CARA GIBNEY: This year it runs 30th April – 10th May, so you’ve plenty of time to squeeze in at least one show. Problem is, once you look at that programme, you’ll probably want to squeeze in more than just the one…
Festival Director Sean Kelly took to the mic at the launch today to welcome us to the 16th year of the Festival. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking he’s too young to have been around when it started. All I can say is cleanse, tone and moisturise folks! Cleanse tone and moisturise!”
And it seems they’ve been doing all they can to keep the festival young and beautiful over the years. (Well you have to if you want to be loved). They’ve had the big hitters in the past like Martha Reeves and Ginger Baker just last year; and The Stranglers are playing this year! They also actively nourish the local music scene by providing a platform for local musicians like Ciaran Lavery who played a very short set at the launch.
There are also the visual arts and exhibitions, the family-centred events, the street theatre, the comedy, the theatre (beautifully showcased by a Shot Glass Theatre piece at the launch), then there are the literary events, and powerful talks.
It’s tough times for the arts, we all know that. Kelly couldn’t ignore that in his welcome speech; and when he handed the mic over to Damian Smyth of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the problem was an ever-present issue. “The arts has been savaged by the government in Northern Ireland” he told us. “The attitude is that it’s just the arts. It’s a tribute to Sean that the festival continues to grow.”
But all that being said, he wasn’t on a downer. “The festival is as fresh, innovative and indomitable as it was when it started” he went on to say. “It doesn’t do safe or predictable. Whether you know the acts or not, someone who does know, has selected them.”
For me, that is the point. Over the years I have air-punched when I’ve seen old favourites being brought over for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. But probably more important is all the acts they have introduced me to. The weirdness, and the beauty, the intensity and astonishing beauty of artists and speakers I had never encountered before. Brought to Northern Ireland by people who know.