On attending the Hume Foundation event in North Belfast last week, little did I think in parking my car that thirty minutes or so later a van would be parked close by to set off a security alert.
As everyone gathered in the sunshine eating bacon butties and drinking tea, I chatted with Keifer McCaugherty, a young youth worker from West Belfast. We spoke about art and the power it can have when working with young people who do not feel connected to traditional youth services.
Draw Down the Walls, a programme that the Golden Thread used to run, did this beautifully. It attracted young people because of its ability to have the coolness of contemporary artists – and the curiosity they can develop – help connect young people to the magic of creativity.
The Hume Foundation, founded in tribute to John and Pat Hume, recognises that the most effective change-makers are often 'Quiet Leaders' – which are described as: “Those who may not have an official role in their local power structure or who may not regard themselves as leaders. We seek to partner with such leaders – shining a light on their work, standing in solidarity, rewarding their courage and contributing to their long-term resilience.”
Father Gary Donegan welcomed to his parish in the relatively new Houben Centre an eclectic audience of politicians, community workers, organisers and people of good faith who have worked on the job of peace.
Simon Coveney, Minister of Foreign Affairs, showed the vastness of his portfolio by started his talk speaking about his experience of going to the Ukraine region and witnessing a hangar full of around seven thousand women and children with white, gaunt faces wondering where they were to sleep the next night or where they would get money to live the next week.
We never got to hear what he was going to say next as he was whisked away. As the audience looked around thinking it’s either matters of state or a security alert, we used the time to talk among ourselves before getting moved out of the building, then further away.
A nearby Twaddell facility offered tea coffee and a seat or the loo. Meanwhile, Keifer organised a minibus to take folks anywhere they wanted to go, knowing it might be some time before anyone could get their cars.
There then followed a tour of North Belfast, Titanic and the city centre where various people from all traditions got dropped off, marvelling at places in the city they had not been recently. We noticed the election posters were up.
But it was the conversation in the minibus that was most interesting. Keifer was going to be one of the speakers on the panel. We asked him to tell us what he was going to say. He was 25 and just back from a tour in the States. He said he knows how he has benefitted from the Good Friday Agreement, but the young people he works with do not and see a lot of old people still talking about the past.
Reverend Johnston McMaster told us he was supposed to be retired, yet having completed one of his courses on ethical remembering at the Irish School of Ecumenics I’d say he will run programmes until he drops.
@visitstrangfordlough beautiful day for a #vikingfestival @nmdcouncil @PorticoArds @DiscoverNI ~strangford @ANDborough nice to see the Monk among the Vikings #hachetthrowing pic.twitter.com/XoDCgDPI2C— Bronagh Lawson (@CreativChangeNI) March 27, 2022
Other members of the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party shared notes on what was going on from their perspectives. I even heard one SDLP member say the local unionist candidate was a decent fellow and he would put him in as number two at the ballot. As the last group exited the minibus in the city centre, we talked about why we had attended the event in the first place.
The fact that there was a security alert shows the need for more conversations and as the story whizzed around the global media, I considered how easy it is to see bad news amplified and positive stories be drowned out.
My invitation to attend the event came, I think, from the Irish Secretariat who have been running a series of events in Belfast on Northern Ireland writers and literature. If the invites went out to everyone who attended these events, they should know that attending a book launch by Jan Carson or East Side arts and LGBTQ writers and nibbling on their canapes is not the same being happy to listen to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile the performance artists have been taking part in Same But Different (Equinox), an international day of public action as part of the Belfast International Festival of Performance Art, which means that artists should have the freedom to perform as they wish in public spaces.
A number of years ago Bbeyond performance art collective started this event in Belfast which was followed by over one hundred and fifty performance artists all over the world. This year artists from Poland to Thailand took part while the public looked on and we celebrated the freedoms we have and lamented the places in the world where such public acts of creativity are impossible.