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Belfast Culture Night: A Benefit or a Burden?

Every year since 2009, Belfast has hosted Culture Night. Inspired by the success of similar events in other capitals such as Dublin and Copenhagen, Belfast hosts Culture Night every September allowing organisations, groups or individuals to host any cultural event within the Cathedral Quarter. While participation in the event is free, there is obviously a cost that has to be borne by someone. Is the cost of a culture night counteracted by its benefits?

2013 Culture Night Logo Belfast

The Cathedral Quarter in Belfast has seen such regeneration in recent years, thanks to attempts to revive the quarter as the cultural hub of Northern Ireland's capital city. This area features some of the oldest buildings in Belfast. On this night these buildings open their doors to the public for a rare glimpse of their history. Other buildings such as galleries, churches and artists' studios also allow events to be run within their property.

The events that take place vary considerably, usually consisting of the norm, such as tours, to the wacky, like dragons roaming the streets. This is all obviously to encourage the effort and regeneration of the quarter, but also to give opportunities for people of all ages to experience different cultural events that they wouldn't normally be involved in. The great benefit of the night is that it is all free to the public, although there is certainly a cost associated with organizing the event.

The regeneration of an area with a rich history is evidently important, but does a culturally driven regeneration provide suitable overall economical growth? Dr Kate Oakley, an academic at the University of Leeds, analysed the possibilities of cultural regeneration and discovered that the resultant economic growth did not deliver enough good jobs and didn't deliver them in the right places. So are the efforts expended on cultural events a burden on the overall economy of a city or is public enjoyment enough?

Dragon Event Belfast Culture Night

I've attended the event every year and greatly enjoyed the energy and atmosphere that is created. Although at the time of attending the events, the cost of the night doesn't seem apparent, for instance the cost of printing the brochures, signs and hiring of security staff. The cost is listed below:

  • Event Manager (mid-May to mid-October): £10,000
  • Desk Costs and Line Management: £2,000
  • Print, Publicity, Marketing, etc: £15,000
  • Distribution: £2,500
  • Equipment, Lighting, Projection: £5,000
  • Programming Costs, Outdoor Events, Street Animation: £15,000
  • Materials, Volunteer Costs, etc: £500
  • Total: £50,000

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland covers half of this cost, and Belfast City Council covers the rest. The benefits of the night are many, for instance raising the profile of for local businesses and arts organisations. However, should the two councils really cover this kind of expense? In Copenhagen, the inspiration for the project, they charge the public to help cover the costs incurred. The culture pass in Copenhagen costs DKK 90 (approx. £10) and the printed programmes cost DKK 10 (approx. £1). Children go free to all events.

Should cultural events, such as culture nights, be provided by local councils to help promote local cultures and businesses, or should the public make a contribution to the overall cost of the events? How are similar events run in your city?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.