22nd Mar 2019 in Uncategorised

The fifth Imagine Festival begins in Belfast this Monday 25th March, with some of its biggest events taking place in the Cathedral Quarter.

The brainchild of festival organiser and self-confessed ‘policy geek’ Peter O’Neill, Imagine is a festival of ideas and politics, offering the chance to explore a variety of social, political, cultural and ethical topics in a variety of creative ways, including debates, talks, performances, interviews, exhibitions, and workshops. Inspired by the Scottish independence referendum, the festival was borne of a desire to tackle what Peter viewed as relative apathy towards debating politics and ideas in Northern Ireland.

This year, the festival strapline is “Welcome to 2019, your head is the pinball” as between Brexit, fake news, Stormont deadlock and global political instability, we are living through some pretty turbulent times. The festival itself is non-partisan and covers issues right across the political spectrum, something Peter attributes its success to.

“We have a public submission programme, so every year we invite the public to suggest and indeed to run events. We have an advisory committee made up of funders and partners who look at the submissions and this year we had over 55. We rarely turn down events and that shows as this year we have over 150 events!”

Involved in community and voluntary sectors for many years and certainly in the 70s and 80s in my view there was a much more dynamic community and voluntary sector, trade unions organising lots of public events; student unions perhaps being more active in terms of promoting discussion on more controversial and difficult. It’s actually not unusual for people to come to our events and for the first time actually take part in a debate.”

In an age where most people seem more comfortable to fight their ideological corners from the safety of their keyboards and smartphones, Peter feels true political discourse has become limited. But as the festival’s growth demonstrates, people do see the need for live debates and real-world engagement. The use of the arts has allowed this to be done in a more “innovative and creative way”, says Peter.

“I think people are turned off by what has been seen as a very macho debating culture around politics. By having a softer or more creative way of addressing deep-seated difficult issues, a film or a play can create that emotional connection and relationship with an issue that sometimes a talk or a workshop can’t. I think women in particular appreciate that you get more nuanced interactions with the big issues of our times by being able to explore them within the arts genre. It’s no accident that most of our audience is female. Finding new ways to address big issues does seem to resonate very strongly with our audiences; younger audiences and our female audiences find themselves off by the traditional, ‘macho’ forms of political debate.”

The inclusion of global issues in the programme provides some context, scale and contrast in a country like Northern Ireland, which can often be insular, myopic and inward-gazing in its fixation on issues of national identity.

Year on year, the festival presents an impressive suite of ‘headline acts’ and this year is no exception. Author Lionel Shriver, Guardian columnist George Monbiot, comedian Robin Ince, political journalist Gavin Esler and campaigner Peter Tatchell are just some of the big hitters this year; especially impressive as the festival (a registered charity) has no core funding and is run entirely by volunteers.

The draw of the well-known names has had the happy effect of drawing more people towards other events that they might not otherwise have discovered and many of these festival goers have become frequent fliers to Imagine; a testament to the quality across the board.

Of the 150 or so events in 2019’s festival, nearly a third take place in the Cathedral Quarter, in a variety of venues, including places you might expect, such as the University of Ulster, The MAC and the Black Box, but there are also events in The Sunflower, McHugh’s Bar, The Dark Horse, PLACE, the Oh Yeah Music Centre, University of Atypical and Cafe On The Square.

You can find the full programme for Imagine here, but we thought we’d select ten of the CQ events that caught our eye:


Monday 25th March: 1pm – 6pm @ Ulster University

Ulster University presents an afternoon of events aimed at making sense of a volatile world. Learn how the social sciences are keeping up with the latest social, cultural and technological transformations, and the university’s ground-breaking work which helps shapes the way we live and understand the world around us. Join staff and students to learn more about the issues affecting your future and discuss with our researchers how best to understand our volatile world. Events are:

The cars of the future
Real research in the virtual world
Sustainable future communities
Robot carers and wearable fitness
The politics of the future
Big data and the future of privacy
The future of intercultural relations

Reading about conflict

Monday 25th March: 6pm – 7.30pm (doors 5.30pm) @ Cafe On The Square

After proving so popular at the last two festivals, Dr. Shaf Towheed from The Open University returns to lead a light-hearted discussion at Cafe On The Square on how authors write about conflict. The event will focus on literature about the Troubles, with two extracts from award-winning books produced by local authors Anna Burns and Tony Macaulay, followed by short extracts on writing about WW2 and contemporary conflict.

With some reading aloud, there will be the opportunity for comments and questions from participants at the end, when you will be welcome to share your thoughts. No previous knowledge is required as this is an informal, relaxed event where you will be made very welcome over a cuppa!

Rita Duffy – Souvenir Shop

Tuesday 26th & Wednesday 27th March @ Ulster University

Rita Duffy is one of Northern Ireland’s foremost artists, renowned for her feminist work on the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ (1968-98) and Irish history. In ‘The Souvenir Shop’ exhibition, which launches at 6pm on 26th March, she examines the absurd nature of the symbols of the 1916 Easter Rising and the Great War backdrop, the borders between the nascent republic and the changing orders of European ascendancies. Rita will deliver an illustrated lecture on the theme of ‘neither here nor there’ immediately after the exhibition launch and also hosts a workshop on 27th March, inviting participants to contribute to the exhibition. No art experience necessary.

