Belfast Festival at Queens is dead … long live Belfast Festival (without QUB funding)

Belfast Festival NOT At QueensQueen’s University, Belfast have today announced that they are ending their financial support for the Belfast Festival.

The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens received 13% of its funding from the university, which also hosted many events on its premises over the last 52 years.

While QUB blame the significant cuts to the public purse and their finances, the also point to the results of a recent strategic review of the festival “which endorsed the need for a redesigned and refreshed international arts event for the entire city and which has been welcomed by the remaining public stakeholders”.

The remaining festival stakeholders will “meet early next week to discuss the options for the future shape of Belfast’s only international, showcase arts and culture festival”.

Festival Director Richard Wakely put a bright spin on news that must have left him gutted:

Whilst this is disappointing news, it nevertheless represents a genuine opportunity to work constructively with our remaining public and private stakeholders to explore the redesign and re-launch of Festival as a city wide event of international stature and significance for 2015 and beyond.

This journey is made possible by the achievements we have made in the last two editions of Festival in 2013 and 2014, re-establishing our artistic credentials at home and abroad, increasing our audiences by 28% in 2014, adding annually £2million to the local economy and returning the Festival to good financial health.

We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with our public Stakeholders including Arts Council Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast City Council and British Council and hope to announce the future of the event and dates for this year’s edition in the coming weeks ahead. Festival is also grateful to Queen’s for its support over the last 52 years and appreciates the difficult economic background against which this decision has been made.”

In recent years the Belfast Festival programme has become slimmer and focussed more on bringing artists and shows to Belfast that are of a scale or stature that they would not otherwise be able to be seen here, rather than just producing entertainment that can be found in the many other excellent local festivals.

The university’s withdrawal of funding flies in the face of arguments put up by academics like Prof John Brewer that the public university needs to put engagement and social good at the heart of its ethos, rather than becoming bursar-led.

Update – QUB pro-vice chancellor Tony Gallagher being interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra …