Northern Ireland

Arts review 2017: Culture centre stage in political dramas

2017 graphic in curtains Image copyright Mindklongdan

2017 was a year when culture, rather than the arts as such, was centre stage after the collapse of the Stormont executive.

But Belfast, Londonderry and Strabane's bid to become European Capital of Culture 2023 also turned into a drama.

Meanwhile, elements of Northern Ireland's recent past were represented on the big screen.

And there was important recognition for two of our poets, as well as more success in London's theatreland for a young local actor.

Squaring circles

The year began with protests outside the Department of Communities at the then minister Paul Givan's decision to cut funding for an Irish language bursary scheme.

Mr Givan subsequently reversed his decision, but that sparked renewed calls for an Irish language act from members of the Irish-language community.

In response to those demands, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was understood to want more formal protection for Ulster-Scots as part of any language legislation.

Image caption Members of the Irish-language community made their voices heard in January

The cultural and linguistic circle could not be squared at Stormont.

Campaigners for both Irish and Ulster-Scots made their case on the airwaves and in print regularly throughout the year.

However, the cross-currents between music from the two cultures were celebrated and shared at a new music school in Belfast in August.

No thanks

By that stage, Belfast, Derry and Strabane's attempt to become European Capital of Culture 2023 had been launched.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Belfast and Derry & Strabane were competing against four UK cities

BBC News NI had revealed in February that a joint bid by the two councils for the prestigious culture title was being considered.

The local bid was up against four other UK cities, and plans for what events would happen if it won were already being drawn up, according to a draft document obtained by the BBC.

The UK government said that the title was "part of our plan for a dynamic, outward-looking and global Britain" post-Brexit.

However, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had warned bidders that the contest "may be subject to the outcome of those exit negotiations".

That warning came to pass in November when the European Commission ruled that a UK city would not be given the 2023 title due to Brexit.

As the year ended, the five UK cities were trying to persuade the commission to change its mind.

That battle will continue in 2018, but the chances of success look slim.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Belfast Harbour studios are built on an eight-acre site on the north foreshore of Belfast Lough

Meanwhile, Superman joined Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland.

A major television series about the man of steel's ancestors became the first production to be filmed in the new £20m Belfast Harbour studios.

The complex on the north foreshore of Belfast Lough opened in June.

Harry Potter

That was a month after the Northern Irish premiere of The Journey, a fictional portrayal of the relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Written by Bangor screenwriter Colin Bateman, it starred Timothy Spall and Paisley and Colm Meaney as McGuinness.

It was followed on to the big screen in the autumn by Maze, a film about the 1983 jailbreak.

A prison officer died and two were injured in the escape by 38 IRA prisoners.

Image copyright Premier Comms handout
Image caption Boyle won the ward ahead of nominees Rafe Spall, Brian J Smith and Freddie Fox

The film captured the events through the eyes of the late IRA leader Larry Marley and a prison officer in the jail.

One of our stage actors made national headlines in April when he won a prestigious Olivier award.

Anto Boyle was named best supporting actor for his role as Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at London's Palace theatre.

Boyle is a former pupil of De La Salle College and St Louise's Comprehensive in Belfast and his rise to stardom has been meteoric.

Global garlands

There was also a stage first in Londonderry as one of the city's theatres hosted the world's first play performed by both human actors and avatars in the computer game, Minecraft.

Playcraft Live was performed at the Playhouse Theatre and streamed online in October.

Image caption The Belfast MAC opened in 2012

Another leading theatre and arts venue, however, found itself in financial trouble as the year drew to a close.

It was revealed by the BBC that Belfast Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) needed emergency council funding in October to keep its doors open.

The MAC has also requested more than half a million pounds of extra funding from the city council and the Arts Council.

Meetings to secure its immediate future are due to be held early in the new year, but with potentially significant cuts coming to the Department of Communities budget it may not be the only arts organisation approaching 2018 with money worries.

On a happier note, there were global garlands in 2017 for two of Northern Ireland's leading poets.

Sinead Morrissey won the Forward Prize for poetry for her collection On Balance in September, while Paul Muldoon was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry just before Christmas.

A happy end to a sometimes turbulent year.

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