Last week, I had the honour to attend the launch of the 18th annual Belfast Children’s Festival, organised by Young at Art.
Young at Art is one of Northern Ireland’s leading children’s arts not-for-profit companies and home of Young at Art Events and the Belfast Children’s Festival. From its base in Belfast’s city centre, Young at Art coordinates not only an international festival and a touring events agency, but also a wide variety of projects that encourage children and young people under 18 to enjoy the arts.
The launch was a cheerful and bright affair, organised in the central station in Belfast, which was attended by local school children and various local representatives, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Guy Spence being one of them.
‘Young at Art produces this festival each year because it believes the arts are an intrinsic part of how our children and our society understand, grow, imagine and innovate. Experiencing something creative is about going on a journey as far as you can dream. Whether it’s reading a story, seeing an exemplary performance, looking at artwork, the arts offer children an inspirational roadmap through which they can navigate the universe, comprehend everything in it and imagine anything that could happen in the future.’ (Festival Director Ali Fitz Gibbon)
So what will be on the menu this year?
The Australian Terrapin Puppet Theatre Company will be present with I Think I Can (4-9 March) in Central Station, a large-scale public art installation.
“Festival visitors will be treated to a spectacular programme of imaginative and interactive family events during this year’s festival and we would encourage everyone to enjoy good value journeys by bus and train to fully unlock their creative potential. Our Family & Friends Ticket is available for the Big Festival Days Out on March 5 & 6 offering up to 2 adults and 4 children unlimited Translink day travel across Northern Ireland for just £22. We are also looking forward to welcoming everyone to Central Station to take part in the amazing ‘I Think I Can’ installation and become members of the miniature community!” (Lynda Shannon, Translink Communications Manager)
As well as visitors from down-under, the 2016 festival will host a plethora of other international guests including: Vorstadt Theater, Switzerland presenting Bambi (4- 5 March), Norwegian Katja Lindeburg’s two charming clown shows If Only Rosa Could do Magic (8-9 March) and If Only Blue Could be a Super Hero (8 March) and festival regulars Branar presenting an adaptation of the popular Oliver Jeffers novel The Way Back Home (4-8 March). Festival favourites such as Baby Rave (6 March), Pre-teenage Kicks (6 March) and Mini Mid Week Magic (9 March) will also feature in the programme.
The 2016 festival will also boast a strong literature programme in association with Eason’s and Children’s Books Ireland, giving families the opportunity to meet award winning authors and illustrators such as Marie Louise Fitzpatrick (5 March) (Izzy and Skunk, Silly Daddy and There, Mummy), Sheena Wilkinson (6 March) (Taking Flight and Too Many Ponies) and Kitty Crowther (8 March) (Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner). Fighting Words Belfast will celebrate their first year in Belfast inspiring local children and young people to get involved in creative writing with a number of interactive events including the Library of Stories (5-6 March) – a portable library of stories and publications written entirely by children and young people.
Highlights of the 2016 visual art programme for families will include the following exhibitions; Ordinary Extraordinary (4-9 March) by local artist David Turner in Young at Art’s relocated Office of Important Art on the first floor in CastleCourt Shopping Centre opposite Costa coffee shop. The artworks will represent autobiographical events that took place whilst the artist was growing up in Belfast in the 70s and 80s. Young at Art will present These Boats Carry Hope (4-9 March) at the Duncairn Arts Centre. The artworks were completed during Emma Berkery’s time as an Associate Artist of Young at Art in 2014-15.
The festival also offers a diverse programme aimed at adults, professional arts practitioners and those working and studying in related fields. Highlights include the annual TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) Northern Ireland showcase, welcoming delegates from all over the world. Local artists presenting work at the showcase this year include, Maiden Voyage Dance with their imaginative new dance performance for children and young people aged between 4-8 years old, Pause & Effect (5-8 March); Replay Theatre Company’s Snoozle and the Lullabugs (4-6 March) a multi sensory performance aimed at children under 5 years old with profound and multiple learning difficulties and Young at Art’s Everything That Isn’t Me (7 March) sponsored by Belfast Harbour exploring environmental issues with young people.
As you can see, there is a huge variety of shows, exhibitions and events to choose from. Some are free, some will need booking in advance. To avoid disappointment, head over to the website to book discounted family travel tickets to Belfast with Translink, download our travel activity pack for suggested fun on the journey and use this website to plot your festival itinerary and get some tickets included in our early bird offer.
See you there, we can’t wait for March to come!