Previewing the ninth annual Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics #imaginebelfast

Imagine festival 202The Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics is seeking to provide ‘brain food’ to all and sundry over seven days in March. The packed programme is a veritable feast of ‘ideas for a better world’. Now in its ninth year, the festival has over 130 in-person and online events, and the majority are free.

While politics is often to the fore, politicians themselves aren’t usually platformed at the non-partisan festival’s events. But this year, one event will be exploring the intersection of politics and poetry and will hear local politicians recite their favourite poems: Doug Beattie (UUP), Claire Hanna (SDLP), Deirdre Hargey (Sinn Féin), Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP), and Kate Nicholl (Alliance) will be stepping up to the mic to showcase the artistic side to their political personas, with the evening chaired by William Crawley.

Owen McCafferty’s new play Agreement premieres at the Lyric Theatre as part of the festival, zeroing in on a specific moment in the April 1998 negotiations. Senator George Mitchell, John Hume, Mo Mowlam, Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams, David Trimble and Tony Blair will be brought to life by Richard Croxford, Dan Gordon, Andrea Irvine, Ronan Leahy, Packy Lee, Patrick O’Kane and Rufus Wright under the direction of Charlotte Westenra.

Panels will discuss Women and the Good Friday Agreement, finding common ground between Belfast and the Balkans, listening to Michael Nugent and David Quinn disagree respectfully, Jon Tonge asks why there is political instability in Northern Ireland, and Claire Mitchell is discussing ‘alternative Protestants’ and the spirit of 1798.

Paul Mullan will be talking about the transformation of Belfast City Hall from unionism’s sacred space to a shared space for all, although City Council rules prevent the event being held in the City Hall … only in Belfast! Five young people will pitch their ideas about what they would do if they were Minister for a Day.

During the week, I’ll be interviewing Rob Hopkins about empowering local communities to with imagination to transition and transform society, asking George Monbiot whether we can feed the world without devouring the planet, hearing whether Lee Reynolds thinks democracy will die in the algorithm, and catching up with celebrated linguist/philosopher/social critic/political activist and festival favourite Noam Chomsky.

John Otway has a long-awaited solo show as part of the festival. Columnist and storyteller Brighid ‘Biddy’ McLaughlin will be talking about ‘My Wild Life’.  Songwriter and frontman for the Wood Burning Savages Paul Connolly will be running a political song writing workshopthe band are playing a gig too –  and Padraig O’Malley will be launching his new book on the perils and prospects of a united Ireland.

A number of podcasts will be recording live episodes throughout the week: you can get a ticket to be in the audience for the BBC Red Lines recording, Lesley Riddoch will be chewing over the week’s news with Pat Joyce, and Slugger TV will be talking to two outgoing councillors in front of a live audience.

The festival closes with a three-way choice between laughing along with Steve Richards’ one man show, scratching your head at the politics quiz, or heading out on a poetry and politics pub crawl.

And the festival is still collecting your ideas about forgotten spaces around the city, places that are vacant or neglected, where development is in limbo, or lonely car parks. They’ve already received over 50 submissions that were fed into a competition, but they’d like to hear further suggestions of yet more underused spaces that could become citizen-led places of potential.

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