Mark Prescott, the new Director of the Belfast Festival at Queen's, has left six months into the job. His leaving mirrors Cassandra Needham's recent departure as Visual Arts Curator at MAC, again six months into the job. Both were highly praised for their experience and expertise in the London arts scene when appointed to two high-profile jobs in Northern Ireland. But neither stayed. I'm sure the circumstances behind their leavings are entirely different, but it dents the confidence of the local arts scene. At least the MAC was able to slot highly respected and experienced local curator Hugh Mulholland back into place fairly quickly, giving a much-needed contact point for local artists to pitch their ideas to. Hugh had already programmed much of the visual art for the MAC, up to January 2013.
Not so with Queen's. There was no handover, and a spare two line statement issued by the University says Mark Prescott is moving on to “pursue business interests in London”. As someone said to me, it made him sound like Dick Whittington!
Mark's going is a real shame. First, he seemed to be fired by programming the 50th festival. I met him about two months ago for a catch up on plans and he was passionate about the programme. Secondly, with no festival director, it puts the local arts scene into a vacuum. Belfast losing the director of a leading festival in a big anniversary year puts the people working in an already cash-strapped, difficult creative environment under enormous pressure. Queen's says the festival will go on, but at what cost? and isn't it always about the cost?