‘Draw Down the Walls’ is a cross-community project which uses art to engage people in interface communities to imagine what Belfast could be like without barriers, whether they are physical or not.
By Breandán Clarke
“Creating the conditions to imagine a city without barriers”
‘Draw Down the Walls’ (DDTW) has been working to connect young people and adults living in interface communities across North Belfast for a number of years. The project seeks to engage those sections of the community who have not previously been involved in community relations activities, and to explore the concept of barriers that they encounter in their daily lives, be they physical or otherwise.
In 2011, DDTW was invited by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to make a presentation of the project to a delegation from the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival (the theme of the 2012 Olympiad is “Truce”). The DDTW presentation outlined the concept of the project, “Creating the conditions to imagine a city without barriers”, and our proposal to bring an artist of international significance to work along with the communities of Ardoyne and Shankill to create an artwork that would respond to the conditions they encountered in North Belfast.
This would allow a greater audience to see the issues and complexities affecting community relations in interface communities, and would allow us to develop a framework of connecting meetings and engagements between local residents to explore commonality and also what continues to separate us.
Oscar Muñoz, a renowned artist from Colombia, was identified as the preferred artist as Munoz’s work relating to the sense of loss created by the Colombian conflict was felt to be provocative, whilst still possessing a sensitivity that we believed would allow him to respond accordingly to the brief created by DDTW.
DDTW contacted Muñoz through his gallery agent in Paris and invited him to come and visit the two communities, meet the project, the residents and groups working on the ground, plus the physical space of the community we live in. During this visit, DDTW arranged a series of events which brought local residents together from Ardoyne and Shankill to meet with Munoz and share their stories. The majority of these residents had never previously engaged in community relations activity.
This resulted in the development of a proposal from Oscar Muñoz to create an installation at the Flax Street interface in the space between the two security gates. Meetings were organised with Department of Justice to test the viability of using the space by the Draw Down the Walls partners – the North Belfast Interface Network (NBIN), the Lower Shankill Community Association (LSCA) and the Golden Thread Gallery – and on their approval a series of public meetings was conducted with local residents living closest to the interface to secure their support for the physical changes required to the barriers, and their opening times, to accommodate the project.
The project will build upon the strategic work of NBIN and LSCA in finding new ways to engage residents in community relations activity, create a greater audience and international focus to the collaborative work to resolve and transform relationships, and to seek new ways to look at the re-engineering of the barriers – both physical and other – which continue to segregate life in North Belfast.
This has resulted in the approval from London 2012 to commission the following piece, Ambulatorio, an exciting temporary art project, commissioned by the London 2012 Festival to celebrate the Olympic and Paralympics Games.
Flax Street interface
Ambulatorio has been developed by Colombian artist, Oscar Muñoz, who recently visited Belfast to meet and listen to the views of residents and community workers from Ardoyne and Shankill. Ambulatorio is a response to this visit.
Ambulatorio will create the opportunity for a positive representation of our community at a time which normally sees a lot of negative attention. The project is cross community and we hope it will be a step towards building better relationships with our neighbouring community. Sited inside the space between the two security barriers at Flax Street, the project will run throughout July and we hope that it will be something that the whole community can enjoy and feel part off.
Breandán Clarke is an interface/community relations worker with the North Belfast Interface Network.