Anne Hailes: Girl power, woman power and applying that to sell the Belfast International Arts Festival

Kirsty Atkinson, press officer for Belfast International Arts Festival

FOR years I’ve been monitoring today and telling people September 10 will be a really nice day and to plan something special. Here’s hoping!

Girl Power

GOOD luck to Susan Rogers, 21-year-old graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. It’s just been announced that this talented young woman from Jordanstown is in the final of the Young Designer of the Year in Dublin Fashion Festival. The 10 finalists and their designs will take part in a spectacular catwalk show in the Mansion House on Wednesday, September 12.

Woman Power

IN THE tranquility of the marina at Castle Archdale you won’t often come across a slick, shiny black mini-bus with a crowd of laughing women spilling out. Too much for me to ignore, so I went over to investigate.

These were the ‘Wild Women’ exploring Fermanagh before heading for Donegal, most of them from America and Canada. Eight comrades, all members of Wild Women Expeditions, the world’s largest women-only adventure travel organisation with programmes in 26 countries this year.

I was interested to learn from Georgia McMillan that ‘wild’ actually stands for ‘wilderness’ and the adventures they experience happen in places like Alaska, Iceland, Mongolia, New Zealand, Chile, Bahamas, Costa Rica and Castle Archdale.

Since 1991 this Canadian organisation has offered women the chance to turn their back on the pressures of life, leave their routines to challenge themselves in remote places, in tents and round campfires, under the stars. Ride a horse, ‘man’ a canoe, sail and climb or do yoga and if there’s any bickering it’s sorted there and then by the group and their woman leader.

Apparently in the last 20 years grandmothers, aunts, sisters, mothers and daughters have taken part in expeditions round the world and many return year after year to renew friendships. It’s open to all females, most often from mid-30s to 65, perhaps when retirement means you have time to explore and face sometimes tough challenges where there are no men to take charge!

What a great concept – maybe someone here could pick up the idea and arrange challenges for spirited women throughout the UK and Ireland. Imagine camping in the Scottish Highlands and seeing the Northern Lights as you sit round enjoying good company and hot chocolate.

Join The International Set

HOW would you go about selling a single product with 125 separate elements? If they are spread over 27 venues and with 12 countries contributing to your task it takes a lot of inventive thought.

Not easy but Belfast International Arts Festival have a powerful force in their ranks, press officer Kirsty Atkinson. Already she’s up to her eyes planning 19 days of arts events from October 16 until November 3 and getting the message out is under way.

Born in 1962, Queen’s Festival was a must; there was little entertainment going on in Belfast. But today there’s a huge choice, at least 50 other live gigs to choose from, so Kirsty has to be on the ball, constantly sending out the message to the public via the press that this festival is still special.

“One thing that has changed in those years is the social media,” she explained. “We have almost 9,000 Facebook followers and on Twitter 21,762 which is a wide outreach. Apart from that, I’m old fashioned – I like to bombard bloggers, newspapers, radio and television outlets with the facts on paper and most important is our booklet which has all the information set out in a colourful and attractive way and already available to 20,000 homes.”

It’s a bible which travels with people so they can leaf through see what’s coming up.

Kirsty works closely with the chief executive, Richard Wakely, who is already planning next year’s festival. He travels widely looking for the best artists to bring to Belfast, talking to funders, sussing the best venues all with a dedicated but small staff.

“We must have funding to keep the ticket prices down and to offer so many free events; funding from the Arts Council, the City Council, British Council and Tourism NI and support from our many partners makes this possible.”

A Dog With A Nanny

KIRSTY is especially excited to welcome Isabella Rossellini, actress and film-maker, daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini.

“A one-woman show featuring her dog Pan who travels with a nanny and will sleep in a room next to Isabella! Promises to be fascinating, emotional and funny and Pan will be the support act where Aristotle, Charles Darwin and a medieval theologian make an appearance as Isabella examines animals' place in society.”

Just one of twelve premiers in venues from Stormont to pop-up stages to the grandeur of the Grand Opera House.

Often Kirsty is drawing out stories and arranging photo sessions when performers arrive in Belfast often for only 48 hours.

“It’s very immediate, sometimes organising interviews and photo shoots on the way from the airport once I gauge what the visiting artist is willing to do.”

This mum-of-two is excited and involves her family in her work and like every working wife appreciates their support because it will be hectic between now and November 3 when she and the team will breath a sigh of relief as they wave the last artist off to their next booking.

The grand finale will be in the Opera House with the hilarious and clever Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo – please go and see this all-male company, you’ll never forget the Dying Swan.

Like this company, many artists make return visits, which is to the credit to festival organisers and an appreciative public.

:: More at

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: