New Virtual Festival Launched in Northern Ireland as a Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
The Imagine! Belfast Festival, forced to abandon over 90 public events because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is going virtual next week with much of its programme going online to ensure that audiences don’t miss out. In an imaginative response to the crisis, the popular event has been re-organised as a digital offering with 25 events streamed during 25-27 March. The virtual festival, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, will be free to view on the Imagine! Belfast website – imaginebelfast.com – and associated social media platforms.
Festival director Peter O’Neill said:
“Due to concerns associated with Covid-19, we had to withdraw all our audience events taking place next week. We’re adapting to the rapidly unfolding events and have taken an entirely new approach to the Imagine! festival for this year. So, for everyone staying safe at home, we’ll be presenting an online schedule of live-streamed and specially recorded webcasts on the imaginebelfast.com website during 25 – 27 March.”
“We know the cancellation of our audience events was a difficult decision for everyone involved with the festival, but it pales into insignificance when considering the threats to life presented by the virus. However, by acting quickly to take events online, we believe that transforming Imagine! into Northern Ireland’s first virtual festival will help keep culture alive during what is likely to be an extremely anxious and life-threatening period. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us in our decision to convert to a virtual festival.”
The webcasting programme, broadcast over 25-27, March includes the award-winning journalist and writer Paul Mason; best-selling author and journalist Sam McBride (in conversation with William Crawley); and open Democracy editor Adam Ramsay talking about the current threats to democracy across the world. As well as talks, the wide-ranging programme also includes poetry, film reviews, comedy and panel discussions on the big issues of our time.
Keynote topics that will be addressed in the webcasts include climate extinction; how to combat the Coronavirus; the impact of this crisis on the arts sector, and ‘Is more economic growth the answer?’. Other speakers include Neil Jameson, the founder of Citizens UK; Grainne Walsh, Director of Stratagem public affairs consultancy; Professor John Barry responding to the planetary emergency; and Robin McAlpine on the future of the UK.
Leading local film-maker Nicky Larkin will preview the world première of his documentary exploring the creation of The Belfast Ensemble’s provocative Abomination: A DUP Opera.
Other events in the diverse festival focus on community banks; the need for a Universal Basic Income; the legacy of the ‘Troubles’; Humanising Healthcare and the need for more participatory politics. In addition, the festival has a number of events interrogating aspects of local history with a talk by leading historian, Barry Sheppard, on Bicycles and Protest; a book launch by Fergus Whelan on Belfast United Irishman William Drennan and the history of Whiskey and politics in Belfast with Martin McAuley. And Slugger O’Toole will convene a panel to discuss the political response to COVID-19. Poetry is well represented with a special reading by the award-winning local poet, Chris Agee, and a special edition on politics from the Queer as Spoke team.
The funders for this year’s festival include VSB Foundation; Queen’s University Belfast; Community Relations Council; Ulster University and the Open University but the organisers hope donations will be received to support the additional costs involved in organising this unique cultural response to the Coronavirus crisis.