.