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Belfast awarded prestigious UNESCO City of Music title

Date: 08 Nov 2021

Category: Culture and arts


Lord Mayor with local musician Paul Kane at Oh Yeah Music Centre

Belfast has been awarded the coveted City of Music status by UNESCO celebrating the city’s rich musical heritage and recognising the importance of music to its future.

Belfast is only the third city in the UK to become a City of Music with Liverpool receiving it in 2016 and Glasgow in 2008. It is also the first city on the island of Ireland to receive the accolade. As of today, there are 59 Cities of Music forming part of the prestigious UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Emmy-nominated composer Hannah Peel have been appointed official Belfast Music patrons, having supported and committed to the delivery of the Belfast bid, which was led by a City of Music Steering Group and submitted by Council following extensive engagement and partnership work.

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Kate Nicholl, said: “We are thrilled and honoured that Belfast has been bestowed the prestigious UNESCO City of Music title and to have Gary Lightbody and Hannah Peel on board as official patrons. This is wonderful news for Belfast! 

“Belfast is proud of its music culture. Creativity and resilience are in the very fabric of our city and our people. Last April, we launched a 10 year cultural strategy which will see a ‘year of culture’ in 2024. The UNESCO accolade is the perfect way to kickstart these plans, much of which revolves around music.”

Belfast’s UNESCO journey began in 2017 when the Council asked 20,000 people - ‘What does home mean to you?’ It emerged that for many, home is an emotional connection - a sense of belonging and within those responses, music was a recurring theme.

When council announced its decision to work in partnership with both private and public sector partners to apply for the UNESCO designation, it was much more than a title – it became an opportunity to open a new era of collaboration between the city, citizens and music communities, both locally and globally. It also acted as the catalyst to encourage continued music innovation, connected thinking and co-operation.

Over the next few years now, Belfast - as a holder of the title - will deliver a series of high profile music events, aim to build its infrastructure to further support music creators, and will see music woven into public spaces and places to ensure the power and benefits of music can be felt by all who live, work in or visit the city.

Reflecting on the city’s music culture, Gary Lightbody, said: “Music is woven into the DNA of Belfast. We have so many incredible bands and artists - and more every single year. I’ve watched in these last 25 years of relative peace the music scene grow and then thrive and now burst at the seams with fearless and limitless talent.

“I would put Belfast now, without bias (or at least with as little bias as possible) at the level of one of the great music cities in Europe. We have all fought hard for our culture to thrive and the results are so plain to see. Belfast’s heart beats fervidly with music. Being designated as a UNESCO City of Music honours the gargantuan effort that the entire music scene has made to help raise Belfast up and out of the darkest of times.”

Musician Hannah Peel said: "Belfast is an alive, vibrant and a musically powerful city. Now is the time to celebrate those that are making a difference in music, in culture. As well as artists like Van Morrison, there is female empowered punk, new wave, Brit nominated EDM, jazz and an abundance of classical music that runs through the veins of this city and yet to the wider world, it is all unheard of, underground, eclipsed by its past, but still supplying a pulse and vibrancy that needs to be lauded for the future.”

James Bridge, Chief Executive and Secretary-General, UK National Commission for UNESCO, said: “Congratulations to Belfast - the newly designated UNESCO Creative City of Music! Throughout its history, the city has nurtured diverse music scenes and acts, from harpists to counter-culture punks, to rock, ravers and outstanding traditional music.  There is more and more talent emerging. Belfast is now part of the UK UNESCO Creative Cities family and represents the UK music scene globally, along with Liverpool and Glasgow, the two other UK Creative Cities of Music.

“Belfast’s commitment to creativity as a source and direction for sustainable development will be internationalised through the Global Network of UNESCO Creative Cities and its contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.  It's also timely, with the COP26 UN Climate Change currently taking place in a sister City of Music.” 

Fellow UK city Perth has also been awarded UNESCO status as Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art.

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