Living Book Library

Wednesday 27th March: 1pm – 4pm (doors 12.45pm) @ The Black Box

The living library allows you to borrow a person instead of reading a book, you sit with a person / living book for a one-to-one 20 minute conversation.

There are 13 living books /people for you to choose from, giving you the chance to have a one-to-one conversation in The Black Box with someone you might never have had the opportunity to speak to. Select the book / books you are interested in on the city council website, then contact them by emailing goodrelations@belfastcity.gov.uk or calling 028 9027 0663. They will give you a timeslot between 1 and 4pm and provide you with more details on the event.

The Disability Talkshow

Wednesday 27th March: 6pm – 7pm @ University of Atypical

Disabled people with attitudes talking about the attitudes towards them. A talk show of a different kind, where the Others talk about their Othering.

The hosts are a group of disabled people hosting a talk show at University of Atypical on attitudes and independent living. The conversation stems from an ongoing research project on how attitudes in the adult social care system can be a barrier or an enhancement to independent living choices. The research is led by disabled people and focuses on lived experience. From a lively discussion on having to eat porridge when you hate it because someone thinks it is best for you; to a heated debate on whether to prioritise having lunch or going to the toilet, we will share with you our stories and experiences of attitudes that you have not heard and are not ready for. We will ask you some intrusive personal questions, but which we are routinely asked in the context of adult social care or the ongoing welfare reform.

A centenary walks into a Belfast bar

Wednesday 27th March: 7.15pm – 9.00pm (doors 7.00pm) @ The Sunflower Bar

A Centenary swaggers into a Belfast bar and calls for a toast. At the bar is an Historian, a Political Scientist, a Theologian and an Artist. Each of them is cautious about raising their glass to the Centenary. A debate ensues. What are they comfortable raising a toast to? What are they looking for when they remember the past?

At this event, there will be a chaired discussion on how do we learn from the decade of centenaries for the present and future from the perspectives of an Historian, a Political Scientist, a Theologian and an Artist. The panel line up is:

Chair: Deirdre MacBride – PhD Student, Queen’s University, Belfast.
Historian: Dr. Alan McCully – Ulster University
Political Scientist: Prof. Duncan Morrow – Ulster University
Theologian: Dr. Geraldine Smyth – Trinity College, Dublin.
Artist: Paul Hutchinson – Imagined Spaces

The Great Big Naked Conspiracy Night

Saturday 30th March: starts 8pm @ McHugh’s Basement Bar

This three-part event comes with a nudity warning as Eileen Walsh brings her Naked Politics Show to a live audience for the first time. The arts journalist broadcasts her political interview show on Drive Live 105 every Wednesday, with the twist being that she is fully clothed and political analyst Ric Mullen shares his wisdom in his birthday suit! You can read Eileen’s preview and Eileen and Ric will explain more about how the show came to be on the night, at McHugh’s. It’s followed by The Great Big Conspiracy Gameshow, a full-on interactive event where audience members contribute, compete and vote on the best (and worst) conspiracies ever. Special guests include Belfast comic artist and writer Andy Luke and there will be prizes on the night. To finish the night, prepare yourself for an explosive live performance from psychedelic Derry Anti Pop band The Barbiturates, accompanied by beautiful, esoteric, dreamy politically charged film visuals. Their mantra is ‘Believe nothing, only understand’. The first 100 people in will receive a free Barbiturates CD download code. Click here for tickets to all three events.

Myths of Belfast – walking tour

Sunday 31st March: 2pm – 3.30pm, starting @ PLACE

Join architect and researcher Dr. Andrew Molloy for this walking tour, which takes you on a journey tracing the milestones of Belfast as it developed over the years.

From Elizabethan cartographers to the short-lived success of Victorian civics, from the unrealised Edwardian ambitions for the city centre to the thinking behind a motorway going through once thriving inner-city neighbourhoods, the tour examines the impact that high-minded urban theories have had on the citizens of Belfast. It begins in the city centre at PLACE and finishes with a walk through the lost quarter of Sailortown.

The Brexit sing song

Friday 29th March: 8.30pm – 1am @ Oh Yeah Music Centre

With Brexit on the horizon, this is a special event to mark the occasion.

A communal event, a treaty against divisiveness, not anti- nor pro-, not the usual Beat Carnival celebration… except to declare together and celebrate that whatever Brexit brings, we remain a welcoming place and a welcoming people and we value our friends and connections. A social, song and music event for all at the Oh Yeah – where people from different countries and diverse cultures share songs from their places and traditions. The session will have in-the-round performances from The Beat Brexit Band: Joby Fox with singers and musicians showcasing music cultures. Look out for information updates online.

OUTing the past

Friday 29th – Sunday 31st March @ Ulster University

OUTing the Past: The Festival of LGBT History has maintained a commitment to examining the subjects and methodologies that are part of LGBT+ history. It furthers the goals of the OUTing the Past festival by coordinating a two-day programme featuring papers, panel discussions and workshops while providing a forum for productive and sustained engagements among its participants. Our history is being created and curated now, and we welcome academics, public scholars, students, activists, librarians, archivists, heritage professionals and others to join the conversation. Conference programme and information are available at outingthepast.com. Conference registration is available at outingthepast2019.brownpapertickets.com. Further information regarding the Festival of LGBT History is available at outingthepast.org.uk

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