Having struggled to embrace its diverse culture in the past, Belfast has flourished in recent years as a city bursting with artistry and creativity. At its core lies the world-renowned MAC, home to stunning theatre productions and enviable art collections from around the globe.
The MAC is symbolic in Belfast’s journey to becoming a cultural hub of Northern Ireland, drawing in locals and visitors alike to escape into the arts. Whether it’s catching the latest show or exhibition, learning new skills at a workshop, or feeling engaged at an inspiring talk, the multidisciplinary centre is well worth a visit.
If you’re in need of inspiration or simply want to find out more, read on:
MAC was created by architects Hackett Hall McKnight, following a International Open Design Competition. The seven-storey building was designed to interplay with the existing street network, sporting a tall and thin basalt atrium, hedged by exposed red brick and concrete walls.
From the outside, the building appears fairly small, but wandering round its abstract interior, you’ll find two auditoria, workshop and education spaces, dance studios, a large space for visual arts, an eatery, and a main foyer baring the centre’s only permanent artwork; a colourful sculpture made of hundreds of metal wires created by Irish artist Mark Garry. Its interconnecting foyers further channel the industrial vibe of the Merchant City, with tall walls and top lights streaming in from above.
The venue’s design was intended to project Belfast’s bold and brave character. It was built with a sense of pride and excitement; a promising addition to the city’s transformation. Opening in 2012, the centre’s ambassador and Game of Thrones star, Sean Bean, reportedly described the MAC as ‘putting Belfast and the arts on the world stage’.
What’s On at the MAC
The MAC frequently refreshes its bill, but consistently offers many events simultaneously across its spaces. Its eclectic blend caters to all ages and interests, including plenty for families and children. Take a look below to find out what’s coming up:
The Elves and the Shoemaker (27th November 2018 – 6th January 2019)
The festive Christmas show for 2018 is brought to you by the fantastic Cahoots NI, a local children’s theatre company with a prolific history of creating stunning productions bursting with music and magic; illusions and imagination.
The Elves and the Shoemaker tells the story of struggling shoemaker who receives help from a band of pixies, taking him from poor to rich by working through the night to make shoes. The production is Cahoots’ original take of the beloved fairytale, with well-known characters and lots of giggles to tickle the souls of all the family.
Under the Hawthorn Tree (27th September – 7th October)
With less sparkle but equal enjoyment, Cahoots NI present the internationally-acclaimed novel Under the Hawthorn Tree. Award-winning author Marita Conlon-McKenn sets her story in rural Ireland during the Potato Famine. In the absence of their parents, three children embark on a journey of survival as they seek out their great aunts, fighting starvation and resisting being sent to the workhouse.
This original adaptation is a fresh and new take on the novel, accompanied by an inspired and moving live score by Garth McConaghie. It sensitively stirs audience as you glimpse into Irish history, making it an emotive yet ideal family event.
The World Goes ‘Round (1st – 15th September 2018)
Travel to ‘New York, New York’ in this celebration of Broadway’s best hits. The MAC transforms one of its theatres into a seductive, jazz club, where you can hear soundtracks from the likes of Chicago, Cabaret and other stunning productions all performed within an intimate setting. A small and talented cast bring the West End to life, serenading audiences with a medley of well-known tunes such as ‘Mr Cellophane’ and ‘Maybe This Time’.
Featuring a clever libretto and striking musical arrangements, The World Goes ‘Round is the perfect indulgence for both theatre and music lovers.
How do I get tickets?
TickX lets you source tickets for upcoming events at the MAC, where you can compare sellers to secure the cheapest price available. Browse the latest productions heading to Belfast’s leading art base here.
Upstairs and Downstairs
The MAC has two theatres of different sizes. Dubbed ‘Downstairs and Upstairs’, the lower theatre is the larger of the two, seating up to 350 spectators and offering tiered seating for unrestricted viewing. ‘Upstairs’ offers a capacity for up to 120 and seating is generally unreserved.
Further drawing on the idea of accessible art for all, ‘Downstairs’ was deliberately intended to be a democratic space. It has no good or bad seats, nor seats for the rich or poor, breaking down the idea of theatre and elitism and confirming what the MAC is all about.
