Culture Night 2012

Following a miscommunication between myself and the editor of a cultural magazine who commissioned me to write an article about Culture Night, said article looks set to be significantly truncated and fragmented. The magazine is distributed throughout the nine counties amounting to the province of Ulster, hence the attempt at inclusiveness in the 2000 word article, all of which had been agreed over a phone call from which I took detailed notes. The magazine is due for release on Thursday 20 September, the day before the Culture Night festivities, and I will not know of the article's final outcome until then. I am using my blog to take ownership of my personal intellectual property rights to display the article in full, free of charge. It is not perfect and was written under pressure, but intends to be informative and fun. Many thanks to those who passed on images and information about events; I hope I have done you justice.

Culture Night 2012
Paula Blair

From fire spinning to poetry slams, barbershop operas to street Catchphrase, truth booths to secret urban gardens, quare big eggs to caravan jams, alleyway grindhouse to stare wars, and so much more than can fit in this article, Culture Night Belfast has it all. Now in its fourth year embracing Culture Night, Belfast joins many locales across Ireland, the UK, and Europe in celebrating all forms of culture from all walks of life – showcased for free in a six-hour timeframe.
The Culture Night initiative was launched by the Temple Bar Cultural Trust in 2006 in an attempt to offer a new and engaging way for the full spectrum of the general public to experience and take part in the cultural life of the city of Dublin. It proved so successful that it was spread to towns and cities all over Ireland and, by 2009, far beyond. This year, more towns and cities on the island of Ireland will partake in Culture Night than ever before. There are eight across the province of Ulster alone in Newtownards, Armagh, Holywood, Derry~Londonderry, Strabane, Letterkenny, Co. Cavan, and Belfast, which alone is boasting upwards of two hundred and twenty events across the city.
In the run up to the City of Culture 2013 celebrations, Derry’s Culture Night looks set to provide a taster of what is to come throughout next year. With a focal point in Nerve Centre which promotes a vast range of arts events and educational programmes, Derry City looks set to continue a growing trend in encouraging the public’s use of innovative technologies and drawing attention to participatory intervention. Links to all of the island’s Culture Nights can be found on
The locus of Culture Night Belfast (CNB) has always been the regenerated Cathedral Quarter area in the city centre with a clear path to South Belfast, specifically towards the Crescent Arts Centre and Ulster Museum. This year, however, Westies and Easties get to display their cultural mettle with events ranging from keyring-making, sports demonstrations, skipping competitions and perspex pyramids to art flag bunting, traditional Irish music, balcony bingo and stilt walking fairies. Complimentary buses will run from the University of Ulster at York Street to Cultúrlann and Andersonstown Leisure Centre in the West and as far as the Strand Cinema via the Newtownards Road in the East. Both sets of events listings reflect and celebrate the respective cultural practices of each community with a definite focus on Irish sports, music and dance in the West, and an emergence of visual culture in the East. The buses back and forth will provide an excellent means for people to experience aspects of these diverse communities and even get your head showered from the city centre ruckus.
The large-scale Art Flag Bunting installation by two members of the Creative Exchange collective artist studios on the Newtownards Road uses images relating to the east of the city generated by more than thirty artists, the local community and general public. Deirdre Robb and Lesley Cherry say ‘the works produced for the Art Flag Bunting installation were originally done in a variety of media including painting, multi-media, photography and printmaking with the content relating to social, cultural and political concepts of East Belfast. The work was photographed and then reproduced for this exhibition'. The exhibition opened as part of the inaugural East Belfast Arts Festival and continues until 28 September.

Serendipitously, Culture Night falls on International Peace Day, which is being recognized as part of the cultural festivities in an afternoon street part for all the family in West Belfast's Townsend Street and the Peace Day Campaign's Peace Stage in Buoys Park, York Street. It is also fitting that so many locations are united in a common goal to celebrate and give access to all forms of culture on the same evening. This is no less helped by the connections made possible with social media.
Culture Night Belfast in particular is pervaded by social media; never before have the general public been so hands on in shaping a cultural event as it happens. All involved, whether as event organizers, dedicated attendees, oblivious revellers, or those dipping their toes into unknown cultural waters are encouraged to flex their smartphone muscles and get snapping, posting, and tweeting using the #CNB12 hash tag. Images accompanied by this tag will appear throughout the evening via CNB12’s Social Media Monster, that is, projected on a sixty foot high building beside the North Street car park. Shakinda Productions are again involved with the project after the success of last year’s audiovisual Tweetme spectacle placed in the Old Easons Building site at 17 Donegall Street. Using graphical programming, Shakinda create interactive live audiovisual displays incorporating social media feeds using specific hash tags. Last year’s tweets tagged with #CNB11 were projected onto large pyramids installed in the disused space, plotting a unique three-dimensional map of Culture Night Belfast activities as they were fed through. This year the Easons space will be used for DSNT presents Parallel, a different site-specific audiovisual video mapping installation.
Many artists take advantage of Culture Night to introduce their work to entirely new audiences – audiences that are normally difficult to entice to typical spaces of art exhibition or encounter. One such artist is Johanna Leech who, in collaboration with New York-based artist Matthew Slaats, invites us to join her for a hearty Irish/American meal and chat in the Transatlantic Diner. A live online video link will connect the Historic Village Diner in New York City with Blinkers, a mainstay eatery in Belfast City Centre. The shared experience will be facilitated by a live video stream at both establishments, and the breakfast/lunch/dinner options will be synchronized in a menu exchange, allowing customers to at once hear about and literally taste one another’s culture. Not only will this slice of New York appear in Blinkers while the Village Diner receives a portion of Belfast, the feeds will also be projected outside the restaurants to allow viewing from passersby. Those taking part in the cultural and gastronomical trade off are encouraged to upload photos and post their experience to Instagram and Twitter using both the #TAdiner and #CNB12 hash tags, which will appear on the Transatlantic Diner website and CNB Big Screen.

