The Monthly speaks with Mags Byrne from DU Dance

When you last spoke to The Monthly, DU Dance had started to facilitate socially distanced classes and re=engage with young people again. What is the situation now?

Thankfully we are still delivering in person classes with all of our youth engagement projects.  As everybody who works with young people knows, they are not really that keen on engaging online anymore. At the moment at least, we are fortunate that we don’t have to.

Is most of your work back to being face to face or do you maintain some work in a digital space?

No, everything we are currently doing is in person.  We lose a lot of the benefit of the work by going online, so wont unless we have no choice.  It’s a lot of extra work, making sure we do everything to keep young people safe, but it’s worth it. Having said that, we are doing a lot of meetings online and that saves time.  And it’s great to be able to join seminars and training events without having to factor in the travel time and expenses.

Are the projects you had to postpone back up and running?

Most of the projects we had to postpone we have managed to reschedule.  A couple we have now delivered, but a few will probably not happen….. or at least are on a bit more of a longer finger.

What about the international work the organisation does. Has that been re-established?

Yes.  We have worked to keep our communications open with partner organisations in Bethlehem and Addis Ababa, and have developed a new partnership in Liepzig.  We have been able to continue supporting them and, all being well,  plan to travel there, and for them to come here, in the coming year. Young people from Liepzig will come here in February on a creative exchange and members of our Youth Steering Group will go there in April.  In August we have a group from Bethlehem coming to Belfast to perform as part of Féile an Phobail and five artists from here will go there at the end of the year.  We have a number of exciting projects we are supporting in Addis Ababa but don’t have a date to travel there yet.

What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome?

A lot of the challenges concern trying to keep positive and optimistic, and then helping all of the artists we work with to do the same. It’s hard when you are having to re organising a project for the fourth or fifth time to stay enthusiastic, and delivering anything takes a lot more energy. But the young people we work with come to us for that positive energy and we are very mindful of how hard the pandemic has hit them. The arts sector too has been pretty much driven to it’s knees and I know we are all trying to get back up to our feet.  As a company I think core staff have got used to working from home, at the moment we’re following government guidelines and only working from the office one day a week.  Who knows when this will change!!  There is a knock on effect though to that too.  The energy and ideas exchange that comes from meeting people or bumping into someone and grabbing a quick coffee and chat doesn’t happen and the effect of that can’t be underestimated.  I’m loving not having to look for parking in the Botanic area every day though…a very small consolation.

Have the funders of your work maintained their support through these difficult circumstances?

Mostly they have been fantastic and we are really, really appreciative of that.  It would be great if the level of flexibility, understanding and support they have shown was to continue. It feels much more of a partnership with all of our funders.

Thoughts on the future of DU Dance?

Onwards and upwards……if communities stay open and we can deliver our planned programme.  Everything crossed for that.  I don’t want to think about what happens if that isn’t the case though and we close down again. The thought of more re scheduling, more reorganising, less money available to put bread on the table, less work happening, is depressing.  If it happens we’ll meet it, but it’s coming up to Christmas and I want to stay positive and hopeful for the future.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.