It’s become a bit of a ritual down through the years for people in my line of work to take a little time out after the cultural onslaught of the Belfast International Arts Festival before being plunged into the season of panto dames and reindeer and festive silliness. But these days there’s no pause for breath or much else as the month of November explodes into the Outburst Queer Arts Festival.
In eleven years it has grown from tentative beginnings into a bold, inclusive, unmissable collection of high quality events, which scrutinise and question the tensions and uncertainties of the times in which we are living as well as celebrating other identities and the emergence of exciting new voices.
In her programme introduction, artistic director Ruth McCarthy writes that the perspective of the festival is “… not just for those with a queer identity but for all of us. We wanted to find work and creative ideas that look at where we are now and imagine possibilities, realities, alternatives, consequences, histories, joys, affirmations and resistances, well into our queer futures. We hope that Outburst 2017 creates spaces for you all to do just that.”
This year’s festival is dedicated to one of its founders Patrick Sanders, a much loved and admired artist, performer, clown doctor and activist, who took his own life earlier this year. Many a conference discussion was enlivened by Patrick’s witty and insightful whiteboard illustrations, many a sick child laughed out loud at his naughty clown antics, many a friend and colleague has deeply felt the absence of his gentle, genial spirit. But he is still very much here, in the form of his own event: How to Unexplode – The Illustrated Life of Patrick Sanders runs at Artcetera Gallery in Rosemary Street, Belfast until 25 November and contains a cross-section of his work, from comic strips to political illustrations and cartoons, opening a door into a mischievous, ever-expanding imagination cut tragically short.