In case it’s passed you by, there is a very worthwhile and for the most part free series of events, talks, workshops and performances happening this week in Belfast under the banner of 2016’s Imagine! Festival. Now in its second year, 2016’s incarnation of the alternative politics and culture festival offers up a diverse and engaging programme of events which touches on some of the most pressing issues in current affairs (both local and foreign) for people living in Northern Ireland in 2016.
The pulling power it’s exerted for a festival that’s only been going two years now is impressive indeed – speakers like Owen Jones and Craig Bennett are some of the leading voices in UK political commentary and activism, and in Jones’ case it’ll be his first time speaking in Northern Ireland. But I’d encourage anyone thinking of going to look beyond some of these bigger names, as there are a number of other quality fixtures on the Imagine! 2016 roster which would be a shame to miss.
You’ll be happy to learn this short list of festival selections is completely made up of free events for which tickets are still available, so you don’t have to go spending any money in order to get your Imagine! fill:
Making Sense of Elections – The Duncairn Centre, 14th March (10am-12pm)
An early one, and for some in the know maybe a bit unnecessary. But this useful interactive workshop aims to clarify the voting process and finally leave you well-equipped to make sense of the sometimes confusing electoral system here, ahead of Northern Irish Assembly elections in May.
Controversies About the Human Right to Health – Canada Room, Queen’s University, University Road, 14th March (12.30pm-2pm)
An ongoing problem that affects all of us, and looks likely to drag on for some time yet (junior doctors went on strike for the third time in three months last week over their proposed contracts). Jo Wolff, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Arts and Humanities at UCL, discusses the human right to healthcare, the uses, abuses and implications of this notion. Though conceding that systems of public healthcare can sometimes be abused by (a small minority of) citizens, he ultimately argues against claims that such systems are an inefficient use of public resources, and that current efforts in the UK to move towards a privatised, non-universal health service represents a breach of a fundamental human right.
A City Without Walls? – Board Room, Ulster University Belfast Campus, York Street, 15th March (5pm-6.30pm)
This seminar deals with the initiative – set out in 2013 by the Northern Ireland Executive – of removing all remaining ‘interface barriers’, or ‘peace walls’, in the country. Looking specifically at targets, practical considerations and the role played by the community in the removal project, this event (considerations of historical interest aside) is a proactive, inspiring look forward to a non-sectarian future in Ulster.
Europe and You – Workshop Room 2, Crescent Arts Centre, 15th March, 1pm – 2pm
Possibly the most pressing issue covered here, in terms of media exposure and immediate political consequences over the coming months, during the lead-up to the June 23rd referendum vote. This panel-led discussion brings together a number of local representatives and academics to discuss what EU membership (and potential breakaway) means to Northern Ireland and its citizens.
Engagement with Politics in the Lead Up to the Scottish Referendum – Main Room, The Black Box, 15th March (8.30.- 9.30pm)
Despite being told we’re the most politically apathetic generation in recent history, 2014’s Scottish Referendum brought out an almost unparalleled engagement with UK politics, resulting in over 97% of the population registering to vote and a 90+% voting rate in some constituencies. The issue of Scottish independence has far from gone away and – although this occupied next to no column space in the mainstream media coverage of the campaign – it’s a political subject that has major ramifications for Northern Ireland. The panel for this talk looks at a number of factors that helped bring about the 2014 Referendum, and considers some of the implications it may hold for the future of the UK as a political entity.
Israel & Palestine: What Now? – Conor Lecture Theatre, Ulster University Belfast Campus, York Street, 16th March (7.30pm-9pm)
Confused about the Israel-Palestine situation? You’re not the only one. And it’s no surprise – each nation’s respective claims on Gaza stretch back over a thousand years to the bedrock religious texts behind each state’s ideology of nation, and have been complicated unimaginably by colonialism, genocide and feuding conflict which have continued up to this day. This event sees eminent Professor Avi Shlaim discuss the fraught and contentious subject with American poet and essayist Chris Agee.
What is Progress? How Are We Doing? And Where Next? – The MAC Exchange, West Street, 16th March (5pm-6.30pm)
Recently-appointed CEO of Friends of the Earth, Craig Bennett, will discuss the notion of ‘progress’, its historical development as an idea, and how he thinks environmentalism can function as a means of real, effective working progress for the modern world. At the end of his talk, Bennett will open the floor to questions from members of the audience.
Saint Patrick: Folklore and National Identity – Linen Hall Library, 19th March (1pm-2pm)
It’d be rude to leave St Patrick out of the pick entirely. Dr. Jenny Butler from University College Cork looks at the symbolism and mythology behind St Patrick and how they have been tied to ideas of ‘Irishness’. Left (very conscientiously) until two days after this year’s celebrations, the talk looks to provide an overview of the history behind the globalised cultural phenomenon, as well as a consideration of how St Patrick has been interpreted and recast by various groups at different points over time.
For more information on Imagine! 2016, click here