27 April 2015

Beat Carnival Centre: BUILDING on success, for a carnival future

Big news at Beat Carnival in our 21st Anniversary year: 

we now own the Beat Carnival Centre premises! 


Following those 21 years of Beat’s creative activity at different sites (moving the entire operation twice); and the years of New Building Development plans and location searches; in 2015 Beat has been able to purchase the premises rented since 2008. The Carnival Centre is a unique arts facility in Belfast, highly regarded around the island, the UK and internationally. Owning the premises gives long-term stability to one of the fundamental resources for Beat’s carnival arts production and it means that we can plan developments that were not possible with buildings occupied on short-term leases. Beat is grateful to DCAL and the Arts Council Northern Ireland for enabling Beat’s Carnival Arts Centre Plan to come to fruition with this result in 2015. 


In 1993, a newly-formed project called BEAT created The East Belfast Arts Centre in a former YMCA landmark building on the Albertbridge road. As well as having an energetic musical reference, the name BEAT meant Belfast East Arts Trading: the vision was for an arts and media business facility. The Beat Initiative was the active programme part of BEAT and started as a pilot youth arts project. Operating full-time from January 1994, the Beat Initiative company created the first Belfast Carnival Parades in 1995 (the ‘100 Drummers’ parade was in June and in September there was the first large-scale, city-centre carnival, ‘Hayfever’). By 1999 the Beat Initiative had become the entire BEAT operation, running the arts building and focusing on Carnival as a powerful way for arts to contribute to making the city’s spaces and its celebrations creative, outward looking, welcoming and culturally inclusive. Having a building was crucial: as a home for the year-round community programmes and for the carnival production – and as a workplace for artists, providing employment and enabling them to stay in Northern Ireland and develop new skills here. After the YMCA sold their building to developers, Beat had further activity spaces in East Belfast, at the shipyard and a main base at Ballymacarrett, before moving across town in 2008 to the present location at Brown Square, BT13. This has proved an ideal place. It is part of the City Centre, so is accessible. It is at the intersection of City Centre, West and North Belfast and is part of Greater Shankill. Brown Square itself has historical interest, for example our building is on the site of one of the first glass works in Belfast. The neighbourhood has always been a mix of industrial activity and residential buildings: it is one of the last  remaining housing areas within the city centre. It has been affected by troubles throughout Belfast’s history and during the recent Troubles this is where the first ‘peace’ lines were created after the army moved in. It’s a great location to have a creative, engaged, safe place for imaginative ideas, collaborative relationships and arts-led community celebration.


Recently, we renamed ‘Beat Initiative’ as ‘Beat Carnival’. Beat Carnival Centre provides free-of-charge, in-house and outreach programmes with participants across the City and around Northern Ireland; creates four to five large-scale carnival parades annually; and houses two other innovative, wide-reaching arts companies – Beyond Skin and Bruiser Theatre Company. 


To all who have been part of making this marvellous thing here, thank you



David Boyd


Beat Carnival Centre