You might have noticed that Belfast has had a bit of bad press over the last few months but that’s not what this post is about. Now I am preparing to leave her behind I feel more connected to Belfast than I ever have before and Culture Night – the city’s biggest, annual, free, arts event – plays its part in this.
One Friday in September Belfast is transformed into an in-your-face riot of colour and culture, where the streets are packed with artists and performers along with those who have come to appreciate the art they have to offer. Culture Night is, in my humble opinion, the jewel in the city’s cultural crown. Every performance is free of charge and it offers visitors and locals alike a terrific opportunity to road test the arts without having to part with their cash. This year saw over 250 acts come from all over the province – maybe even beyond – and the thousands of people who flocked to the city for the event were certainly entertained.
The programme of events running across the city between 4pm and about 10pm was eclectic to say the least. There were pro-wrestling; parades; outdoor yoga; live music seeing musicians use the window of a local hair salon as their stage; circus performances; a caravan jam; roller derby and yarnbombing, to name but a few. This is the day of the year I look forward to even more than Christmas. There is something in the air in Belfast on this night that is just magical. While we Northern Irish are known for our hospitality and, on occasion, our hostility for one another, Culture Night sets the scene for the former to thrive in abundance. Everywhere we went we chatted to people from all over, each new face bursting with recommendations of an amazing artwork or performance we had to see. And it wasn’t just for adults. We saw families with big and little kids, groups spanning the generations getting stuck into arts and crafts and filling up on new experiences.
The only not so great thing about Culture Night is it’s over way too fast. As a dedicated culture nighter I planned this year’s trip with military precision. It’s become something of a tradition for my mum and I to head into the city for the event and there is always so much we want to see and experience so this year we knew we had to plan our trip in advance. We trawled the the website. We made a list. Dammit, I even took a map, (against my better judgement.) And all that planning dissolved to mush the minute we set foot out of the car park and into St Anne’s Square where an army Warriors of Xi’an took us by surprise. They were magnificent, every one decorated differently. Some showcased landscapes while others were covered in newspaper clippings and some depicted animals. The warriors’ presence in the square threw us completely and we ended up getting carried along with the crowds for the rest of the night.
In the end we didn’t see anything on our list – proof all lists are useless! BUT we did see a whole host of amazing entertainment we’d have otherwise missed out on. We saw the Caravan Jam, a punky set in the Black Box, yarnbombing at the Duke of York, some aural acupuncture, a bit of the set at Bill Harris’ hair salon, a Johnny Cash tribute act in Commercial Court and a great jazz band at The John Hewitt. And that is the beauty of Culture Night – no matter how much you plan it will always take you by surprise. If you are ever planning a trip to Belfast definitely try and time it with Culture Night. It showcases everything that is amazing about the city and I guarantee it will leave you wanting more. Don’t believe me? Check out this video from their website – linked above – and experience some of the magic for yourself.