THIS year's 4 Corners Festival theme is 'Dreams... Visions for Belfast', marking the 60 years since Rev Dr Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream speech' in Washington DC when he advocated a better, more just America.
With 2023 seeing the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which 71 per cent of the people in the North endorsed, the organisers want the festival to be an opportunity for everyone to listen to each other's dreams. From church leaders, women in leadership, the homeless, young loyalists and artists, the dreams and visions for a better Belfast will be made front and centre.
Now in its eleventh year, the festival emphasises that there are events for everyone this year and not just for those who believe the same things that the festival organisers believe. This, I think, is key to its success. It's an excuse to be in a part of the city you may be unfamiliar with, listening or participating. Anyone I bring to events says it's like the day-to-day magic that happens behind the familiar Protestant v Catholic narrative that often gets overlooked. In fact, the organisers say this year's events highlight how the traditional divides have changed much in recent years and there are various other factors affecting the city.
"My vision is of a Belfast where we all can actually get on very well together. We can love one another and I think it has got to a message for our world. We're living in such a fragile, broken world at the moment, Belfast could be a shining light into some of the darkness in our world," said Father Martin Magill, one of the founders of the festival.
Father Martin Magill's Dreams for Belfast might echo many people's dreams in the city, and I was also struck by the words of one of the other founders – Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian – that we cannot change the past. We are a wounded city but we can do something about the future.
So, if you're a first time visitor or a frequent one, what exactly does the festival offer? The arts are represented by a number of art forms. 'Present Future' is an immersive video and audio art piece exploring themes of dreams, aspirations and leadership from young loyalists in the Belfast Telegraph building on Monday, January 30 from 2pm. Artcetera Gallery have a week-long exhibition 'Never in My Wildest Dreams' about homelessness in the city which hopes to increase awareness and encourage discussion.
Climate activists might be interested in the documentary 'The Letter', which starts with a letter from Pope Francis to five climate activists as we face the climate emergency. Rev David Campton gets to display his theatre expertise in ' A Farther Shore' – a one-person play retelling Biblical stories, this time through the eyes of Simon Peter. The knitters in the city, who on a constant basis endeavour to keep the city warm with hats scarves, teddy bears and blankets, are meeting in St John's Parish, Falls Road, to share ideals and inspiration. All of the knitting will be gifted to asylum seekers and charities helping those who are homeless.
In 'Peacebuilder', Professor Gladys Ganiel of Queen's University will bring a panel of women to Clonard Monastery on Tuesday, January 31 to talk about the dreams of women, peacebuilding and the barriers that exist. There are schools events and sporting events, including David Goodwin, captain of the Belfast Giants, in conversation with Mark Simpson. in 'The Grief of Dreams Unrealised' at the Houben Centre, four people will talk of dreams that have not come true and what they have learnt while grieving that dream.
A popular feature of the festival has been the 10pm night prayer via zoom with Jim Deeds, and this year Rev Kiran Young Wimberly will reflect through contemplation, music and scripture. There is no need to move from your house but it a lovely way to connect with other people who are connecting with the festival. There are free tickets for all events available online.
The finale of the festival is at St John's Parish, Falls Road, and asks: "What does it mean to live in a city with open gates, where all nations are welcome?" with Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE, founder and President of the City of Sanctuary movement. So although there is no Pope this year or Archbishop of Canterbury, there is still enough to keep us busy.
The 4 Corners Festival runs from January 29 to February 5. Free tickets available online at www.4cornersfestival.com
💛NEW BELFAST ART MAP💛— GoldenThreadGallery (@goldenthreadg) January 17, 2023
The new Belfast Art Map is here in the gallery! Explore the incredible creative talent of our city. New design, up-to-date locations and now pocket sized!
From @belfastcitycouncil #belfastvisualartsforum#LNAB #thingstodobelfast #artisforeveryone pic.twitter.com/sW4JTe0l1E
In other news, the highly anticipated updated pocket-sized art map of Belfast has been printed. It's one of the top things that people ask me in the city – where are all these galleries and when are they open? While art, studios and galleries are often changing in the city, it's great to finally have this available. Watch out for the maps being delivered around the city. Thanks to Belfast City Council and the Visual Arts Forum for putting it together.