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An Ancient Language, A Living Structure – CNB21 Presents

Creative lead unveils thinking behind Ogham Grove

This year’s Culture Night promises a spectacular structural, lighting and sound experience designed by Belfast artist Gawain Morrison around the ancient Druidic language Ogham.

Promising to be both large in scale with the opportunity for learning and contemplative Gawain believes the Writer’s Square transformation from September 17-19 will be something not to be forgotten at any time people visit it.

“We want people to be overwhelmed day and night,” Gawain explained.

“The actual scale of the structure itself will be impressive, the fact that these shapes and forms are there in maybe a way that haven’t been seen should also be stimulating and then the night time whenever you have the lighting really coming alive then it’ll have a completely different feel, but something to be remembered.”

Entitled Ogham Grove, Gawain, said the ancient Celtic Ogham Tree language reaches deep into the era where nature and myths intertwined.

“The Grove was very much based on the Ogham characters and the trees, the 20 trees that pagans and druids associated with everything to do with Ogham and its meanings,” he said. 

“Whether it was for the practical elements of it, the mystical elements of it, and the fact that it was the way to be able to transverse stories and pass on knowledge.

“All this very much fitted with not only what the city garden theme was, but actually so much more in the richness of all the things that we weave in and out of, the life that those people lived in pagan times.”

Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre. The impact of COVID led to a major review of the event ultimately leading to Gawain’s artwork.

Susan Picken, Director of Culture Night and the Cathedral Quarter Trust said the enforced change will still leave people with a real sense of what art can do. 

“Culture Night 2021 will be much smaller in scale and scope and will take the form of an on-site installation that people can drop into and enjoy over the course of the weekend,” she said. 

“This different format will allow us to focus on safety as well as making sure everyone has a great time.”

Gawain with his team, including artist and prop designer Dylan McCaughtry, designer, artist and engineer Neil Beattie, lighting designer Tomás FitzGerald and drum loop producer Damian Mills said the work on the installation has been hectic but enjoyable.

“From the moment that the Culture Night team told us we’d won this proposal through until now it’s been fairly full on and fantastic to be honest with you,” he said.

“We’ve been able to go from the high-level concept from the Ogham characters, the Ogham Grove through to how do we actually make this all happen and working with Neil and Dylan on the concept works

“We’ve had a lot of fun being able to come up with the different iterations, and ideas and materials and thoughts and then to prototyping an experiment with them and now we’re actually getting into the meat of it, we’ve got an idea of what we really need to be at and the next couple of weeks are going to be hard going but a lot of fun.”

Gawain said the location of the Ogham Grove was something they were able to build upon.

“The Writers’ Square lends itself to two structures that we’re putting in, we wanted them to actually feel like they fill those spaces,” he said. 

“We’ve separated them into two, one is a primer for the tree alphabet as we call it, where the information that we have involved either by reading or interpreting through the lights, you’ll be able to learn about the Ogham characters, and then the second piece which is at the end of this big structure is the Ogham wheel.

“This is where you’ll be able to sit and contemplate or you’ll be able to drum if you wanted to drum on it, but it will also be the centrepiece, it’s the focus of the Ogham wheel, the tree centre.

“The scale of these, the reason we’ve made them this large is so you can take a moment, wander round it and actually be contemplative.”

The Creative Lead’s experience as a creative director and producer for events, media and technology in TV, films, music videos and a range of other arts is such that the project appealed to him.

“My specialism is about taking creative concepts through to reality,” said Gawain.

“It is about being able to take something that is a little nugget somewhere ‘out there’ and bring it out to make something that people can experience or view.”

However, he and his team were keen to make sure that there was an environmental element to the project, that reflected modern concerns and tapped into the Druidic care for nature.

“It was something that was very important to us, and I believe that everybody that will be involved in this project is concerned about the sustainability and making sure that the materials used in this are not just new and thrown away, which is a sad part of a lot of large temporary structures that are built for arts or for film,” said Gawain, adding: “We wanted to be part of the ‘one more use’ thinking where you accessing products that are in a flow from one use to another and intercept them as part of the process flow, whether at the start of their journey or towards end.

“Using products and reusing products was a very important part of not only our concept but the actual structural and sustainable delivery of this.”

And, the principles underpinning the Ogham language means that visitors to Writer’s Square can access that belief.

“It was one of the first writing systems,” Gawain explained. 

“It was created by Druids to pass on knowledge, sometimes for land boundaries and marking territories. It was also for directions and for passing on this knowledge and the fact that it was a writing system that was hidden is really fascinating. It was also a subversive language for when the Roman Empire and Christianity was starting to move across Europe.

“It was the fact that it harmonised with everything, it harmonises with trees, your environment, it makes sure that you’re living within your means, you’re living sustainably and it also then was the formation of the poetry, the music, the creative and the arts and all of this woven together is what made for a very healthy, fascinating lifestyle.”

This year’s CNB21 Presents: The Ogham Grove is supported by Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Translink.

To keep up to date with all the CNB Presents: The Ogham Grove updates go to culturenightbelfast.com or follow #CNB21 on social media.

