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Belfast music initiatives strike a chord for local musicians and venues

Date: 05 Jul 2023

Category: Culture and arts

Belfast musicians supported as part of Belfast's UNESCO City of Music designation

Up-and-coming performers and grassroots music venues will be among those to benefit from a range of initiatives getting underway this summer as part of Belfast’s UNESCO City of Music designation.

Belfast was awarded the prestigious title in November 2021, becoming the first city on the island of Ireland and only the third in the UK to receive the accolade.

Since then, extensive engagement has taken place with the sector to consider how best to maximise the status, with a series of programmes and projects now ready to be rolled out as part of the council’s Music Matters strategy.

Next week, Belfast singer-songwriters Niall McDowell and Ciara O’Neill will travel to fellow UNESCO City of Music London, in Ontario, Canada, to perform at the Home County Music and Art Festival.

The exchange has been arranged through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which brings cities together to share skills and develop networks between musicians.

As well as getting the chance to perform their music in front of new markets, Niall and Ciara will take part in co-writing sessions with other artists and get the chance to work with world-class producers and engineers.

“Our council is committed to supporting and nurturing our local music scene, capitalising on the economic, social and regenerative value music can bring to our city and ensuring its power and benefits are felt by all who live here, work in or visit Belfast,” said Councillor Clíodhna Nic Bhranair, Chair of the council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee.

“Together, these initiatives will help unlock the potential of our UNESCO status by supporting and strengthening our homegrown talent and giving them the tools, skills and opportunities to develop their careers, here at home and further afield.

“The financial support for small venues, through the Pipeline Investment Fund, is also welcome news for those spaces who play a crucial role in providing a positive experience of enjoying live music, while the new music support website will make it easier for artists, promoters, managers and others to find the help they need and make connections with others in the industry.

"As a UNESCO City of Music, we are thrilled at the prospect of hosting prestigious events that celebrate the abundance of musical vibrancy and talent in Belfast and its surrounding areas. Tá neart cumas ceoil againn anseo sa cháthair agus níos faide i gcéin agus is iontach an rud é go bhfuil muid abálta é sin a cheiliúradh. Belfast City Council and Ards Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Ards CCE) are fully committed to the ongoing bidding process and the future successful delivery of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. We are confident that this event will, over the coming years, have a positive impact on Belfast and showcase its rich musical heritage.”

Closer to home, Belfast-based music venues can apply for grants of up to £5,000 as part of a new Pipeline Investment Fund.

A total of £20,000 is available through the scheme to support grassroots venues to deliver the best live music experience for both audiences and performers.

Delivered in partnership with the Music Venue Trust charity, the funding can be used for physical improvements, including sound, lights, access, ventilation and minor building works, as well as work behind the scenes, such as staff training, skills development and strengthening links with local communities.

The deadline to apply is August 25, with more information available at

Members of the newly established Belfast Region Music Board will also take up their positions this summer..Following an open call earlier this year, 24 members have now been recruited to help bring the UNESCO designation to life. They include musicians, promoters, music lovers, artist managers and people working in the music industry.

The board is now working on an implementation plan which will focus on embedding music in all communities across the city, and ensuring music is a sustainable career option for both creators and the wider gig economy.

Free music industry expert sessions and community gatherings are also planned for 2 Royal Avenue each month throughout the rest of the year, providing music creators and industry personnel with guidance and support on a range of topics. The sessions will be free to attend, and no booking is required. Topics will include music management and artist visuals.

Later this summer, a new Belfast Music website will also be launched, providing a ‘one-stop shop’ for musicians and music businesses.

It will include details of upcoming events and funding opportunities, advice on self-publishing, sponsorship, sustainability and more, as well as providing a listing service for organisations and venues to promote their music activity.

For more information on all upcoming Belfast Music initiatives, visit

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