Following an extensive strategic review of the event, organisers of Culture Night Belfast have made the decision to suspend the city centre celebration of arts, culture and heritage in its familiar form.
Susan Picken, director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast said whilst the decision will be “disappointing to some within the community” that it will pave the way for the development of an exciting new format that will provide a boost to the Cathedral Quarter and the arts and culture sector.
The strategic review found that a “complete rethink” of the event was needed in order to address the issues raised by the various stakeholders, community and wider Culture Night audience.
Susan explained: “The pandemic and the restrictions of the past two years gave us an opportunity to examine Culture Night Belfast in detail and take the time to ask what exactly we wanted the event to grow into.
“One of the questions we had to ask was whether Culture Night Belfast was achieving the outcomes we had originally hoped it would.
“We felt the event had become too big and unwieldy and the original intention of providing a platform for our artistic and cultural communities to connect with a much wider audience had been lost.
“We listened to what our stakeholders, partners and audiences had to say and we believe taking a year out to properly develop plans that put art right back at the heart of what we do is the best way forward.”
Since it began in 2009 Culture Night Belfast grew to become one of the biggest free cultural events in the city with attendances of around 100,000 in 2019.
The strategic review, which was carried out in partnership with Belfast City Council as part of their strategic ambitions to develop the cultural events in the city, highlighted that arts and culture had become lost in the overall ‘noise’ of the event and that many visitors now felt it wasn’t for them.
The reinvention of the event comes at a time when the Cathedral Quarter Trust, the organisation behind Culture Night Belfast, is also redefining its priorities and feeding into a new strategic plan set to be unveiled later this year.
Susan added that it’s a challenging but exciting time for both the organisation and the arts and culture community in the city.
She said: “Over the years Culture Night Belfast has grown exponentially whilst the resources to deliver the programme have not.
“The idea that artists could, would or should give their time free is no longer acceptable, especially post-COVID.
“Throughout 2020 and 2021 we carried out an in-depth review of Culture Night Belfast and spoke to many of the partners, arts organisations and artists who have contributed to the event over the years.
“Whilst everyone we spoke to was supportive, everyone was clear Culture Night Belfast needed to change.
“At Cathedral Quarter Trust we’re excited about the plans for the future and look forward to sharing them with our colleagues and audience in due course.”
The Trust is now keen to ensure that all previous Culture Night Belfast participants and audiences are kept up to date with developments and will be providing regular updates.
“We realise many who took part previously and those members of the community who look forward to it will be disappointed by the decision to take a year out,” explained Susan.
“We want to make sure we are able to give our full attention to successfully planning for the future. We are developing some exciting ideas on how to take the event forward into the future and taking some time to plan is necessary for this.”
Last year Culture Night was marked with the impressive Ogham Grove installation, and an accompanying digital trail, Supported by Arts Council NI, the trail has just relaunched under the name of ‘Fionn’s Window’ and allows visitors to the Cathedral Quarter to follow an interactive journey based on the ancient Ogham Tree Alphabet.
Susan said: “We are really excited about the future – we know people will miss Culture Night Belfast but we plan to be back in 2023 with something even better.”