MTV: Belfast begins to redefine itself in the world’s eye?

There’s plenty of bad news around the place (not least the Assembly’s poor record on answering FOIs, of which more later), but it’s rare we get to praise something that was, so far as it went, an unalloyed successful use of public cash.

Although it’s truth that not everyone agrees. Fionnola Meredith for instance, thought it was overhyped (given it’s show business, she’s probably right. But it’s rare a critical voice on Nolan gets so much push back from the callers:

Did the MTV Awards give Belfast a boost? (mp3)

For a spend between them of just £1 million, Belfast City Council and the NI Tourist Board attracted resources from MTV of many times that amount. That’s a win for start. Now, I am pretty sure the benefits of the immediate commercial impacts will have been exaggerated too. Not all the beds booked for instance were actually filled.

What impressed me though was that, for once, Belfast went international for a youth demographic and the troubles had nothing to do with it. The Tourist Board were nimble enough to get a great wee radio ad out with Ardal O’Hanlon to tell them about Belfast consisting of black taxi tour, Botanic Gardens and the Belfast Festival at Queens.

It was played on commercial radio stations across the southern England. An area with little cultural connection with Ireland (never mind Northern Ireland), but with quick easy and cheap access to air travel over. Putting that out in the wake of a major international award in which Belfast was transformed into a modern cultural hub, was a deft touch of genius.

Sell us through the troubles heritage is a trick that appeals to anoraks, and as the troubles fade from memory, its palimpsest becomes harder and harder to read in the redeveloped areas of working class Belfast. And its appeal has almost completely faded for a generation born long after those tragic times.

The critical thing now is for the Council and the Tourist Board to follow up with the real longer term impact figures and make them available. Not least because the Titanic centenary (engineering excellence meets James Cameron, erm, and an iceberg) is coming up with another, otherwise rare, opportunity to build on such progress.

It may be just showbiz, but this place gets few enough opportunities to redefine itself in the eyes of the world. Glasgow has done it, now surely it’s Belfast (and Derry’s) turn?

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