Launch of The Art of Listening: What will we hear at the 2016 Four Corners Festival? (28 January-7 February)

DSC03062A sampling of the musicians, poets and artists who will be participating in the fourth annual 4 Corners Festival took part in its launch today in the newly-opened Girdwood Community Hub in North Belfast. Building on this year’s theme of ‘The Art of Listening,’ the organisers encouraged people to begin reflecting on this idea and to approach the festival with ears and hearts open.

This year’s programme includes 15 events, ranging from music, discussions, art, poetry, film, and a churches’ walk. All events are free, with the organisers – who are all volunteers – asking only for donations to help cover costs.

The festival’s motto is ‘Bringing Belfast Together’, which it aims to do by strategically placing events in the north, south, east and west of the city. In this way the festival is designed to encourage people to leave their familiar corners of the city and to cross mental, geographical and spiritual boundaries. Given this year’s ‘art of listening’ theme, the aim is to create spaces where people will hear some things they may never have heard before.

The festival was conceived by Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian and Fr Martin Magill of Sacred Heart parish. It has been organised by a small group of Christians from all four corners of the city.

Speaking about a screening of the BBC True North documentary at Stormont on 5 February at 7.30 pm, Rev Stockman shared how he had been channel-surfing one evening and stumbled across the programme. When he heard a loyalist bandsman say his ‘favourite day is the 12th of July,’ he said he almost changed the channel right away, as this comment seemed to confirm his own stereotypes. But he kept the programme on and was moved when he heard a young bandsman say how people ‘looked at the uniform’ and thought he must be ‘bad.’

Stockman said that he could see the pain in the young man’s ‘soul’ when he said that, and that this was a wake-up call for him personally to try and listen better to those he might normally dismiss.

This year’s festival also features an opportunity for ‘listening to our young leaders’, an invitation-only event on 5 February at Ulster University. Fr Magill explained how this event had grown out of a peace walk for young people in North Belfast prior to Christmas, where he had been impressed by the leadership and maturity of those who took part.

A 4 Corners Schools art competition also encouraged the city’s young talent. The winner of the competition, Adam McParland from Corpus Christi College, will be recognised at the festival closing event, ‘Dreamers and Visionaries’, on 7 February at St Nicholas’ Church at 7 pm. McParland’s art features key landmarks from the corners of the city. As McParland explained in text that accompanies the work, a small lamppost in the right-hand corner symbolises ‘hope.’

Poet Jim Deeds, who will be speaking at the ‘Dreamers and Visionaries’ event, read two of his poems. The first, ‘A Belfast River,’ was inspired by the river in the Falls Park. He wrote it yesterday in preparation for the launch. The second, ‘A Prayer for the City,’ he wrote earlier in the year as he pondered the effect that previous 4 Corners Festivals had on him. You can listen to both of the poems here.

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Deeds’ ‘A Prayer for the City’ reflects on the ‘corners,’ ‘quarters,’ ‘have’s,’ and ‘have nots’ of the city, capturing the spirit of the festival as it strives to listen to citizens from a variety of backgrounds. In that vein, Rev David Campton spoke about an event, ‘Voices of the New Belfast,’ on 2 February in Youth Initiatives Belfast at 7.30 pm, which will screen a documentary featuring the real stories of various people who have come to live in Belfast over the past number of years. The first event of the festival, ‘From Syria … with Grace’, on 28 January in City Hall at 7.15 pm, also makes space for voices from away. It is an information and discussion evening, co-organised with Embrace, about how Belfast churches can respond to the refugee crisis.

Singer songwriters Chris Wilson and Hannah McPhillimy, who will both be performing in the ‘Songs of the City’ event on 6 February at the Duncairn Centre at 7.30, also lent their talents to the launch. As ‘Songs of City’ will feature both original songs and covers of songs about the city, Wilson played his own ‘Fragile’, while McPhillimy performed Snow Patrol’s ‘Take Back the City.’ You can listen to them here.

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You can follow the Festival on Facebook and Twitter.

You can find a full programme of events here.

Photo of Steve Stockman, Hannah McPhillimy and Martin Magill. Photos and videos by Brian O’Neill.

Disclaimer: I am one of the Festival organisers and I was MC at the launch.