The news from the streets of Belfast has not been very good of late. But this week, a festival kicks off that encourages people to get out of their old familiar corners of the city and to encounter new parts of Belfast.
Last month, I blogged about the launch of the 4 Corners Festival. The festival events seek to inspire people from across Belfast to transform the city for the peace and prosperity of all. 4 Corners has also has been featured on the Slugger O’Toole blog and in today’s Irish News.
The first event, a reading by Tony Macaulay from his highly-acclaimed book Paperboy, is this Thursday 10 January at 7.30 pm in Ballygomartin Presbyterian Church. You can read an interview with Macaulay on Rev Steve Stockman’s blog.
Today’s Irish News story, written by Brian Campbell, includes some insights from Stockman on how the idea for the 4 Corners Festival came to be. Stockman, minister at Fitzroy Presbyterian in south Belfast, said:
“My first journey to visit my friend Fr Martin Magill in his Presbytery house beside St Oliver Plunkett in Lenadoon was a revelation. … When I turned left on Kennedy Way it was like driving through a wardrobe into Narnia. I had lived in Belfast for 25 years and here was a world that I had never seen before.
There was a sports stadium, an amazing looking school, shops, parks and thousands of houses. This was my city and I had never been [there].
Then last year Fr Martin had a similar experience to mine when he was searching out Ballyhackamore Library during the East Belfast Arts Festival. Martin was taken with a poem I had written for a Jesus in the City Conference in St Patrick’s Church called the 4 Corners of Belfast. So within a few weeks the 4 Corners Festival was founded.”
I am on the organising committee of the Festival and am looking forward to Thursday’s event. Having attended a Macaulay book reading before, I can attest that it will be an evening of humour and entertainment.
We hope that the other events in the Festival – including a lecture, discussion seminar, architectural tour, prayer breakfast, performance of the Gospel According to Christy Moore, and geographically-ambitious prayer event (see the website for more details) will inspire people to start seeing their city, and their fellow citizens, in a new light.
None of us are naïve enough to think that the 4 Corners Festival will dramatically change the face of what is at this moment a very troubled city. (Stockman presents a hopeful but realistic perspective on the festival in his latest blog post.)
But we hope it continues to build on the momentum that seemed to be generated by the Pray for the City event at Belfast City Hall in December. While that event was not linked to the organisation of this festival, it resonates with our thinking that churches and Christian activists should be more engaged with the social and political problems of our city.
In tense and divided contexts, the arts can sometimes help to open up safe spaces for people to begin exploring new ideas, identities and ways of thinking. The arts can inspire people to take further action on their own, working together with people they might not previously have even encountered.
We think that Christians should be able to make better links between faith, arts and peacebuilding than they do, and envision the mix of events in the festival as helping to facilitate such links. As Stockman writes on his blog:
“Wanting to do something at this difficult time for our city? Attending the 4 Corners festival is a subversive protest for a generous and mutually shared future.”
For those of you planning to attend some or all of the events in the 4 Corners Festival, I hope it prompts you to reflect on how you think about your city and how you live out your everyday life here.