12th Belfast Children's Festival

What's black and white with yellow spots? Click Play Audio for a podcast with festival director Ali Fitzgibbon and Noirín McKinney of the Arts Council

The 12th Belfast Children’s Festival, run by Young at Art, was launched this week at the picturesque Clifton House, a former work house and the oldest standing building in the capital.

Founded by the Belfast Charitable Society in the 1770s, Clifton House served for many years as an orphanage and work house, providing shelter and skills development for the sick and desitiute. Children who lived in Cliften House, formerly known as the Poor House, were tutored in the ways of cotton spinning and weaving - the very foundation of Belfast's industrial revolution.

The fully restored building, which in part continues its original purpose as a sheltered accomodation, was a fitting venue for the launch of the children's festival, which this year takes the theme of black and white. 'Because that's what children's rights are,' explains festival director, Ali Fitzgibbon. 'As simple as black and white.

'The festival embraces the idea that children [are entitled] to be treated equally alongside adults, to be respected and to have their own access to a culture and arts experience that is made for them. Working with all our partners in this year’s festival, we are proud to offer something special, magical, original and accessible that everyone can enjoy.'

2009 is set to be a landmark year for the festival, with an exciting international programme of music, theatre, dance, puppetry and visual art to cater for children both young and old.

One of the festival's most successful events, the now international Baby Rave, will take place for the first time at the newly renovated and refurbished UIster Hall. The surreal Danish production Kalejdoskop is sure to be another festival highlight. Other foreign attractions include the Italian play for children, Storia di una famiglia (Story of a Family) at the Old Museum Arts Centre, and the acclaimed Portugese Concertos para bebes (Concerts for Babies) at the Waterfront Hall.

Homegrown entertainment comes in the form of The Family Hoffman's Mystery Palace - a sell-out event at last year's festival from Cahoots NI - and More Of It Than We Think 3, an exhibition by young artists in association with University of Ulster, amongst many others. Check out the Belfast Children's Festival website for full events listings.

As a long term supporter of the festival, Noirín McKinney, director of arts development with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, offered her congratulations on another great programme.

'The Belfast Children’s Festival is funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and festival organisers, Young at Art, must be commended, yet again, for providing new and engaging opportunities for local children and families, along with visitors to Belfast, to enjoy internationally renowned arts.

'Each year we get a festival that is fresh, inventive, surprising and which encourages engagement in the arts, helping children to become equipped for their future lives. There is no better way to introduce children to the arts than by offering them critically acclaimed performances on their own door-step.'

Belfast Lord Mayor, councillor Tom Hartley, also attended the launch at Clifton House. 'Belfast City Council is proud to have supported Belfast Children’s Festival over the years,' he commented, 'and to have watched it become one of the highlights of Belfast’s cultural calendar with an array of wonderful activities. We’re very proud to have a city of festivals which celebrate and enhance Belfast’s vibrancy.'

The Belfast Children’s Festival takes place from May 22–31 May in venues across the city. Ticket prices start from just £3. Discounted family tickets and special rate for schools and groups are also available.