Where is it?
The MAC is buried in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, situated in the central, chic Saint Anne’s Square. The building is surrounded by a cosmopolitan cocktail of award-winning restaurants, boutique stores and first-class hotels. Strolling around the historic cobbled streets, visitors to the MAC can easily encounter some of Belfast’s finest architecture, including Saint Anne’s Cathedral and other arts venues.
The venue is located at 10 Exchange St West, Belfast, BT1 2NJ, easily reached by many public transport routes.
There is 24-hour parking available at Saint Anne’s Square multi-storey car park, located on Edward Street adjacent to the MAC. It offers a special price of £3,50 for attending shows in the evening, normally costing £1.20 an hour during the day.
From Belfast centre, take the 218 or 219 bus to Ulster University Belfast Campus, which is a two minute walk away.
The closest railway stations are Yorkgate and Great Victoria Street, a 15 and 18 min walk away, respectively.
When is it Open?
The MAC is open daily from 10am- 6pm, 363 days a year. It sometimes closes later depending on their programme of events.
Where Can I Eat near the MAC?
NATIVE is the MAC’s onsite eatery and bar, open daily from 9.30am – 6pm. Kickstart your day at the award-winning breakfast venue, or snack your way through their all day menu. Dishes are created using locally-sourced ingredients; some are even homegrown such as their herbs and salads. The bar is a popular spot among visitors and its neighbours, quenching their thirst with NATIVE’s locally-brewed beers, ciders and spirits.
Just a stone throws away from the MAC lies this charming bistro, serving delicious fare amid the backdrop of the quaint and quirky Saint Anne’s Square. Salt is a great option to fill up before a show with their specialised two or three course pre-theatre menu. Adorning local artwork on its walls, Salt perfectly draws on the quarter’s artistic vibes, providing casual, laid-back dining with a flair.
The Muddlers Club
Buried in the quarter’s backstreets, this uber-cool restaurant is only a three minutes’ walk from the MAC. The Muddlers Club takes its name from the secret gatherings that took place there more than two centuries ago, asserting the restaurant’s edgy side. Diners can experience pre-theatre-theatre as they watch chefs prepare their plates before their eyes, all made with handpicked produce and accompanied by carefully selected wines and cocktails. Try their notorious Tasting Menu for the best Irish ingredients.
A Hub for Art
The MAC has hung many famous works on its gallery walls in the past, including those of American pop-art king, Andy Warhol, Scottish figurative and landscape painter, Peter Doig, and Belfast’s own critically-acclaimed contemporary artist, Paddy McCann. It constantly renews our artistic curiosity with new exhibitions, making them accessible for all with free admission.
Each year, MAC International takes place across the centre’s three galleries, giving artists from all backgrounds the chance to exhibit their work. The artist who makes the most impressive contribution can win the largest arts prize in Ireland: £20,000!
This year, MAC International takes place from 9th November 2018- 21st March 2019.
Beyond exhibitions, you can enjoy their frequent workshops, talks, film screenings and other events spanning different artistic disciplines.
Budding artists can participate in the MAC’s Hatch Programme, a scheme for helping new artists develop their skills and creativity. The programme includes a 12-month residency, where they can embark on various projects and performances, receiving guidance throughout their journey.
The MAC also invites established artists from Belfast and around the world to share their skills with the centre’s community and audiences. The Artist in Residence studio is designed as a tool for knowledge-sharing and inspiring collective collaboration, hoping to sculpt the region’s cultural scene.
The MAC is truly a centre of the community. It’s core mission is to disseminate the arts and put Belfast on the cultural map. It regularly reaches out through a series of projects, connecting with schools, young people and other members of its surrounding society.
The Arts Award programme targets those under the age of 25 years, developing their skills in leadership, communication and creativity via artistic and cultural exploration. The courses are accredited, and participants can receive nationally recognised qualifications at the end.
Alternatively, young folk aged 16-18 years can enrol in the MAC Youth Theatre, engaging in theatre-making and working alongside the centre’s professional artists to create new and original material for the stage.