Many galleries seem to be opening at the end of May but I noticed that An Cultúrlann has already announced its opening. And although outdoor drinking and dining have been creaking open over the last weeks and many are happy to partake, other people in more vulnerable categories or age groups are rightly still very reticent. It will take caution and consideration to feel truly at home in such environments.
Artist Gerry Gleason’s work caught my eye recently. During lockdown he has created a personal social document for the future, using mixed media works on paper. Gerry’s father was Irish American from Milwaukee but he immersed himself in Belfast and has painted his way through the city’s existence since 1976. Like some other artists of his generation, he has kept a visual memory of the city.
The image 'Basic Shelter' (above) seems to me to capture the current mood of the people in the city: determined enough to have a pint outside in the rain with their extra-strength, hardy jackets against our May weather. Part of Gerry's motivation for the project was that he fell into the age group more at risk from the virus and was basically confined to his home until restrictions were eased.
"I was inspired by many Old and Modern Masters who lived themselves through plagues and in recent times, the Spanish Flu," says Gerry. "The work covers my deepest respect for all front-line workers, the NHS, and families who lost loved ones. I have observed and recorded the daily grind of shopping at dedicated times, the humour of indoor exercising, and trying to social distance if the door was knocked and a package left at a distance. In fact, hands have never been so clean in my lifetime."
Hopefully Gerry will get to exhibit the whole collection soon but I have been told that some have been purchased by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Belfast Book Festival runs from 10–13 June with all events taking place online. There is everything from 'Writing the Voice of the Teen', 'Queer Love', Irish poetry publishing and Alex Kane in 'Understanding our Stories-Understanding ourselves'. Bafta-nominated international prize-winning writer Lemn Sissay will join child psychologist Dr William Coman to explore the psychological nature of story-telling and the power of narrative. If you're a closet poet, why not enter the virtual poetry slam? You can get a ticket as a spectator or an entrant and perform for the prize of the Brian Bailey Memorial Cup.
Belfast Book Festival 2021 is now LIVE!! Running from 10-13 June with an online programme of events for book lovers. Some highlights include @anniemacmanus @lemnsissay @NaoiseDolan @beingvarious @SusanMcKay15 @elizmccracken @DoireannNiG to name but a few! https://t.co/V2b4l7E4uC pic.twitter.com/MgQfGt3mP0— Belfast BookFestival (@BelfastBookFest) May 13, 2021
Many of the events are free or for just £3.
GOLDEN THREAD ACROSS THE ARTS
Did any of you manage to catch Suzanne Lacy's 'Across and In-Between' at The Belfast International Festival in 2018? The large-scale series of art, created by a mass response of over 300 border residents, burst into life during the festival. Fear not if you missed it as the Golden Thread Gallery will be showing the works from 12 June to 14 August.
The art piece was originally created in collaboration with artists and communities from both sides of the border, almost 100 years after the partition of Ireland. 'Across and In–Between' explored the profound impact the border has on the lives of people living there during a time of intense international focus around Brexit. The project created a mass response by over 300 border residents interrogating a line on a landscape with a collective, metaphorical act of "drawing and erasing".
It will be interesting to see how it works in a gallery as the pieces I saw were projected onto the Ulster Museum and at the NI Assembly were very site-specific.
Belfast School of Art at Ulster University will be showcasing their 2021 graduates in a series of events soon — but more of that next week. But I was heartened to see that the university has launched a Belfast community scholarship scheme to remove some of the financial barriers that prevent many students from accessing higher education.
As someone who benefited from the old grant system, I’m only too aware of the privilege that system gave my generation. Applications opened 6 May and scholarships are available to individuals with a permanent address in BT1-17, BT29 BT36 and BT37 who are currently in their final year of an acceptable Level 3 qualification such as A levels, BTEC HND or equivalent at an NI educational institution.
Scholarships are between £2000 and £3000 a year for each year of a degree. Applications close 20 June 2021.