Belfast Visual Art Forum
Lorraine Burrell: THESE DAYS ARE PERSISTENT AND CHANGEABLE, 2016. Image courtesy of Golden Thread Gallery
I’m very happy to tell you that I’ve been offered some consultancy work with Belfast City Council and the Visual Art Forum. This piece of research will identify the impact of visual arts on other government priority areas, including social, economic and environmental. Mapping existing infrastructure both nationally and internationally will enable the forum to demonstrate and advocate for additional investment in visual art in Northern Ireland. This piece of work will be the first step in that process. I’ll keep you posted.
Belfast Visual Arts Forum was established in May 2014. It comprises over 70 member organisations working across a diverse range of visual arts, including painting, printmaking, drawing, street art, sculpture, public art, craft, sound, moving image and new technologies. Approximately 30 members regularly attend forum meetings every two months. A steering group of eight members meets monthly.
Belfast City Council sits on the steering group and provides secretariat support and a small annual budget to support an action plan. The Forum’s 2017/18 action plan includes an aim to increase awareness of visual arts’ contribution to the city.
With its wealth of world-class talent and venues, Belfast is already a top destination for visual arts. A new campaign has been launched however to help raise awareness, inspire and entice new audiences with the city’s rich and diverse offering.
The collaborative initiative sees Belfast Visual Arts Forum work with Belfast City Council to highlight the many upcoming activities and exhibitions, homegrown artists and independent, artist-led galleries in the city, fast-becoming one of the world’s most popular for visual arts.
Recent research has revealed a growing appetite for visual arts in Northern Ireland, with 76% of people ‘interested in’ or having warmed to the medium in its many forms and disciplines. Not only that, but in the last three years one in two people say they have viewed a visual artwork, while further evidence shows an overwhelmingly positive experience for most gallery visitors.
Accounting for 65% of visual arts activities in Northern Ireland, with over 800 taking place in 2016, Belfast is a city where visual arts is being increasingly embraced, with agenda-packed festivals and an exhibitions programme planned this year.
Peter Richards, Chair of the Belfast Visual Arts Forum, said: ‘Belfast is bursting with standout talent which enables it to compete on the international visual arts stage. Our visual arts scene is particularly special due to a higher percentage – over 50% of galleries in the city being artist-led when compared to the likes of Dublin and London.
‘Unlike many cities, visitors can immerse themselves in and explore Belfast’s visual arts scene on a budget as almost all exhibitions and galleries in are free to enter making it an exciting proposition for locals and tourists alike.’
The campaign has already included a special media tour, which Culture NI captured on Instagram, taking in a small sample of the different practices and works on display at Naughton Gallery, Catalyst Arts, Belfast Exposed, Belfast Print Workshop and the Golden Thread Gallery.
From families and those beginning to explore the visual arts scene, Belfast’s exhibitions and events are delivering a source of enjoyment and unique opportunities for a range of audiences. Young people aged 25-34 were also found to make up a quarter of all gallery audiences.
Belfast City Council actively supports Belfast’s visual arts through funding and various other initiatives to help the sector continue to grow and expand, reaching residents, tourists and the wider community across the city.
Peter Richards continued: ‘We are particularly proud of Belfast’s visual arts offering as it continues to thrive and grow in popularity among not only locals and but also tourists visiting the city.
‘We hope the packed schedule will help the sector continue to grow and have tried to include something for everyone this year. We always emphasise that you do not have to be an expert to engage with visual arts, everyone can enjoy it in different ways, it is what meaning you take away from it personally. With exhibitions and festivals taking place in many venues all-year round this really is the city of visual art.’
Deputy Lord Mayor Mary Ellen Campbell added, ‘Belfast City Council fully supports the culture and arts sector through our Cultural Framework which shows our commitment to activities which inspire communities and attracts audiences.
‘We grant over £1.7m per year to support the work of 56 cultural organisations and around 60 community festivals and arts and heritage projects. We receive a fantastic return on our investment, approximately £8 for the city for every £1 of our investment. We firmly believe the cultural sector in Belfast makes the city what it is and forms its identity as unique, edgy, adventurous and colourful.’