There has long been the impression that the north’s Protestants don’t do the arts. It is patently untrue as Eastside Arts festival in East Belfast is about to prove.
To my casual eye, it seems that Eastside have got it just right.
The most successful festivals manage a perfect mixture of the local and the global, old and new, and it must have the right mix of sheer entertainment and events that are more thought-provoking.
Many of the east Belfast events are happening in Orangefield High School and many of the perfomers are either ex-pupils or even teachers.
The school is the alma mater of global superstar Van Morrison and the local boy will be doing a couple of shows in his former assembly room. This will surely be more than a concert, but a heady celebration of what the Irish call dúchas, that sense of place and belonging.
Oh, and great uplifting music too from Van the Man on August 22 and 23.
Playwright Marie Jones is another past pupil of Orangefield with a world-wide reputation. She’ll be back at the school on Monday 25 August to talk about her career with Dan Gordon and there will be performances from a selection of her plays such as Stones in his Pockets and Women on the verge of HRT.
Another of her plays is A Night in November which dealt with the thorny subject of sectarianism and Eastside Arts Festival isn’t shying away from difficult subjects. The recognise that it is a fundamental job of the arts to provoke and to make people think about their lives and the society they live in.
The festival will feature a rehearsed reading of Stewart Parker’s play Pentecost, which deals with the Ulster Workers Strike; a Love Music, Hate Racism day at the Strand Arts Centre and a screening of the classic film. To Kill A Mockingbird which deals with racism and class through the eyes of a six year old girl.
The organisers are also keen to reach out beyond the geographic boundaries of the east. There will be a film featuring the last PUP Leader David Ervine and Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley as they visit war graves in memory of the Battle of the Somme while Dubliner Anthony Cronin will read his epic poem, RMS Titanic – which many consider the definitive artistic memorial to the ill-fated ship – accompanied by folk legend Dónal Lunny at the wonderful Strand Arts Centre. The show is being staged in partnership with Féile an Phobail.
However, most of all Eastside is going to be about fun with loads of great music from Kaz Hawkins, the Belfast Big Swing Band playing songs and tunes of WWI and WWII, family events and the heartwarming film about East Belfast’s rebel son, Terry Hooley.
Eastside Arts Festival runs from August 22-25 and you can get more information at eastsidearts.net