Imagine! Belfast’s Festival of Ideas and Politics is back. Running throughout the week of St Patrick’s Day in March, the theme is “Start Making Sense” and the programme is double the size of last year’s inaugural festival.
Over 80 (mostly free) events will be taking place in over 25 venues across the city, and organisers hope to welcome everybody from the avowedly non-political to dedicated political observers, and youthful idealists to seasoned cynics in a festival-for-all.
The aim is to stimulate a discussion on new ideas, big questions and activism in order to try to understand the range of global and local challenges that confront us all.
Founder and festival director Peter O’Neill says that “the festival provides a unique opportunity for people to have their say on some of the big issues of our time in a fun, dynamic way”.
“We want to encourage participation from people not normally involved in political debate and stimulate a discussion on new ideas and activism. There’s something for everyone in our programme – most of the events are free and spread across the city. So join us in making sense of our politics and culture.”
Expect discussions, talks, workshops, theatre, comedy, exhibitions, quizzes and tours. Daytime and evening. You’ll find the programme brochures in venues, cafes, libraries, doctor surgeries, and window sills across the city, as well as online!
It Is Nothing New is an exhibition by John Baucher on the theme of immigration and runs during the festival. Photographs taken from the viewpoint of the sitter show them holding mementos, artefacts and even photographs that reflect the journey their families have undertaken. Humanising the issue and opening up debate around the challenges of immigration, the exhibition also asks viewers to imagine what they would take with them if they were to leave their home. Framewerk Gallery, 10 Upper Newtownards Road. Launches 7pm on Monday 14 February and then open Tuesday 15 to Saturday 19 from 10.30am to 6pm. Free.
Monday 14 March
Making Sense of Elections – Baffled by the STV electoral system? Don’t know your transfers from your exclusions? Quizzical about quotas and why the process seems to take so long. Demystify the process and join in our two hour interactive workshop where we’ll cast votes, verify the ballots and run a multi-stage count, argue over questionable ballots and declare the winners. Duncairn Centre for Arts and Culture, 10am-noon. Free.
Imaginative Randomocracy – After screening a short film showing how imaginative randomocracy could be implemented in NI, Prof John Garry will discuss its merits and run an imagination-based democratic task to illustrate the process in practice. QUB Old Staff Common Room, 5.30pm-7.30pm. Free.
Tuesday 15 March
I Only Smoke in War Zones – US comedian and documentary filmmaker Jennifer Rawlings’ one woman show with “true stories from the battlefield, both home and abroad”. She frequently performs her stand-up in front of US troops stationed around the world. While touring Bosnia she made the film Forgotten Voices: Women in Bosnia, telling stories of women in the aftermath of war. St Mary’s University College, 12.30pm-2pm. Free.
How Technology is Changing Your Life – A panel of speakers will discuss the opportunities and threats to our society of the exponential rate of growth of technologies and gadgets. Will it lead to an era of abundance or undermine the fragile social, political and economic recovery we are nurturing. FabLab Belfast, 5 Churchill Street, 7pm-9pm. Free.
The Rising – Humour, song and dance as the tumultuous days of the 1916 Rising are relived through the eyes of two friendly adversaries in vaudeville style. The MAC, 8pm-10.30pm. Tickets £12/£10.
Wednesday 16 March
Open Government For the Common Good – Frustrated with government and want to see more transparency, accountability and citizen engagement? Alongside a keynote address from Michael Harris (Guerrilla Wire), NI Open Government Network will facilitate discussions about open data, anti-corruption, civic participation and other issues under the ‘open government’ umbrella. Belfast City Hall, 10am-1pm. Free.
What About A Politics Of Kindness? – Historian, author and playwright Philip Orr will talk about the life and work of 18th century Francis Hutcheson (father of the Scottish Enlightenment) and how his distinctive philosophy has relevance today. QUB Lanyon Building, 12.30pm-2pm. Free.
Everything You Wanted To Know About Economics But Were Afraid To Ask – An interactive discussion hosted by Prof John Barry to “lift the veil” behind economics and shine a light on the hidden truths behind our taken-for-granted views on economics. QUB Canada Room, 7pm-9pm. Free.
Tenx9 on Change – The monthly storytelling evening is tying in with the Imagine Festival. Nine people with up to ten minutes each to tell a true story from their lives about ‘change’. Get in touch with Tenx9 if you’d like to volunteer to tell your story. The Black Box, 7.30pm-9pm. Free.
Thursday 17 March
Owen Jones: The Politics of Hope – The journalist, commentator and author (Chavs, The Establishment) is back in Belfast to discuss the politics of hope and how to build societies that run in the interests of working people. The Black Box, 7.30pm-9pm. Tickets £12/£8.
‘Saint Patrick Was a Prod!’ – Local comedian Neil Dougan reclaims the patron saint for God and Ulster in a sparkling and irreverent late night sermon. The Black Box, 10pm-11.30pm. £8/£6.
Friday 18 March
How Would You Spend Your Council’s Money? – Participative budgeting gives ordinary people the power and opportunity to allocate part of a public budget. Used in Scotland, it hasn’t yet taken root in Northern Ireland. A mock budgeting exercise based on Belfast City Council’s budget will help explain the concepts and demonstrate the value of the technique to council officials. The MAC, 10am-1pm. Free.
Towards A People Powered Politics – NESTA’s chief executive Geoff Mulgan will talk about how politics could evolve to make the most of the population’s collective intelligence with examples from around the world that show promise and could challenge our current understanding of how politics needs to be organised. QUB Great Hall, 5pm-7pm. Free.
Fact of Fiction? – Join FactCheck NI for a table quiz that will test whether you can separate fact from fiction in Northern Ireland. Social media can make people and places accountable. Social media can also be used for propaganda. Find out what digital fact checking is all about and some techniques to discern a whopper from the truth. Oh Yeah Music Centre, 5.30pm-7.30pm. Free.
The Great Big Politics Quiz – Join Amnesty for the mother of all quizzes, with quiz masters from the corridors of
politics. Come as individuals or ready formed teams for a night of political geekiness to win a fantastic trove of prizes and raise money for Amnesty International’s work to document and end human rights violations against the people of Syria. The Black Box, 7.45pm, £8-late. power
Saturday 19 March
Deporting Patrick – After years of sponging off the system, spreading unrest and converting people left, right and centre, is it not time to deport Ireland’s best know interloper. A provocation by Kabosh Theatre Company. Oh Yeah Music Centre, 3pm-5pm. Free.
Electoral Dysfunction – Infinite Jest brings together a host of local comedians to propose an alternative manifesto for a better Northern Ireland, world and universe. Biting satirical stand-up to give power to the people … or install a benevolent dictatorship. The Black Box, 3.30-6pm. Tickets £3.
Tost – Communities and cultural identities clash due to differences in understanding and interpretation. How does language influence the world and inform our experiences and identities? Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre explore the silence between two words. The MAC, 8pm-10pm. Tickets £12/£10.
Sunday 20 March
One Starry Night – Round off the festival with an evening of star-gazing with telescopes, hot chocolate, blankets, and dreams in a surprise Belfast City Centre location. Register on Imagine Belfast website. 6.30pm-8.30pm. Free.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.