Belfast’s ‘Eastside Arts Festival 2019’. Focus on families.
The Eastside Arts Festival has a new ‘Family Ambassador’. If you haven’t already heard about this prestigious appointment, let me enlighten you. He is A Belfast Blog’s very own Jonathan Brennan, i.e. me. I’m stating this at the beginning of the article in the spirit of full disclosure. However, if I’m being honest, there is nothing compelling me to disclose anything of the sort; it’s really just an excuse to use my full title. Also, when you learn that the role was bestowed upon me partly due to my appearance at almost every family-related event (with my family I might add) throughout previous incarnations of the Eastside Arts Festival, and in every photo and video thereof, you’ll realise that I was already a big fan. An ambassador in waiting if you will.
Eastside Arts Festival in 2019
I can recall the first occurrence of the festival – there was a Van Morrison appearance, some theatre, comedy and a smattering of visual art – but it is truly impressive how the festival has grown over the space of a short few years thanks to festival director Rachel Kennedy and her dedicated team. A quick flick through this year’s bumper catalogue shows the length and breadth of activities happening in that condensed first 11 days of August 2019, from theatre to circus, visual art and music, as well as workshops, talks and walks. Before I’d even reached the ‘Children & Families’ specific section in this year’s programme, indeed before I’d even fastened the clasp on my ambassadorial cape, I’d already seen several events that I wanted to take my family to. If you haven’t had a chance to look through the programme yet, here are a few ideas:
- JamzNI 2019 – an outdoor cypher/Street Dance Battle event with Live DJ, BBQ and Street Artists. I’m not sure I can top that sentence.
- The Irish Video Game Orchestra – we got the chance to see these guys at last year’s Culture Night where they performed in Riddel’s Warehouse. Perfect for that slightly-older child who has outgrown the toddler stuff but is not yet a teenager (and any adults who played Zelda back in the day) – in the Big Top on CS Lewis Square.
- A Night In November (10+) – I moved to Belfast in 2012, the year that saw the opening of the MAC and Titanic Museum. Things were happening and I was feeling positive about the move. Then there was that vote in the council, which led to the decision to fly the union flag only on designated days. In the weeks that followed, travelling around the city became trickier with flag protests blocking major access routes. I thought I was shielding my children from what was going on, or at least I assumed they hadn’t noticed the footage we were seeing on the news. That is until one day, on a trip to W5 (Belfast’s science museum), my son, who was four at the time, approached me proudly waving some semaphore flags and said “Look, Daddy! I’m on the news!”… A rather long preamble to admitting that I still haven’t tried to explain the history of this place to any of my children, beyond a ‘some-people-think-this, some-people-think-that’ stock narrative (that I use for explaining religious beliefs in general) and this will be an opportunity to allow playwright Marie Jones to broach the topic on my behalf. And even if much of it goes over my son’s head, this will be the first time he’ll have seen a live actor playing multiple characters, a childhood experience I still recall from seeing ‘Frank Pig Says Hello’ back in 1995. But I digress…
- Bollywood Baba (0-10): Another event in the Big Top (as an aside: can I say how much I love how the CS Lewis Square has been used since its completion; from organised events to BMX-ers, picnickers, and, of course, Victor the skateboarding dog) will see a parent and child dance experience with a DJ and sensory activities. This will be led by Bollywood Dancers – my two daughters love trying to replicate the moves of live dancers. Looking forward this one.
- Pink & Blue (4+): an event we’ll all be going to. It’s a 40-minute piece, the premise of which is summarised as ‘Boys wear blue and girls wear pink. Or can they wear both? Is it true that girls and boys are so different?’.
And there are plenty of free events
The list above is just a small selection of the ticketed events. Many of the family-friendly festival events are free (click on links below for dates, times and locations) such as:
- A World of Rhythms: a world music, dance and street heater spectacle featuring dancers, drummers and puppeteers.
- Eastside Festival Fun Day: activities for all ages at CS Lewis Square. The theme this year is ‘street party’.
- Greenway Celebrations: live music, food stalls, street theatre, face-painting, outdoor adventure activities, a surf simulator and more at Orangefield Park.
- Meet Mr. Tumnus: a ‘magical tour of the Narnian sculptures in CS Lewis Square’.
- Family Cycle to Victoria Park: cycle along the Connswater Greenway to Victoria Park.
- Bears and Books!: one of two Myra Zepf events, this one is all about bear stories with a bit of origami in Connswater Shopping Centre.
- Drag Queen Story Time: a unique event in Hollywood Arches Library that champions individuality and inclusivity among its young audiences. Well worth bringing your little ones to.