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Picture this ... iconic art deco Strand Arts Centre is set for £6.5m redevelopment

Published on 2 November 2023

A multi-million pound redevelopment project to preserve the north's only operational art deco picture house is due to begin early next year.

The £6.5m restoration of the Strand Arts Centre will secure the future of a treasured Belfast landmark and create much-needed new arts spaces for the community.

The Strand (, which can trace its history back to 1935, will temporarily close its doors in February to allow work to take place, and it will reopen in mid 2025 in time to mark its 90th birthday.

And on completion, guests will have a ‘living museum' experience, where they can absorb the architectural and social history of a pre-war cinema, with the sensitive restoration of original architectural features including the building's iconic façade, entrance and foyer.

Two heritage film theatres will double as intimate live performance spaces, the Strand's iconic balcony screen will be transformed into a world-class performance space, seating 250, and the restored front stalls will be transformed into a unique theatre space for 160.

Enhanced backstage facilities will make the venue more attractive to local artists, touring productions and festival events. An interactive exhibition will celebrate the history of the iconic east Belfast picturehouse, showcasing the story of the Strand, and the many lives it has touched, while a separate high-end screening room accommodating up to 60 people.

While maintaining its historical charm, redevelopment works will ensure the Strand will be fit for audiences of the future. Accessibility will be a core focus, with disability access throughout the building, widening the centre's ability to cater for a diverse range of audiences. And a new licensed café will enhance the centre's offering and drive dwell time throughout the day.

Two flexible creative learning studios will increase the centre's ability to facilitate performing and visual arts classes, and development workshops for Northern Ireland's growing creative industries.

Quality, affordable spaces will also be available for hire by community and charity groups, strengthening the Strand's long history of impactful community outreach.

Mimi Turtle, chief executive at the Strand Arts Centre, said: “This is a milestone moment for us as we take the final steps towards redeveloping this much-loved Belfast icon.

“Our vision for this project has been made possible by the valued support and funding from Belfast City Council, the Levelling Up Fund, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a wide range of public and corporate funders.

“We are working with our architects, Hall Black Douglas to finalise our plans and hope to share more details, and visuals on what people can expect from the new-look Strand in the coming months.”

Last year Belfast City Council helped the Arts Centre secure £4.09 million from the UK government's Levelling Up Fund. Additional funding from the Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a variety of funding sources, including public and corporate sponsorships will be used to fund the project.

Around 10% of the total investment (£650,000) must still be raised to complete the redevelopment plans.

The capital works will be project managed by Belfast City Council.

Kathryn Thomson, chief executive of National Museums NI, who was installed as the new chair of the Strand Arts Centre at its October board meeting, said: “I am proud to be joining at such a pivotal point in its history and would like to commend Mimi and the board for their vision and commitment to drive forward this ambitious redevelopment, which will deliver significant community impact for the people of Belfast and beyond, for generations to come.

“As we work towards this exciting next chapter, we are thankful for the vital support and funding we have received to work towards realising this vision.

“Every ticket purchased, and every seat named, or dedicated in the coming months will help support us as we work to securing the final funding required to create a Strand fit for the audiences of the future.”

Source: Irish News (link opens in new window)