Art, dance and history as MAC becomes Belfast's latest cultural centre

By Jenni Davidson | 23 April 2012
A photo of a figure walking outside a modern stone art building in a city
Culture lovers in Belfast can enjoy the big MAC
Opening: MAC Belfast, Belfast

Belfast celebrated its second new cultural building in less than a month as the Metropolitan Arts Centre opened to the public on April 20, following hot on the heels of Titanic Belfast, which opened just three weeks ago.

The MAC is Belfast's first purpose-built arts centre and the biggest in Northern Ireland. Situated in the cultural Cathedral Quarter of the city, the £18 million, six-storey venue includes three art galleries, two theatres and a dance studio, as well as rehearsal space, education rooms and a cafe and bar.

The three art galleries will play host to a range of local and international exhibitions. The state-of-the-art closed control technology in one of the galleries means that the centre will be able to  show priceless art from other galleries around the world.

A large 350-seat theatre is to put on major home-grown and visiting drama, dance and music, while a second, offering 120 seats, will be able to showcase smaller scale and emerging groups.

It is hoped that the MAC will also play a key role in the development of contemporary dance in Northern Ireland through the country's first dedicated dance studio.

The flagship opening art exhibition is William Conor and LS Lowry: A People Observed. Conor was a much-loved Belfast artist known for documenting the working people of the city during the early 20th century, while Lowry is renowned for his industrial paintings of factory workers in the north of England in the same period.

This is the first time that Lowry's work has been shown in Northern Ireland. The exhibition draws parallels between the industrial pasts of Belfast, Salford and Manchester.

Alongside this, in the other two galleries, Belfast-based artsist Nicholas Keogh's film A Removals Job (a major new commission by the MAC) explores a similar theme of labour, documenting the camaraderie of a team of workers demolishing a traditional Belfast terrace.

An installation by Dublin's Maria McKinney, Somewhere but Here, Another Other Place, contemplates boredom and how to escape it.

Also on show is Los Angeles-based Robert Therrien's sculptural work No Title (Table and Four Chairs), which is part of ARTISTS ROOMS, the touring collection donated to Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland by Anthony D'Offay in 2008.

The imposing sculpture, which stands at 10 feet tall, dominates the Upper Gallery.

The MAC's first theatre production also has a local connection, tying in with the current Titanic commemoration.

Titanic (Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry, 1912) tells the story of the ship sinking in the words of the survivors. It is based on the transcripts of an enquiry held immediately after the disaster 100 years ago, and includes a cast of well-known actors, such as Downton Abbey's Thomas Howes.

The MAC's inaugural arts programme gives a taste of the diversity and quality of work that is to come. There is much more lined up for the rest of the year.

More pictures:

A photo of the interior of a modern stone arts centre
The MAC is Belfast's first purpose-built arts centre
A photo of a stone grey inside of an arts centre
The six-storey development has cost £18 million
A photo of an elegant modern dance studio with a wooden floor
Spaces for dance catch the eye
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