Crescent Arts Centre Revisited

The Crescent Arts Centre reopens after a £7.2 million renovation. Tammy Moore revisits her old stomping grounds to see what's what

 


The Crescent Arts Centre is a fixture of Belfast’s cultural life. It has housed filmmakers and musicians, held classes in papermaking and yoga and hosted concerts and dance festivals.

I worked there myself for four years and it was a wonderful, vital building full of fun, creative people. There were art shows and plays, classes in anything that took your fancy, and one year I was convinced to help out with the Lord Mayor’s Festivals and danced through the streets of Belfast dressed as a butterfly wielding a pugil-stick.

There was always something going on. But there were also drawbacks to working in a 135-year-old building.

After climbing all the way up to the top floor, you had to sprint up the last flight to get to the alarm before it went off. Things leaked or creaked or overflowed. Not to mention that for a small percentage of the time I worked at the Crescent there was a pigeon marinating in the water tank.

So when the Crescent Arts Centre reopened on April 19, 2010 I was eager to see what a £7.2 million facelift could do for the old place. The answer turned out to be: a lot.

Outside the Crescent is crisp and clean and approachable, the bars and grilles on the window that made it look forbidding gone without a trace. Inside every thing is bright and spacious. The cramped reception is now an open plan space incorporating a café and leading onto The Cube performance space.

With racked seating and acoustics to boast about, The Cube has just had its first outing with a mezzo-soprano performance that blew Crescent Chair David Hill away. ‘The acoustics are just amazing.’

There’s a small dance studio on the ground floor where the gallery used to be. Like everything else about the Crescent it is brighter and better than I remembered it although it still retained some of the period details and charm of the old building.

Upstairs, to which I ascend in the lift that has made the Crescent fully wheelchair accessible, is another dance studio, named after the sadly deceased and much missed Helen Lewis, as well as the Dickon Hall Gallery. Either is well worth a look: with amazingly sprung floors in the studio and interesting art displayed beautifully in the gallery.

There are more workshops and studios on the top floor, along with space for some of the Crescent’s loyal tenants and new friends. Open Arts stayed with them during the exile to the Ormeau Avenue and has returned with them. Meanwhile Wheelworks are leaving their offices in Shaftesbury Square and moving into their new lodgings shortly.

Slanted skylights still let in light through the pitched roof, but with luck building manager Bill won’t need to be dangled out of one to fix the roof anytime soon.

Downstairs a party of women from Victoria College, which was housed at the Crescent until 1970, arrive to be shown around the refurbished space. Like me they point out all the differences as they are shown around and like me they are thrilled to see new life breathed into these old walls.

'This is a momentous day for Belfast’s cultural heart,' declares Hill - you can tell he's been looking forward to saying it for months. 'The refurbished centre reaffirms the Crescent’s prominent place on Northern Ireland’s creative map and I thank all those who have made today possible.'


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