4 Corners Festival aims to help 'transform' Belfast

The 4 Corners Festival has announced its dates for 2023. Midweek Review takes a look at what's on offer from this annual peacebuilding event in Belfast...

4 Corners Festival co-founders Reverend Steve Stockman and Father Martin Magill
4 Corners Festival co-founders Reverend Steve Stockman and Father Martin Magill

THIS year's 4 Corners festival will feature a range of art, music, discussion, sport, debates and faith-based events at venues across Belfast.

Taking place from January 27 to February 5, the 2023 festival theme will be 'Dreams…Visions for Belfast.

Now in its 11th year, 4 Corners was conceived as "a way to inspire people from across the city to transform it for the peace and wellbeing of all" via events designed to draw people from their respective 'corners' of the city and into new places, to encounter "new perspectives, new ideas and hopefully meet new friends".

"I see the 4 Corners Festival as making a contribution towards peace building," explains festival co-founder, Father Martin Magill.

"The idea of people getting to know one another, spending time with one another, building relationships: I see the festival really as a catalyst to help encourage that building of relationships."

Fellow co-founder, Reverend Steve Stockman, said the traditional divides have changed much in recent years and that's one of the things that keeps him involved in the festival.

"It is those moments where people come to a part of the city they've never been in before and they meet somebody across whatever the divides are," he explains.

"Of course, we have the traditional Catholic/Protestant divide and that's one of our major divides in Belfast, but there are other races in Belfast now too, so there are all those kinds of divides, but there's also class divides.

This year's programme includes a photographic exhibition and discussion of homelessness in the city, women in peace building, visions of Belfast, and will conclude with the theme of 'the city where dreams become reality'.

Another event will see 48 young people from four youth clubs become involved with social action and meeting one and other, as well as service providers from the police, ambulance, fire service and the council.

This year also marks a number of significant anniversaries including the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and 60 years since Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' speech.

"Martin Luther King Jr didn't have a complaint. He had a dream. Likewise, we want to ask, what are our dreams for our city, now?" says Reverend Stockman.

"Our hope is that, as we hear the dreams of the homeless, young loyalists, women in leadership, sportsmen, musicians and church leaders, we will be inspired to live out our dreams.

"I think just being asked what your dream is, what your vision is, is sometimes enough. I don't think we walk around enough saying 'what are our dreams for how we can change the city?'.

"Once you start thinking about it and what you'd like to change or see differently, then perhaps it would provoke us and inspire us into imagining it and becoming part of the change itself."

Fr Magill shares similar sentiments when it comes to his own vision for the city.

He explains: "My vision is of a city at peace with itself. It is about tackling the issue of poverty and creating an integrated city where people can live in whatever part of the city they want to.

"The festival's theme has got a message this year for our world because we're living in such a fragile, broken world at this moment."

Although faith is an important component of the 4 Corners Festival, Father Magill explains it is not exclusively for 'believers'.

"Every one of us who are part of the planning committee are coming from places of faith, however, we welcome those who don't come from a place of faith," he says.

"We're trying to be the gospel that some people don't actually get to read. I suppose in many ways we would see it as the living out of the gospel, the loving of your enemy, the making of peace, of loving one another, and we try to put into practice those words."

Reverend Stockman agrees, saying, "There are events for everybody, not just for those who believe the same things that we believe. Each and every one of us living in Belfast have dreams for a better future.

"We hope 4 Corners will help people listen to each other's dreams, and keep working towards a more peaceful and just city."

:: A full programme will be released over the coming weeks, see 4cornersfestival.com/the-festival for latest festival information