New Ideas on Politics and Culture in Third Imagine Belfast Festival

Week-long programme featuring over 80 events aims to spark debate around the issues of today while preparing for an uncertain tomorrow

The Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics has launched its third annual programme, packing 86 events across 35 venues into its seven days.

Returning from March 20 - 26, the festival aims to spark new ways of thinking and to encourage the public to discuss and debate the big issues of our times.

In this year of Assembly elections and commemorations, the non-partisan festival offers up an eclectic week of discussions, talks, workshops, theatre, comedy, music, exhibitions, film and tours to prepare us for a new tomorrow. There’s even a poetry competition for people to pen a verse or two on a political theme.

Ninety percent of the events are free, and organisers hope to attract over 5,000 people over the festival's duration, particularly those not traditionally involved in political debates.

Highlights include biting satire from David McSavage, the star of RTE’s The Savage Eye; book readings from award-winning journalist Catherine Mayer, former prisoner and author Erwin James and Whitbread Award winner Diana Souhami; and a keynote talk from Bill Adair, the creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning US fact checking platform PolitiFact.

Other high profile speakers include Professor Noel Sharkey on the future of robotic technology in medicine; Professor Geoffrey Crossick on the value of arts and culture; Professor Richard Ashcroft on the future of medicine; and a panel of esteemed historians examining the impact of the Reformation and its 500th anniversary.

The festival also has a special Democracy Day programme of 16 events looking at aspects of civic activism (March 24 at the MAC) and talks on the implications of Brexit, peace walls, drugs policies, prison reform, students as consumers, and a new old age to name but a few of the touchstone topics.

In addition, there is an assortment of film, music, theatre and other performances as well as curious one-offs such as Why is Elvis in Your Toast?, which looks at what causes us to sometimes see things in everyday objects and whether it's down to historical influences or our innate fears and anxieties.

Other topics for discussion include: How Healthy is Democracy in Northern Ireland?; Open Policy Making: A new era for citizen engagement in NI; Citizen Assemblies: an answer to politicians’ inability to make tough decisions?; Fake News: What You Can Do About it; and Digital Tools for Democracy with speakers from Iceland, Estonia and Scotland.

Friday, March 24 will mark ‘Dialogue Day’, comprising a unique series of café-based conversations on the theme of ‘surviving or thriving in turbulent times’. These interactive discussions will take place simultaneously in ten cafés across Belfast, where people from all walks of life can gather together to share ideas on how to be the best that we can in these volatile times.

Dozens of discussions and workshops will cover the full gamut of issues that are on everybody’s minds at the moment. Highlights include Could Northern Ireland become an independent member of the EU?; a Banter podcast on the views of young voters; a workshop on Reading in Conflict; a talk From Titanic Town to Narnia; a panel discussion on Brexit and the Border; a lively debate on Seven Ways to Make Northern Ireland Great Again; the student experience inside the Maze/Long Kesh prison; a workshop on How to Invent a Language; and Why We Need Feminist Economics.

The festival programme also features a full-day conference to support the needs of freelance workers in the creative industries sector; a seminar with Belfast City Council on developing an economy that works for all; a community hackathon on how to combat loneliness; the award-winning film Together in Pieces; and talks on the history of lesbianism and LGBTQ visions of peace.

Imagine’s culture programme includes the premiere of Tinderbox Theatre Company’s exciting new play FAMLA at the MAC; a musical performance from fife and drum bands in the Black Box curated by Beyond Skin; an Irish language music and discussion event in the McCracken Cultural Centre and workshops on how to write poetry and political content for the theatre.

Finally, as well as £200 to be won in the poetry competition, there are two exhibitions at the Framewerk Gallery and the Crescent Arts Centre, and four walking tours exploring different parts of the city.

Festival founder and director, Peter O'Neill, said: 'The festival provides a unique opportunity for people to engage with some of the big issues of our time in a fun and dynamic way. Over 300 speakers and performers will stimulate debate and discussion of new ideas relating to politics, culture and activism. There’s something for everyone in our programme – 90% of the events are free and accessible across the city. So join us in preparing for a new and uncertain tomorrow.'

For further event information and ticket booking visit