In January, musicians gathered for a very special evening of music to highlight the plight of refugees and musicians at risk in Afghanistan. Hosted by Beyond Skin and The Duncairn, the event featured a host of music including Afghan musician, Yusuf Mahmoud and his son Ariz, Amita Ravikiran, Robin Korevaar, Daragh Lynch (Lankum) and Iona Zajac.
The six winners of the BBC NI and Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Young Musicians’ Platform Award took to the stage of Belfast’s iconic Ulster Hall in February to take part in a BBC Invitation Concert. Broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s Classical Connections with John Toal, the young musicians performed alongside the Ulster Orchestra and conductor David Brophy. The awards are presented every two years and showcase and support the development of exceptional young musicians from the region by providing individual funding awards of up to £5,000. The current recipients are opera singer, Andrew Irwin, cellist, Angus McCall and pianist, Justine Gormley; traditional music awardees, Jack Warnock and Rose Connolly and, contemporary singer-songwriter awardee, Roisin Donald (ROE).
In March, Spark Opera joined up with Women’s Aid ABCLN, an organisation addressing domestic abuse and providing services for women and children across Antrim, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey, to deliver a project that used the arts to help older women who have experienced domestic abuse. Dance, craft, visual arts and writing activities encouraged healing and connection with one another. The project was funded through the Arts Council’s Arts and Older People’s Programme.
In April, the recipients of the Creative Industries Seed Fund were announced. A collaboration between the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, with National Lottery funding, and Future Screens NI, the funding programme aims to assist arts organisations, entrepreneurs, and creative businesses to undertake projects that contribute to the growth of the creative industries and unlock future income generation. Niamh Houston/Chipzel, Bad Girl Barre/Jill Rose Jacobs, Accidental Theatre and Belfast Photo Festival all received awards.
In May, inspired by The Royal Family’s long standing love of ballet, a group of young dancers, based at St Malachy’s Church Hall in Belfast, made final preparations for their performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, in honor of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The company provides year-round pre-professional classical training and performance opportunities to dancers, aged 9-18, from all different backgrounds, who aspire to a career in ballet. The stunning production, supported by National Lottery funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Small Grants Programme, was performed at Theatre at the Mill to a packed out audience in June.
A group of pupils from Ashfield Girls’ High School took to the stage of the Stormont Hotel in June to showcase their musical talents at the annual Eastside awards. The performance at the awards, was the latest phase of a special project the pupils have been working on under the guidance of professional actress, Christina Nelson, musician Emer Maguire and author Sheena Wilkinson. The school was one of eleven to receive funding through the Creative Schools Partnership in September 2021. Supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Urban Villages Initiative and the Education Authority, the programme is designed to encourage schools to embrace the benefits of the arts by injecting more creativity into the classroom and improving educational outcomes for students.
In July, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland announced that 95 arts organisations would receive support through the Annual Funding Programme, with the majority remaining on standstill funding for 2022-23. The awards, worth £13,012,490 support the core and programming costs of organisations who are central to the arts infrastructure in Northern Ireland today.
Young podcasters from Greater Shantallow Community Arts visited BBC Radio Ulster in August to chat about their mental health podcast, Spill the Tae. Created by young people in Derry-Londonderry, along with Greater Shantallow Community Arts’ Studio 2, the podcast was established with the aim of promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. Local media star, Marie-Louise Muir, met young podcasters and spoke to them for her Radio Foyle show, The Culture Café. Within the podcast series, the young people have explored various topics including, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, muscular dystrophy and talked to young people from the city who are living with these conditions and how these affect their mental health.
The third NI Writers Day took place in September at the Lyric Theatre. Co-hosted by The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the event shone a spotlight on the art of writing for stage and screen, providing a platform for discussion, sharing industry insights and celebrating the work of local writers. Featuring esteemed playwright, novelist, critic and broadcaster Bonnie Greer, the event unfolded in two sessions – the first an intimate lunchtime writing workshop with Bonnie for 12 playwrights, followed by a panel discussion led by Bonnie, in conversation with NI writers Fionnuala Kennedy, Stacy Gregg and Paul McVeigh. The audience was also treated to an exclusive preview of a specially recorded interview with screenwriter Declan Lawn, with Belfast Telegraph Features Editor Aine Toner.
Opera singer, Giselle Allen, composer, Greg Caffrey, poet and performer, Alice McCullough, dance maker, Eileen McClory and visual artist, Jennifer Trouton, were each been presented with Major Individual Awards (MIAs), worth £15,000 each, in October. Supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland National Lottery funding, these awards are the highest value honour bestowed on artists in Northern Ireland each year. The prestigious awards are given in recognition of the contribution each of the artists has made to creative life in Northern Ireland, and makes it possible for them to undertake a substantial, ambitious project that will make a significant impact on the development of their artistic careers.
In November, The John Hewitt Society announced the publication by Blackstaff Press, Belfast, of a new edition of John Hewitt’s Selected Poems, edited by the acclaimed poets, Michael Longley and Frank Ormsby. An event was held at the Harrison Boutique Hotel in Belfast to mark the occasion. Born in North Belfast, John Hewitt was perhaps the most significant Belfast poet to emerge before the 1960s generation of Northern Irish poets that included Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley. His influence on the Arts in Northern Ireland at the time was significant.
Funding of £209,000 was announced in December to support 29 arts organisations to deliver community-based arts projects benefitting older people. The funding is part of the Arts and Older People Programme, a pioneering initiative supported by National Lottery, Public Health Agency and Baring Foundation, which aims to tackle loneliness as-well as promote positive mental health and well-being among older people through engagement with the arts. Awardees included Commedia of Errors, who were awarded £8,100 through the programme. Thanks to the award they will visit 19 care homes across Belfast and in rural parts of Northern Ireland to deliver a series of dementia-friendly music and theatre performances with two professional actors and musicians.