Culture Night 2015

Culture, a: the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

Culture, b: the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

“Culture is a cradle that holds and nourishes both the individual and the community.”

Dr Eugen Kho, during a lecture on his findings from a series of projects involving the use of art as therapy with Australian Aboriginals. This was his beautiful way of explaining the second meaning of the word ‘culture’. But I don’t think the two definitions are exclusive. I think they weave into each other – in fact, they must. And I think Culture Night is a perfect example of this.

We kicked off #CNB15 at this fascinating lecture and panel discussion hosted by the Ulster Museum in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building. It was moving to hear about how making art, being the subject of art, and looking at art can heal memories and minds. So much so that I think I’ll write another post just about that!

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After a quick bite to eat we headed into Belfast to take in the wonder of Culture Night once more. It’s a special night for Dan and me as we met at Culture Night 2012 under glittering fairy lights who knew as little about our story as we did that night! It also feels like it’s Belfast at its best – and I think we all enjoy seeing that, especially when things are hard in our wee country.

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I recommend taking a look at the programme of events before you get into Belfast on Culture Night because of the vast array of offerings. We hand-picked a few things to see, and our first stop was Folktown Market in Bank Square. It’s a new addition to Belfast’s market circuit, taking place every Thursday in the same place, and we hadn’t made it down until last night. What a treat. I was especially delighted to see Doughzy Donuts‘ stall, having dreamt of their goodness ever since my first-taste months ago! We sampled chocolate-covered, salted caramel-filled delights and they did not disappoint.

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We then headed over to St Anne’s Cathedral, one of my favourite places in Belfast, to hear the Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra NAIL their rendition of Skyfall. Adele, you’d better watch out!

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It was then off to Cotton Court, outside the Merchant, for an open-air Belfast Community Gospel Choir gig. The choir has more energy than all the Red Bull cans in Northern Ireland, and they get better each time I hear them. Marie Lacey is as larger-than-life as ever and was perfect for getting the crowd going – I’ve never heard Belfast sing as well as it did during Oh Happy Day, and I got goose bumps at the sea of bright lights (read: phone torches) swaying during Wonderful World.

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Redeemer Central never disappoint with their not-to-be-missed series of gigs from some of Belfast’s finest, and we were chuffed to get to hear Jamie Neish (whose other musical adventure, More Than Conquerors, is playing its last gig on October 2nd.) The wonderful Tell It In Colour team were also there encouraging people to think about Belfast’s story and what they wanted for it; and author Jan Carson was busy writing postcards all evening. A hive of creativity and warmth.

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We ended the night by walking around town, taking in the sights and sounds and smells and enjoying bumping into people – I even found two of my great friends from first year at Queen’s that I hadn’t seen in years! Everyone was on a high, and I think we had Culture Night to thank for it.

There’s something truly wonderful about thousands of people coming together to celebrate the things they love – music, art, food. There’s also something truly profound about how these things can join strangers, or people whose opinions couldn’t be more opposite. In these things becoming shared things, and in our act of sharing them, culture is created – something that goes beyond activities or products. This is the same culture that Dr Kho was talking about during his lecture, the culture that cradles and nourishes us. In other words, in the sharing of culture in its first definition, culture in its second definition is born.

We have a long way to go here in Northern Ireland. We have a lot of work to do in creating and cherishing a shared culture that protects and celebrates everyone. But nights like these remind me that it is possible, and that it is happening. Here’s to more.

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