Belfast International Arts Festival

By Swathi Ramaswamy on Jan 08, 2019
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Art is something that joins cultures and religions from all over the world, and the Belfast International Arts Festival has been doing this for decades. Initiated in 1962, this is one of the biggest arts festivals in Ireland. It is also one of the most famous arts festivals in the world and showcases talents in all fields of arts. In this article, we will talk about everything that is related to the festival. From its history to special events, we have it all covered.

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Belfast International Arts Festival in a Nutshell

Belfast International Arts Festival, formally known as the Queens University Belfast Festival is one of its kind in the world. The aim of the art festival is to educate and inspire people in the field of contemporary arts. The festival showcases a wide variety of arts and cultural events that are all crafted to the highest international standards. The event is also a showcase for the best Northern Ireland Contemporary arts and artists. Artists from all over the globe participate in the festival, and you will see performances from some of the most talented artists, musicians, dancers and much more. The festival lasts for over 20 days and takes place at various centers all across the city including places like the Grand Opera House, Brian Friel Theater, Naughton Gallery, The MAC, Queen’s Film Theater, Ulster Hall, Whitla Hall, Waterfront Hall and much more. If you are a fan of different kinds of arts and artists or you want to portray your art in front of the world, this is the place for you.

History and Origin

The festival was founded by a student of Queen’s University Belfast, Michael Emmerson in 1962. Ever since then the festival has become an annual event. The 2017 Belfast International Arts Festival was its 55th successful year. The festival has seen performances from world-renowned singers and artists over the years and still keeps on doing that. Jimi Hendrix’s performance was one of the significant events in its history. Among other big names, we have Rowan Atkinson, Laurance Oliver, Billy Connolly and Richard Stilgoe. The festival was initially known as the Belfast Festival at Queens, and the name was changed in 2015 when the organization went independent. So, the festival is no more funded by the Queens University.

The Celebration

The festival is held in October each year and lasts until early November.  It is the longest-running festival filled with all kinds of music, arts and much more. You can enjoy theater activities, classical and root music performances, dance performances, movie screenings and digital arts events at the festival. Many educational events in the field of arts are also organized during the festival, and famous artists from all over the world are invited as the guest speakers.

Special Events

There are over 431 events that take place during the Arts Festival and are diverse in nature. From the musical and dance performances by the artists to the premiere of some of the best movies in the world, here are some special shows that you might be able to attend during the festival:


Dance performances in various dance forms can be seen at the arts festivals. Artists from all around the world bring their native dance forms to the stage and entertain the people at various venues all across the city.

Classical and Root Music

Performances by Classical and Root Music artists are also organized. You will usually see stage shows being held all around the city. Some of the famous names in the music industry come to perform and attract the largest crowd.


Special poetry shows that give a chance to the famous and upcoming poets to narrate their work are organized. Poetry competitions are also held to find new talents and provide them with a platform to share their art.


Exhibitions are organized in the most prominent galleries of the city. Sculptures, paintings, and many more art exhibits are decorated to awe the visitors. Some art pieces are also showcased at the biggest locations in the city such as the museum.


Singing performances by some of the most famous singers and artists from all over the world can be seen. Jimi Hendrix has once performed on the stage for the festival, so you can understand the kind of artists that are invited to the stage.


Over 95 movie premiers are organized during the festival every year, and the number keeps on increasing with each year. All kinds of big and small movies are showcased at the most prominent theaters in the city for the people to watch.


The theater is another part of the Belfast International Festival, and each year some extremely talented theater artists and directors bring heart touching stories from all around the world and narrate them as plays to the people.


Funding crises happened during the 2007 Belfast International Arts Festival. The university had to launch a Save Belfast Campaign where the university asked the students to sign a petition asking for funds from the cultural activities minister of Northern Ireland. The petition got support from many people and famous artists. The minister later released £150,000 and the campaign also raised many funds all throughout the year. Then in 2008, the Ulster Bank Group signed a 3-year sponsorship deal to the festival, and now it works as a registered charity organization.

It is one of the festivals that encourage art and artists from all around the world to showcase their talent to the world.

It is the longest-running art festival in the country.

The mission of the Belfast International Arts Festival is to engage the local as well as global communities in contemporary arts.

With each year it attracts more and more visitors and participants. In 2017 the growth was the maximum when more than 1.6 million people attended the festival, and over 7.3 million people reached out through social media.

The Belfast International Arts Festival is one of its kinds and has been promoting contemporary arts for years. If you are visiting Northern Ireland, then Belfast festival should definitely be on your list of things to do. Get a chance to explore the work of artists from all over the world and who knows; you might find your inspiration too.

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