Hit the North, Culture Night Belfast 2016

Sophie AUMAILLEYStreet art illuminating reconciliation: Hit the North 2016
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
16 September 2016

A two-day conference was held at the Black Box with live painting around the Cathedral Quarter on Thursday 15th and Friday 16th September, as part of the Culture Night Belfast.

On the first day, a conference called “A City of Colour” explored the drivers behind street art festivals and the powerful potential they have for regenerating cities.

Four artists were invited to speak about their engagements in such festivals and the benefits of for communities, cities and societies.

Jules Pickering from City of Colours (Birmingham) emphasised the importance of artistic freedom to promote Birmingham as a creative city.

Steve Hayles from Upfest in Bristol explained how festivals are an opportunity for openness and cultural expression of diverse communities.

Edel Tobin from Waterford Walls (Waterford City) described how street art engages communities and should, according to her, be part of every future planning policy.

Finally, Adam Turkington from Belfast presented the Hit the North festival.

This project has been created by Seedhead Arts and Community Arts Partnership in 2013 to fill vacant spaces along North Street.

During the two days of the festival, artists are invited to express themselves on urban walls.

Adam explained how street art can be a transformative and creative force for re-imagining urban spaces.

The context of Belfast is particular.

Indeed, East and North Belfast present plenty of murals, usually marking territory.

As Adam explained, walls of these parts of Belfast have been politicised and often in aggressive ways.

These interfaces impact on the mental health and living conditions of residents.

Adam promoted the positive change of murals by street art, in order to “give people space and connection with their environment”.

For him, street art is all about community.

The core idea is to engage communities in creative arts, to change areas for better community relationships.

He emphasised the significance of artists’ freedom.

He feels that politicians and residents should trust artists when it comes to re-imagining urban spaces.

In the past, murals have proved to be more inspiring when artists were totally free to express themselves.

As with the other speakers today, Adam remarked on the challenges to fundraise.

He evoked the slowness and difficulties of public funding applications.

In addition, recent cuts in cultural funding have worsened artists’ opportunities for creation and expression.

On the other hand, even if private funding is easier to raise, he said that he would be reluctant to partner with big multinational corporations, in terms of free thinking and empowerment on a local level.

Finally, Adam gave some positive concluding remarks by showing some achievements made by the project.

He exposed three examples of new murals.

One of them displays a colourful picture of a young woman in Newtownards Road in Belfast and was created by Hicks in 2012.

After several years and despite being in a rough area, this piece of art hasn’t been defaced or degraded.

With examples in East and North Belfast, Adam showed how positive imagery can make residents lives better and improve respect in communities.

On this point, Steve Hayles gave his outsider point of view.

He explained how visibly murals have changed Belfast.

From aggressive paintings to peaceful icons, he feels that the Belfast’s murals are a good illustration of the historical progress made in Northern Ireland.

He believes that street art can therefore illuminate the different stages of reconciliation.

To conclude, Adam shared his hope that “everybody’s life is better” thanks to creative street art and re-imagination of shared spaces.

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