Part two of this interview is here
You still intend to run the Children’s Festival this year?
Although the activities offered this year were limited, we are delighted to still be running our International Festival. It usually happens in October but this year it will take place in March, from the 17th to the 21st.
The festival has always focused on providing hands on experiences, accessible to every child, so this year was a bit of a challenge. Although we still will be programming international theatre via live streaming and zoom workshops, the main aspect of the festival will be creating story trails as well as lots of temporary public art throughout the city.
We will be creating quirky characters, trolls and giant fish swimming and colourful art features along the canal; and things like that, which will focus on encouraging a sense of childhood, fun and magic.
That is the message we want to get out to people; days will be brighter, the sun will rise and set, and children will play. We are hoping to put a smile on faces and encourage a playful atmosphere throughout the city and remind people to just play, take a minute to stop and just play.
Why that theme?
I think people have felt under a lot of pressure with the combination of work and home schooling and so we want people to take a bit of a break. The basic concept of playing, or even of doing nothing, but especially that sense of play and childhood, is being lost and we think it is vital to reclaim that. Of course we understand that everyone is worried about their children missing school, but we think that as long as we spend time with the kids,mplay with them, encourage their sense of imagination and wonder, they will be fine.
We want to encourage people to not worry too much about the pressures the situation is forcing upon them, and just allow a bit of colour and magic back into their lives.
In doing all this work how have you coped with funding and funding bodies?
We have a very good relationship with many funding bodies, trusts and foundations and they were pretty much all open to the idea of changing projects and programmes. We found we had a lot of support from the smaller non-traditional arts bodies which have funded us to the point where people were ringing us at home checking on how we were, not just regarding work but in general.
We have kept up our international projects; we made short films for a project based in Italy, we have engaged in discussions with organisations at different stages in the pandemic. People were sharing information about processes and activities, what was working and what was not, and we were part of weekly forums with our international colleagues which helped keep things moving and keep people motivated.
The pandemic has also highlighted where the weakness and strengths are within the funding and governing bodies, and in some cases cracks that were carefully hidden in the past are now very apparent.
I think going forward there will need to be honest and open conversations between the sector and the government bodies on how to support the changing sector across Northern Ireland. There needs to be recogniyion that each area may have different needs and aspirations which are reflected within the many communities we have, and any future programming or policies will need to reflect this. We all need to learn from this.
Of course, the pandemic was awful , and we know that the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods was substantial but there were moments when we could sit back and assess our work and our family live and navigate a new way forward. To use that that expression, “A Time to Reset” may be useful for everyone, not just as individual artists or organisations but the whole sector, including the governing bodies.
Where to now?
A lot of our focus at the moment is working with a team of artists to redevelop and reimage The Imaginarium, based on the information and feedback we received from children and their families during the summer last year. We are working to expand the space so that we can accommodate larger numbers safely and so it is likely that we won’t reopen till the summer this year.
The re-imaged Imaginarium will be much bigger with more workshops and exhibition space and will be able to accommodate more groups and more visitors. Of course we are really looking forward to opening the theatre and welcome back an audience.
We will also be looking at developing programmes for teenagers particularly teenagers who have been impacted by Lockdown and that is venturing into a new area for us and that is something we are looking forward to as well.
A new adult learning program is also in the pipeline as well as a new digital gaming and media hub. Like many people, we will take what we have learnt from this experience, good and bad, and it will impact on how we move forward, how we work and how we balance our family and work life.
As an organisation we have always been adaptable and flexible; like most working in the arts in Northern Ireland, and we are well used to bouncing from crisis to crisis. Becuase of that, I would be confident we will come back stronger and wiser.
Part one of this interview is here