Culture Night Belfast attracts up to 70,000 revellers
Organisers of Culture Night in Belfast have said an estimated 60-70,000 people took to streets, squares and venues across the city centre, making it the best attended festival in the event's seven-year history.
However, they also warned that planned cuts to Arts Council funding will have a negative impact on next year's plans.
The Cathedral Quarter-focused festival on Friday took place as part of annual Ireland-wide Culture Night celebrations.
This year's programme included more than 250 eclectic events at a variety of indoor and outdoor venues, featuring everything from Tibetan dancing in Writer's Square and a 'Slow Bike Race' along Academy Street, to a massive drum circle on Royal Avenue and a gay wedding at The Merchant Hotel, with vows administered by Belfast author Glenn Patterson.
Adam Turkington, programme manager with Culture Night Belfast, said the one-day festival has now grown so popular that it has reached the limits of its organisational infrastructure.
"I was really, really happy with the volume of people," he said, "but I think it's starting to present us with a challenge, operationally.
"We are definitely at the edge of what we can manage in terms of attendance with the budget that we have. The scale of it has got to the point where we're either going to have to get more money or divert money away from something else to security and production.
"We had 50,000 people there last year and this year was well up on that by most people's estimation – I think there must have been 60 or 70,000.
"You couldn't get a hotel room in Belfast on the night and I met some people who were over from England specifically to attend Culture Night, which they'd actually been to before.
"Kent Street, Union Street, Bank Square and Rosemary Street were all absolutely rammed and Cotton Court was particularly busy with the Big Fat Gay Wedding and the Belfast Community Gospel Choir. They were just packed for the entire evening."
But Mr Turkington, a partner at Belfast-based arts consultancy agency Seedhead Arts, warned that Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure Cuts to Arts Council funding will impact on Culture Night Belfast 2016.
"The arts minister has further cut the arts budget by an additional 10 per cent on top of the 10 per cent cuts previously announced, which means that certain organisations are going to disappear from our programme.
"The Beat Initiative weren't able to do their usual carnival at this year's festival because they couldn't afford it. We've also lost the Belfast Print Workshop, which had been with Culture Night Belfast since the very start.
"They're out now – and others will follow. It's a really dire situation for the arts."