About us

About us


Welcome to the 2016 edition of the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival. Our aim is a simple one; to create a genuinely civic event of contemporary arts and ideas of international appeal and stature.

This year’s programme is largely grouped around three main themes; Nineteen Sixteen (the legacy of 1916 and the Great War Years), Bending the Bard (a sideways look at the enduring appeal of Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death) and World in Motion (exploring the human face of the on-going migration crisis).

Our joint Artists in Residence – Leonie McDonagh and Oona Doherty – have been commissioned to produce a new double bill of solo dance works as part of a special focus on the best of emerging and established homegrown talent that we believe deserve wider international recognition. The final week of Festival is largely devoted to the best of contemporary arts from New York including the UK and Ireland debut of Bessie Award winning choreographer Faye Driscoll and her company of dancers; Pulitzer Prize winning author and critic, Margo Jefferson and jazz sensation, pianist Justin Kauflin and his trio.

Although the Great War was immensely destructive, it also generated many startling developments that continue to resonate today. Taylor Mac explores geopolitics and social relations over the hundred years since 1916 with three specially commissioned and highly entertaining interactive concerts. The psychological effect of warfare and what we understand today as PTSD and emotional trauma experienced by displaced people, particularly children arriving in Europe, is examined by author Matthew Green. The transformation of the international system and its impact on the independence movement in Ireland in particular is considered in a series of performances and talks including a very special evening at the Grand Opera House hosted by Fintan O’Toole and featuring performances of new works including The Dark Places by Colm Tóibín, and acclaimed composer Donnacha Dennehy to be performed by Crash Ensemble and guests as well as The Nightmare of Empire/The Dream of Europe by Fintan O’Toole to be performed by celebrated actress Olwen Fouéré and Treason on Trial by George Bernard Shaw.

Europe is facing a wave of migration unmatched since the end of World War Two. The number of people seeking asylum in Europe doubled in 2015, reaching a record 1.26 million. Artists and authors responses to this escalating crisis include the Irish premiere of David Greig’s new version of The Suppliant Women by Aeschylus (the world’s second oldest play and the first dramatic work to feature the word “democracy”) and contextualising talks by a range of speakers from Yvette Cooper MP to acclaimed journalist, Charlotte McDonald-Gibson.

Why does Shakespeare still matter and what makes his works so enduring to so many? We take a sideways look at the Bard’s legacy with a series of unique events including the world premiere of Amanda Coogan’s new performance art work, Run to the Rock (inspired by the “Robben Island Bible” – the collected works of Shakespeare passed around the ANC prisoners and leaders in the 1970’s), an illustrated talk from leading cultural commentator, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and stage director, Conall Morrison reflecting on the relevance of Shakespeare to today’s multi-cultural society and Sarah Maple’s wonderful video installation, Keeping up with the Kapulets with actors in full period costume recreating an episode of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’, word for word, in the context of a classic Shakespearean theatre production.

As always, we feature a series of entertaining, insightful and sometimes provocative talks from a range of authors, poets and journalists including Sebastian Barry, Caroline Criado-Perez, Gordon McMullan, Gearóid Mac Lochlainn and Áine Ní Ghlinn.

Once again, the Festival brings the world’s best and most innovative artists to Belfast. There are opportunities to participate and perform in their works or to simply be a spectator. Whichever role you choose, please do join us this coming October.

Richard Wakely, Director, Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival

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As ever, this year’s Festival provides an impressive range of international talent and creativity that promises to surprise and inspire audiences from across Northern Ireland and beyond.

Looking at the programme makes me very proud of the work we at Ulster Bank have done with Richard Wakely and his team behind this fantastic event. As you will know, 2016 marks the end of our 10-year partnership with the Festival. Over that time, I have been inspired by the way it has grown and evolved, and delighted that Ulster Bank’s sponsorship has enabled the attraction of world class talent, ranging from Charlotte Rampling to the Schaubuhne Theatre and Bettye LaVette.

This year, the calibre of performances continues to impress, with global standard events and artists including the likes of Taylor Mac, who New York magazine recently labelled “The Critical Darling of the New York scene”.

I have no doubt that Belfast is much the better for the role the Festival has played over the past 10 years – enlightening, entertaining, and shining a light on local talent. And, I am certain that in Richard and his team, the Festival is in very capable hands, with a platform from which to continue to enrich Belfast and Northern Ireland.

I very much look forward to this year being another high-calibre celebration of the arts, and we at Ulster Bank wish the entire Festival team well for the months ahead and into the future as an important cultural platform. We will always be very proud of having played our part.

Richard Donnan, Head of NI, Ulster Bank


Excellence and Accessibility are central to both the philosophy and the success of this Festival.

They are key to rejuvenating a brand that has been established for over half a century at the heart of Northern Ireland’s creative and cultural life, as they are to maintaining the festival’s competitive edge as one of Europe’s leading multi-arts festivals. The ability to attract world class artists to these shores is in no small part due to the Festival’s strong international reputation, earned over the decades.

The concentration on cutting-edge international contemporary arts provides Northern Ireland audiences with the chance to experience some of the best, most challenging, most rewarding arts available anywhere in the world. It also provides a platform for local performers to showcase their own excellence under an international spotlight.

Underpinning an outstanding artistic programme for 2016 is an equally strong commitment to create opportunities for everyone across the city to become more fully engaged with the festival. This commitment is backed up by a range of community ticketing schemes, low-cost ticket incentives and free events. I would, in addition, encourage everyone to check out the Arts Council’s Embrace section in the programme, which highlights the range of free and family events on offer this year.

The Arts Council, as principal public funder, is proud of our long-standing association with this great festival. We are prouder still of the achievement of the current Festival team, which has successfully created a defining programme for 2016, with much for everyone to enjoy.

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive Arts Council of Northern Ireland

As Chair of the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to our 2016 programme of events.

Last year saw the launch of the new Belfast International Arts Festival with a promise to build on the strengths of the Festival’s past and look forward to a bright future with an exciting and accessible world-class programme of events for all the people of Belfast and beyond.

Notwithstanding our primary commitment to expose Northern Ireland audiences to artists and performers of international renown and repute, we are also steadfast in our resolve to make the Ulster Bank Belfast International Festival, a Festival for all. I am delighted to report that we are striding ahead on both fronts. Our audience reach alone for 2015 came to 350,000 underscoring the appeal of our programme to residents and visitors alike.

All this was made possible thanks to the generous support of our core public stakeholders; The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council, The British Council and Tourism Northern Ireland. This year we say farewell to our title sponsor of ten years, the Ulster Bank, whose faith and belief particularly in the new Festival is greatly appreciated by all of us.

In welcoming you to this year’s exciting programme, I invite you to take full advantage of the opportunity to engage with important, contemporary, global issues interpreted through the artistic lens which challenge us to reflect on what it means to be human in a globally connected world.

Professor Jackie McCoy, Chair, Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival