Over 350 guests gathered digitally last night to celebrate the Arts & Business NI Awards 2021, in partnership with Forestside, in an immersive online ceremony. Arts & Business NI recently announced Forestside as its new sponsor, as part of a 3-year agreement, having been generously sponsored by Allianz for the past 14 years.

The ceremony celebrated the rich creativity and inspiring partnerships of the past 18 months, between the worlds of business and the arts here in Northern Ireland.

The Arts & Business NI Business of the Year Award 2021 and the Arts & Business NI Arts Organisation of the Year Award 2021 were among the key awards presented on the evening. The Arts & Business NI Business of the Year Award 2021 went to Connswater Shopping Centre, with the judges noting the diversity and scale of the creative partnerships the centre had delivered over the past 18 months with its arts partners. The Arts & Business NI Arts Organisation of the Year Award 2021 was won by Cahoots NI, who were praised for the ‘innovative and visionary approach to how they work with business’ and how they successfully re-imagined their existing business model in the midst of a pandemic. This Arts Award comes with a cheque from principal sponsor Forestside for £3,000.

Ray Giffen from The Duncairn won the Arts & Business NI Arts Innovator of the Year Award 2021 for his incredible leadership and pioneering approach in translating the offering of his arts organisation to digital platforms, whilst still ensuring the integrity of the work shone through.

The Forestside Choice Award, launched for 2021, recognised the work of a stand-out arts organisation and was won by Portico of Ards, including a cheque from Forestside for £1,000.

Speaking about the Awards, Lee Cutler, Centre Manager of Forestside, commented:

“What a fantastic night we had despite all of the COVID challenges around running an event like this. The A&BNI team did an amazing job, as ever, of putting the spotlight on some of the best collaborations between Arts & Business in the last year across NI. Forestside are proud to be this year’s sponsor and feel this is a critical tool in encouraging organisations to be brave and move forward from what has been an unprecedented 12 months of change and challenge.”

The awards pieces were created by four printmakers from Seacourt Print Workshop: Merve Jones, Steph Harrison, Nathalie Caleyron Donnelly and Jess Hollywood. The artists produced original prints responding to the theme of living through COVID-19. You can view the artwork and learn more about the artists here. To view and purchase work from the artists of Seacourt Print Workshop, click here.

In addition to financial support for the Arts, business people who volunteer their time and advice to support the Arts were also acknowledged in the ceremony with two categories. The winner of the Inspirational Trustee Award was Rosie Timoney, who joined Bruiser Theatre Company as a voluntary board member through the A&BNI Young Professionals on Arts Boards Programme, stepping up to chair the board and navigate them through the challenges of COVID. The Above & Beyond Award, created for 2021, acknowledged an individual in the business sector who has not only actively engaged with the arts sector, but gone above the call of duty to assist arts organisations in 2020. This was awarded to Peter McVerry of U105 who lent his voice of support to the campaign to secure £33m, allocated to the NI arts, culture and heritage sector, supported the BuyArtNI Campaign for Christmas 2020 and stepped into the role of media partner for Belfast Children’s Festival in 2021.

Two additional Awards were created for 2021, in acknowledgement of the unprecedented year before. These were the Mental Heath & Wellbeing Award and the Arts & Business NI Choice Award: Best Response/Adaptation to the Pandemic. The latter award celebrated an organisation who developed a creative product to address increased pressure on mental health and wellbeing as a result of the pandemic: this was awarded to Place to Wonder & Heron Bros. The Arts & Business NI Choice Award was won by Belfast Exposed, who have creatively adjusted their business offering to meet the needs of their audiences in a digital and remote world.

Mary Nagele, CEO of Arts & Business NI commented:

“After a challenging year for the arts and business sectors alike, it was wonderful to come together last night to celebrate the incredible partnerships of the past 18 months. Arts & Business NI strongly believe that it is strategic and pioneering collaborations like those we saw last night, which will be pivotal in building back better as we move into the post-pandemic economic recovery.”

Event partners included principal sponsor Forestside, venue partner The MACThird Source AVWhitenoise and Remo. There were two keynote addresses on the evening, given by Liam Hannaway, newly appointed Chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Board, and Deirdre Hargey, Minister for the Department of Communities. The night was filled with surprises and diverse entertainment, provided by Maria McManus from QuotidianAndersonstown Traditional & Contemporary Music SchoolTRUClara KerrKyron BourkeRoss Anderson-Doherty,Helen HallDJ Venus Dupree and the puppetry talents of Paul Currie.

Following her keynote address as part of the Awards ceremony, Deirdre Hargey, Minister for the Department of Communities said:

 “I am delighted that the Arts & Business Annual Awards Ceremony has been able to go ahead this year. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and showcase the partnerships that have developed over this very difficult year and I believe it is important to recognise these partnerships. The Arts play a fundamental role in all of our lives, now perhaps more than ever and as we move forward there is a real imperative for us all to look at how we work together to secure a  strong and culturally rich future.”

Other Awards presented on the evening included the Brand Storytelling Award (Winner: Cahoots NI & The Junction, Highly Commended : Cinemagic & Bank of Ireland), Creative Community Engagement Award (Winner: Prime Cut Productions & Clanmil Housing, Highly Commended: Cinemagic & George Best Belfast City Airport), New Sponsor Award (Winner: Oh Yeah & Translink, Highly Commended: R-Space & Fusion Antibodies) and the Staff Engagement Award (Winner: Belfast Ensemble & Herbert Smith Freehills).

See the full shortlist, winners and shortlistees here.