Belfast City

Spectacular Ogham Grove Opens Tonight In Cathedral Quarter

Cathedral Quarters Writers’ Square will tonight (September 17) be transformed into a spectacular installation from the creative team for CNB21 Presents: The Ogham Grove.

From 6pm tonight through until Sunday evening visitors can experience an interactive celebration of the ancient druidic language, with massive representations of trees, sounds and lighting weaving a path of learning about the language and the chance to win prizes.

Ogham Grove replaces the previous city centre based programme of street based activity and pop-up events.

Although the plans for this year are monumental in size, Culture Night Belfast and CQ Trust director Susan Picken said visitors should not expect the same on-street celebration as years gone by.

Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre. The impact of COVID has led to a major review of the event however.

Susan said: “Culture Night 2021 will be much smaller in scale and scope and will take the form of an on-site installation that people can drop into and enjoy over the course of the weekend – this different format will allow us to focus on safety as well as making sure everyone has a great time.”

The brains behind the concept include creative lead Gawain Morrison, artist and prop designer Dylan McCaughtry, designer Neil Beattie, lighting designer Tomás FitzGerald and drum loop producer Damian Mills.

Gawain Morrison said that the concept of The Ogham Grove “draws inspiration from the ancient Celtic Ogham Tree alphabet which dives deep into the era where nature and myths intertwined”. 

This year, as well as experiencing The Ogham Grove itself, visitors will be able to take part in an accompanying interactive experience that will lead them through the Cathedral Quarter, and also take them on a journey of personal discovery.

According to Gawain the immersive nature inspired trail and competition will mean visitors can take something special away from the experience.

“For somebody who will be coming to this, the several points of access means it is going to be a very experiential and sensory experience,” he explained. 

“I hope that as visitors walk around whether it’s in the day or night, that they will take something away from it.”

Across the Cathedral Quarter area, there will be five zones each representing one of the five families of the Ogham alphabet.

To be eligible to win a prize, participants must find and scan a QR code found on one of the trail’s bespoke wooden plaques and take note of the lines of poetry displayed.

Prizes to be won include vouchers for restaurants, gift tokens to purchase your own pieces of art and tickets to shows coming up in the Cathedral Quarter and will be announced at the end of the Culture Night weekend.

This year’s Culture Night Belfast is supported by Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Translink.

To keep up to date with all the CNB Presents The Ogham Grove updates go to culturenightbelfast.com or follow #CNB21 on social media

Issued by Excalibur Press on behalf of CNB Presents: The Ogham Grove 

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The Arts

£5m Fund to Retain Skills in the Creative Sector

A £5million fund to prevent the loss of the talent and expertise of individuals and freelancers working in the creative sector has been launched by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey.

The Creative Individuals Recovery Programme, which opens at noon today, will provide a grant of up to £2,000 per individual eligible application including DJs, artists, performers, sound and lighting technicians, writers, events managers and many other professionals who have been impacted as a result of the public health restrictions on the creative sector.

There is evidence that the creative sectors rely heavily on self-employed and freelance individuals and that many have already left the sectors because of the pandemic, with those remaining facing jobs vulnerability and unaffordable costs relating to re-establishing their creative practice.

Minister Hargey said: “I have listened to the recommendations of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce, and I have also engaged with the sector. As a result I am today launching a support scheme to provide grants to individuals to encourage them to remain in the creative arts sector.

“The culture, languages, arts and heritage sectors have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 restrictions as they rely heavily on people’s ability to get together which is why the Executive has provided £13million in 2021/2022 to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

“There is a risk that self-employed and freelance individuals may be forced to leave the creative sectors as a result of the pandemic. As the sectors rely heavily on individuals, this could destabilise the sector and the benefits it delivers including social, economic and wellbeing. This new £5m funding scheme aims to prevent loss of sectoral skills for self-employed and freelance individuals and safeguard the sector for the future.

“This fund will help with costs of reactivating, maintaining and enhancing their creative trade, vocation or profession. It is designed to prevent individuals, and their talent and expertise, from leaving the creative economy; and help them re-establish their contribution to the important benefits these sectors deliver.”

Welcoming the funding, chair of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce Rotha Johnston said:  “Freelancers and the self-employed are critical to the recovery and sustainability of the creative and cultural sectors as a result of the impacts of Covid-19. Many have been deprived the opportunity to use their skills, perform or practice their art in the last 18 months. The Taskforce is of the unanimous view that support for individuals is essential to protect the viability of the sectors going forward. The Taskforce’s findings and recommendations have been developed following extensive engagement with people from across the sectors and our conclusion is that this public investment in culture, arts and heritage will deliver significant benefits to individuals, society and the economy in the short, medium and long term”.

The fund, co-designed by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) with the Department for Communities, will be delivered by the Arts Council. For information on how to apply including eligibility criteria please visit http://artscouncil-ni.org/funding/for-individuals

D/deaf and disabled artists will be supported via a separate award via ACNI to the University of Atypical who regularly support this particular cohort, to ensure that artists with particular needs are appropriately supported through the application process.

The scheme is open until 12 noon, 6 October, 2021.

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