New Centenary Scheme to Support Northern Ireland’s Young Artists Announced

The Northern Ireland Office has unveiled a new creative mentoring programme to match aspiring young artists with experienced mentors in their field.

21 Artists for the 21st Century: A Centenary Cultural Mentorship Programme for Northern Ireland’ is part of the UK Government’s Centenary cultural programme, and aims to support Northern Ireland’s young talent.

The programme is open to young people aged 18-21. It will include both the creative and performing arts, and encompass the disciplines of music, poetry, art, drama, dance, animation, production, song writing, costume and set design.

The initiative will provide the opportunity for 21 young people from Northern Ireland to develop and advance their creative skills through a mentorship programme of workshops, coaching and wider business advice.

It will culminate in a showcase event in September 2021, where each pupil will have the opportunity to display a piece of work as part of an exhibition, showcasing their talent to an international audience.

The programme is endorsed by Northern Ireland actor Sir Kenneth Branagh. Three members of the mentoring team include freelance theatre director Emily Foran, musician Naomi Hamilton and actor Michael Patrick.

Announcing the scheme on Friday 23 April, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said: 

“‘21 Artists for the 21st Century’ is a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland’s young artists to further develop their skills and work with brilliant mentors to help them take their careers to the next level. I would like to thank Sir Kenneth Branagh, one of Northern Ireland’s finest actors, for his support of the programme.

“Northern Ireland is well known for its vibrant culture of arts and I know the past year has proved to be a very difficult time for everyone working in the industry, due to Covid-19. That is why, as part of our Centenary cultural programme, we want to support and recognise the contribution of Northern Ireland’s young people to this important sector. I encourage young arts professionals to apply.”

Praising the initiative, BAFTA and Emmy-winning Northern Ireland actor Sir Kenneth Branagh said: 

“For younger artists, the advice and support of more experienced colleagues can be an invaluable resource. 

“I know from experience how much I gained from working alongside such inspirational figures as Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi (to name but two) at the beginning of my own career.

“So I greatly welcome this imaginative programme, which will connect twenty-one young Northern Ireland artists across a range of creative disciplines with experienced mentors. ... I feel sure that this initiative will provide great encouragement to a new generation of emerging young artists in Northern Ireland and am pleased to offer it my support.”

Creative Director of the programme, David Grant, Senior Lecturer in Drama at Queen’s University, Belfast, said:

“Northern Ireland has a great track record of encouraging its creative talent as I know from my own experience with the Lyric, the Ulster Youth Theatre and as a drama lecturer at Queen’s. 

“The 21 Artists programme builds on that tradition, and is especially welcome for those school leavers and recent graduates who have striven to stay creative during the pandemic and for the more established artists who will provide them with encouragement and guidance. 

“We know that their support will be especially valued at this challenging time for all those working in the arts.”