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January 2018

It’s the biggest birthday bash the city has ever seen as Young at Art celebrate 20 Years of the Belfast Children’s Festival…

A monumental walk-in sculpture, the world’s smallest action hero, penguins, a four-legged clothes monster, a man with a chocolate beard and a boy on a quest to make friends with a star are just a small snapshot of some of the delights that will appear at this year’s special anniversary extravaganza event.

The 2018 festival theme is FAMILY and you can enjoy some special moments at more than 110 events taking place in 14 locations across the city from Friday March 9 to Monday 14. Eibhlín de Barra, Director Young at Art, unveiled the jam-packed programme at Belfast City Hall, commenting: “The 2018 Belfast Children's Festival celebrates our 20th birthday in style, with a wide and wonderful mix of theatre, dance, comedy, music, visual arts and literature for all the family. From the exquisite Horses from world-renowned kabinet k, to the madcap exploits of Egg-tion Hero, from Branar's beautiful adaptation of Oliver Jeffers How to Catch a Star, to the heart-warming tale of Penguins, and the welcome return to Belfast of Architects of Air's magnificent Luminarium, there really is something for everyone. And on top of it all we're throwing a giant birthday party across the festival weekend, so come on down and join in!”

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nuala McAllister, who hosted the launch said: “Belfast Children’s Festival has become a true highlight of the family cultural calendar, bringing magical, memorable experiences to residents and visitors to the city. I’m very much looking forward to introducing our young son Finn to the festival this spring at the Big Botanic Birthday Bash in the beautiful surroundings of our very own Botanic Gardens.”

From 1pm-4pm on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 March the Big Botanic Birthday Bash will be chock-a-block with fun family activities including free children’s art workshops, theatre & music performances including Egg-tion Hero from Maas Theater en Dans (Netherlands), Dance Exposed from Maiden Voyage Dance, and Northern Ireland Opera's Little Lullabies, drumming workshops, Sow & Grow workshops and much much more.
You may be forgiven for thinking that an alien spacecraft has landed at Botanic Gardens. The Miracoco Luminarium (Architects of Air) is a monumental walk-in sculpture that invites visitors of all ages to explore the dazzling maze of winding paths and soaring domes. Promising an unforgettable sensory experience of light, sound and colour, it will be open from 12pm to 6pm from Friday 9 until Sunday 11 March and is set to be the most photographed structure in Belfast that weekend.

Based on the beloved book by award-winning Belfast author Oliver Jeffers, Branar Téatar do Pháistí (Ireland) present How To Catch a Star. Audiences are in for a real treat, as this production at the Lyric Theatre combines world-class puppetry, a magical soundtrack, atmospheric lighting and beautiful staging to transport you into the world of the storybook.

Over in the Cathedral Quarter upstairs at the MAC, Second Hand Dance (UK) make their Irish Premiere with the quirky Getting Dressed inviting audiences to dive into a world of colour, texture & movement. Also on stage at the MAC, Belfast’s own children’s theatre company Cahoots NI have two shows in this year’s programme: Penguins and The Assistant’s Revenge. Belfast Children’s Festival has secured the Irish premiere of Penguins, a co-production between Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Cahoots NI and Prime Theatre. This delightful new theatre production for young audiences (3+) is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins who lived at New York's Central Park Zoo; together they hatched an abandoned egg and raised a chick. Featuring live music, dance and animation, this warm and engaging story explores friendship, acceptance and the ever-changing definition of what makes a family. For older children (8+) The Assistant’s Revenge is a spellbinding murder mystery packed with music, glamour, magic, death-defying escapology and more twists and turns than a ten-inch corkscrew. More homegrown talent on show comes from Belfast based Amadan Ensemble who present a brand-new show Pink & Blue that explores if we can all be who we want to be and accept others as who they are too.

Festival favourites Mini Mid-Week Magic, Pigeon and Plum’s Vaudeville Cabaret, Acoustic Picnic at Oh Yeah Music Centre and Children’s Books Ireland’s Book Clinic, all return by popular demand as does Young at Art’s own Baby Rave for under 4’s.

International acts this year include Sweden's Teater Pero who bring the delightful Aston’s Stones to Belfast, a beautiful tale about how easy it is to love and appreciate the joy in small things and for the youngest festival goers (3-18 months), also from Sweden, Sensescapes, beautifully merges art installation, performance and interactive discovery. The festival will also present several relaxed performances, which are designed for children and their families who may be living with additional sensory and communication needs including learning difficulties and autistic spectrum conditions. A specially selected Schools Programme of international and local performances, will take place during school time with subsidised ticket deals and classroom resources linked to the curriculum, it promises to be the perfect outing for children aged 3 and upward.

In association with Ulster University and Moving Up Moving On (MUMO). I Think I Will Tell You About My Dream is an exciting artistic collaboration between families from MUMO and illustrator Duncan Ross, who together used drawing and dialogue to explore their relationship with place. Their work will be on display in the Ulster University Belfast campus during the festival. Belfast born illustrator PJ Lynch has chosen the theme “The Big Picture” to be his legacy project during his tenure as Laureate na nÓg (Ireland’s Children’s Literature Laureate). On display in the Crescent Arts Centre will be the work of pupils from five primary schools, who have responded to The Big Picture, exploring the themes of “Family” and “Home” using visual storytelling. The public are invited to add to a sixth panel. Taking a short walk up the road to the Ulster Museum, the public can enjoy Pilgrims, Princesses and Beardy Old Men, an exhibition of stunning drawings from PJ Lynch’s award-winning books.

Belfast Children’s Festival has become one of the largest children’s arts festivals on the island of Ireland and the UK, attracting just under 30,000 people last year. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is principal funder of Young at Art and thanks to public and National Lottery funds, Young at Art is able to programme and deliver a wide range of artistic content, education & engagement programmes and professional development throughout the year.

Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive Arts Council of Northern Ireland, congratulated Young at Art on its long history of achievement in engaging children of all backgrounds and circumstances in the arts commenting: “For many children and their families, the Belfast Children’s Festival presents the first real opportunity to experience live, professional arts, by world-class artists and performers. We are proud to have supported Young at Art over the past 20 years, as champions of the rights of all children and young people to have access to excellent creative experiences as an indispensable part of their learning and development.”

Young at Art also continues to build on a strong partnership with Translink, and is encouraging families to travel with Translink into Belfast city centre. Special discounted family travel tickets, a travel activity pack for the journey (available online and free in the February issue of Ni4kids) and the guarantee of lots of amazing free fun at the Big Botanic Birthday Bash makes for an easy decision for a big family day out. On Saturday 10 March, passengers at Central Station will also be treated to amazing moves and fast paced action in Dance Exposed, a new work for public space commissioned by Maiden Voyage Dance from acclaimed Scottish choreographer Jack Webb.
Translink’s Ursula Henderson said: “Young at Art has organised an amazing line-up of fun family entertainment so we want to bring more people into Belfast to enjoy all the action by providing discount travel including our popular Family & Friends tickets along with comfortable bus, coach and train journey choices. We’re especially excited about the Big Botanic Birthday Bash and are encouraging party-goers to enjoy travelling by train to the nearby Botanic Train Station or using Metro Route 8 for extra convenience. With such a tempting creative programme in store, we’re looking forward to joining the Belfast Children’s Festival celebrations and would like to wish this fantastic event a very Happy 20th Birthday!”

Tickets are on sale now at or Tel 028 9024 3042. This year adults will pay the same price as children, maximum ticket price just £10, with many events free.
NB – Popular festival events do sell out so book early to avoid disappointment.

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