As a coastal city with an international trading port, Belfast has a long history of open cultural exchange.

Taking this into the 21st century is ArtsEkta, an organisation founded in 2006 with the aim of promoting ethnic arts in the capital.

The brainchild of Indian-born Nisha Tandon, ArtsEkta was founded on principles of inclusivity, creativity and openness in all aspects of society – Ekta means ‘bonding’ or ‘uniting’ in Tandon’s native language. Bringing together authority figures, community organisations and residents of Belfast and beyond, the ArtsEkta team has launched projects that inspire audiences to engage with cultures outside Northern Ireland.  

Holi Festival of Colours

All of these projects have close ties to local minority communities and seek to unite people of different cultural backgrounds, across Asia, Europe and Africa. Since its inception ArtsEkta has grown dramatically in size and scope, and in recent years the company has put on a number of festivals that celebrate Belfast’s tradition of Indo-Celtic exchange.

The Holi Festival of Colours, held at Belfast’s Titanic Exhibition Centre, is a vibrant coming-together of music, dance and colour that mirrors one of the most popular holidays in India and marks the arrival of spring. You can watch an introduction to the festival below.

Nine Nights

In 2015 ArtsEkta launched Nine Nights, a one-off outdoor theatre spectacle celebrating Indian folklore through traditional music combined with extraordinary special effects. Run as part of Creative Belfast, the event saw nearly 1,000 participants take over the streets and the area surrounding City Hall. Nine Nights paid tribute to the ancient Hindu celebrations of the same name, Navrati, and the festivals of Diwali and Dusshera. A procession of over 600 torchbearers opened the proceedings before a show featuring puppets, live music and pyrotechnics lit up the Belfast skyline. An animated video introduction to Nine Nights, along with a clip featuring interviews with Nisha Tandon among others, can be found below.

Belfast Mela

The biggest event put on by ArtsEkta is Belfast Mela, ‘Northern Ireland’s largest celebration of cultural diversity’. Celebrating its tenth anniversary last year, the one-day summer festival takes place in the city’s Botanic Gardens and includes a lively opening ceremony with food, stunning decorations, talks, films, and participatory sessions.

Watch an introduction to Belfast Mela in the video above.

South Asian Dance Academy

The organisation’s reach also extends beyond annual festivals and into daily life. The South Asian Dance Academy is a city-wide programme that engages local communities and schools in the art of Kathak, a classic form of Indian dance. Kathak is an ancient practice named after Indian storytellers, or ‘kathars’, who would travel their country performing to the public wherever they went. The ArtsEkta’s academy has introduced the form to the city through workshops, talks, performances and classes.

In the video above, the South Asian Dance Academy rehearse and perform at Belfast Mela 2016.

In 2014, Nisha Tandon was awarded an OBE in recognition of her tireless efforts to bring together and celebrate different communities within Northern Ireland. This honour pays tribute to the immeasurable impact that ArtsEkta has had on the country’s cultural landscape. In 2017 local audiences will have another opportunity to rejoice in the diversity, tastes, rhythms and sights that make up the multicultural life of Northern Ireland.

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