Great cities are great arts cities
If great cities are, as I believe, also great cities for the arts then Belfast is up there with the very best.
For on Wednesday night, in an unprecedented initiative big-hearted business leaders gathered to put their weight and wallets behind four pioneering arts groups.
The fab Belfast Film Festival with Michele Devlin at its helm, Wheelworks Youth Arts (which mesmerised the audience with a Bob Dylan-style poster board presentation), our boldest drama collective Kabosh Theatre and the stupendous Belfast Community Gospel Choir ‘pitched’ new projects to ‘dragons’ and business representatives.
Dragons — Mark Shortt of Opitlase, Peter Dixon of Phoenix Energy Group and John Linehan (AKA May McFettridge) — gave upbeat feedback before actor-cum-auctioneer Tony Devlin worked the audience for donations. Providing the star power was The Fall actress Bronagh Waugh who made a passionate plea for business to make common cause with our arts ambassadors.
My co-conspirators in this unique event, Arts & Business NI and the Arts Council, represented by Mary Trainor-Nagele and Roisín McDonough, had set a target of £16,000 for the evening — £4k per group — but that target, and the next £5,000, was surpassed. In total £26,500 ($41,000) was raised in just under two hours thanks to the generosity of some of our greatest business leaders, including Jackie Henry of Deloitte, Tracy Gilligan of Optilase, Eamonn Donaghy of KPMG, Michael McAdam of Moviehouse and Terry Cross of DeltaPrint. An original painting by Conrad Atkinson, ‘James Joyce’s Shopping Trolley’, brought in £800 of our total.
Cities which are great for the arts are also great for business. Our fortunes are intertwined — as our first Arts Dragons evening demonstrated. Break a leg!
I was on my feet in the Assembly on Tuesday to join the debate on the budget. I sensed a willingness on every side of the chamber to find a way through our present crisis but even as chief executive of optimism at Stormont, I have to admit that the British budget on 8 July with its promised ‘eye watering cuts’ could put our lights out. Nevertheless, I promise to travel in hope in the knowledge that united our community can overcome any challenge.
Finally, on 8 July at City Hall Lord Mayor Arder Carson will launch Ciclovía Belfast, our audacious plan to become the first city in these islands to host the bicycle celebration along closed urban roads which has proved a global sensation. Our proposal is to give the streets from Botanic Gardens to City Hall back to the people for four hours on the morning of Sunday 4 October. It’s not about the bike, mind you, but about moving up a gear to build community. Ar do rothar!
Apprentices at James Street South who completed their first year programme and were congratulated by Ministers Stephen Farry and Arlene Foster. We have many great restaurants in Belfast but the McKennas Niall and Joanne have stepped up with the first chefs apprentice course. (Not to mention that they also made a generous donation to our Arts Dragons event.)