The Galley Café

The Barge/MV Confiance, Lanyon Quay, Belfast

Opened, May 2011 – Closed, September 2013

Largely as a result of partisan politics and the sectarian conflict, poor urban planning in Belfast throughout the 1990s and 2000s has led to a fragmented and segregated city, built with its back to the river.

Built as a response to this poor use of the river, and as a direct consequence of our previous House Hunt explorations, The Galley Cafe was a permanently moored cafe-bar-venue onboard a Dutch coal barge. We wanted to generate discussion about, and set a precedent for, other activity on and around the water.

We approached the project as we would the realisation of an exhibition or any site specific intervention. Researching and developing the concept, fundraising, designing and fabricating, selecting collaborators including a business partner, makers, artists and artisans. We commissioned and co-ordinated a 2 year programme - promoted poetry, participated in festivals, hosted discussions, wakes and weddings. The curatorial agenda was present in the quotidian through programming smaller elements, menus and music.

We had to fund this project privately, which raised a number of tensions for us theoretically and forced us to consider where we and the wider arts sector were placed in terms of private development and gentrification. We were the licence holders, the company directors, the employers, the bartenders, the artists.

The Galley Café was an attempt to dramatise certain dynamics and problems in the city. It was a means of bringing into focus the dysfunctions and opportunities in post-peace-process, post-crash Belfast. As progressive thinkers and problem solvers, artists have a valid and lasting role to play in the urban development of Belfast. The approach of taking a commercial enterprise and using it's language to re-imagine city space came directly from our background as curators and artists.

Edit: 2022
Today we would recognise this as a Placemaking project within a Regeneration agenda. In reality, at the time, it was a misunderstood public art project that struggled against the idea of itself and the proposed longevity/non pop up nature, of its intervention.