As well as networking communities on both sides of the pond, Johanna’s other Culture Night collaboration draws attention to Belfast’s vacant spaces such as derelict shops. I Wish This Was... also involving Helena Hamilton, PLACE, and King Street Arts invites members of the public to express what they wish was there instead of wasted space. During Culture Night they will be based on North Street where this is a significant issue after many buildings were left ruined when the arcade was burnt down in a suspected arson attack in 2004. The event will also take place on the Andersonstown Road. As well as asking participants to write their ideas in chalk at the various venues on the night, the ongoing project by PLACE, the Architecture and Built Environment Centre for Northern Ireland, also invites us to do the same via social media by tweeting images of vacant spaces and suggestions for them tagged with #WTW2012.

If your interests lie in opera and all things barbershop, you will not have been disappointed last year, nor will you again this year. NI Opera’s condensed rendition of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville proved so popular last year that the company in collaboration with the Forum for Alternative Belfast and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society is delighting us with excerpts from Sweeney Todd in the Tivoli Barber Shop in North Street.
Rather than try to top last year’s Catchphrase Live, artist group VENT Collective are doing something completely different this year. For Chalk This Way they will spend six hours beginning at midday chalking a continuous mural from the Ulster Museum to St Anne’s Square via the Crescent Arts Centre and City Hall. They fully welcome public participation, including from fellow event organizers incorporating some self-promotion into the three-kilometre ‘artistic marathon’.

Although many events have an artistic focus, it ought to be noted that the remit of Culture Night is to showcase broader notions of culture. Belfast Community Acupuncture is taking the opportunity that CNB presents by including the official launch of their new city centre clinic in the events listings. They extend a warm invitation to visit and sample ‘a cup of Chinese tea, a mini-treat or free mini-treatment’ at their new shared space at 52a Hill Street in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. They are happy to chat with anyone who is in any way interested in acupuncture, and will be joined by Blick Shared Studios and Flow Studio Belfast who will help to provide ‘a bit of music, yoga and massage’. Blick is a social enterprise aiming to help small and start-up businesses in Northern Ireland primarily by making connections between creative professionals from varied backgrounds. Appropriately, they have placed BCA with Flow Studio, which offers an array of yoga practices suitable for all ages and abilities. It looks set to become an oasis of calm amidst the Cathedral Quarter revelry.

With so many events happening at the one time, it is difficult to plan your route. If you are struggling to decide what to see and when, why not pick up a Belfast Bingo card from Fionnuala Doran and explore Culture Night through the medium of bingo? She can be found in the Assembly Rooms at 2 Waring Street alongside the Dollybirds & Friends Garden Party, the Arts & Communities exhibition, the intriguing mini-cabaret Pigeon and Plum’s Pop Up Penny Panopticon, and Claustrum Comoedia, which is right up your alley if you enjoy stand-up comedy that is constricted in a literal sense...
If the idea of making your Culture Night experience into a game sounds appealing, the TakeBack Belfast group urges you play TakeBack Culture Night using the iPhone/Android SCVNGR app. Through this you can plan your ‘trek’ and respond to challenges to be in with a chance of winning prizes, including afternoon tea for two at the prestigious Merchant Hotel.
For sports and games fanatics, never fear – your culture is in there too. Pro Wrestling Ulster are showcasing their wares on Rosemary Street, Cultúrlann is hosting a GAA demonstration including some handball and hurling as well as football, Casement Park Social Club is giving a History of the GAA, you can try your hand at sailing at the Odyssey Pavillion, there’s a Street Chess open tournament hosted by the Ulster Chess Union, opportunities to play mini sports at Pretty City Ping Pong at the PS2 Gallery, and the T13 Urban Expose Village in the Titanic Quarter is showcasing Belfast’s urban sports.

If you’re young and film is your thing, head over to the University of Ulster Art College campus on York Street for Cinemagic’s Short Film Showcase and movie character shenanigans from the Takeover Film Festival gang. A must for Star Wars fans just has to be Star Wars Uncut brought to us by the Belfast Film Festival. The screening will take place on the ground floor of their building at 23 Donegall Street (shared with Belfast Exposed photographic gallery). It is a rare chance to see this special fan remake of George Lucas’s classic film spliced together with contributions from over four hundred and seventy film-makers. Edging further into geekdom, why not have a go at Street Countdown inspired by an episode of the Channel Four comedy The IT Crowd? Or even enter the surreal to celebrate your un-birthday at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Beyond the common themes of social media, audio/visual arts, architecture, literature, heritage, and the public taking control, or at least having a say, plenty of room is made for the more marginal and diverse areas of society. How about trying A Night of Deaf Culture, visiting the LGBT centre’s Open Night, listening to some Fairytales for Feminists, learning about the Irish language at the Culture Cabin, or seeing some highland dancing at the Ulster-Scots Showcase? Wherever you end up, you are sure to find something interesting and enjoyable, and we hope to see you there.


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