Lynette Fay: Culture Night's a great initiative – but what about the rest of the year?

Just like anything that is given the label of ‘culture', culture night is run on a shoestring. We don't seem to recognise the value in investing in creative organisations, and as a result, most are reduced to practically begging for survival

Culture Night Belfast – it's proven so popular that today has been deemed Culture Day
Lynette Fay

WERE you one of the thousands taking part in or attending Culture Night last night? It has become a highlight of the year. A great evening/night out for the family and most of the events are free.

There are street food stalls, beautiful buildings which are usually closed are opened for the night and imaginative events are hosted in decadent spaces. Culture night has proven so popular that the next day, today, has been deemed Culture Day.

Culture night was celebrated in every corner of the island of Ireland yesterday. Belfast has been divided into 11 zones for the weekend; there will be musical performances on the lawns of city hall; the languages, music and culture of the local ethnic communities will be explored in Writers' Square; the Saturday Film Club will be hosted in the Masonic Hall in Rosemary Street and will show Scooby Doo and The Goonies... and that's only scratching the surface.

Translink buys into the event and public transport provision mirrors that of a modern service – for one night only.

Inevitably, the workplace chat on Monday morning will revolve around the events experienced on Culture Night.

So much work goes into making culture night/day work, it provides a fantastic platform for all sorts of artists to showcase their wares and engage the public. It enriches the offering of any village, town or city that chooses to engage with the idea.

My question is, why must we confine this experience in to one night and one day of the year? The other 363.5 days of the year could benefit from some of this cultural richness.

Just like anything that is given the label of ‘culture', culture night is run on a shoestring. We don't seem to recognise the value in investing in creative organisations, and as a result, most are reduced to practically begging for survival. We're happy to take all the culture that's on offer, particularly if it's free, but if artists and creatives are to create, they need support.

Just like the rest of us, artists need to put food on the table and the best way we can show our appreciation of their work is by putting our hands in our pockets and offering financial support.

While I applaud the planning that goes into Culture Night and the platform it provides to artists, there is a negative side to it. Have you ever walked through Belfast city centre at around 10pm on culture night? For many, culture night is just an excuse to go out and get drunk while drinking on the streets is permitted. While this isn't the sole motivation for all, it is for many.

It's quite ironic that Culture Night comes at the end of Freshers' Week in the local universities where the third-level students have taken to the streets to party away their first days of university life.

I was a ‘fresher' once too. The first days of independent living bring with them much temptation. I had my fair share of alcohol-fuelled university nights out, but the idea of Freshers' Week in the Holylands in Belfast is frightening. The excessive nature of these nights out cannot be condoned. I'm not sure if the student culture has changed so much in 20 years, or if the way the goings on in student areas are being reported in the media has.

Excessive alcohol consumption in particular contexts is accepted. I wonder why that is? While the levels of drinking aren't comparable, why is drinking culture, littering the streets and excessive noise tolerated in one context and not the other?

Pubs benefit hugely from Culture Night. Footfall increases as Belfast city centre is bunged from early evening. Last year Pedro Donald, owner of The Sunflower Bar, donated the bar's profits from Culture Night to artists of every genre, because the night belongs to them. It would be great to see other bars take the same initiative this year and give due recognition to the artists and creatives whose talent has brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets of Belfast and other towns and cities.

If a few more bars were to donate even a percentage of their Culture Night profits to the arts, then perhaps cultural wares could be afforded a proper platform and audience, more than once a year?

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