Open Arts Community Choir
Open Arts Community Choir is inclusive. Ages range from seventeen to over seventy and people with physical disabilities, mental health difficulties and learning disabilities all sing together.
“I love the fact that our choir is inclusive. I know I belong and that means a lot to me.” Andrea, choir member
Beverly McGeown studied music at Queen’s University and after realising that there was no permanent inclusive choir in Belfast she knew she had to set one up. Open Arts Community Choir was founded in September 2000.
Open Arts Community Choir receive annual funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland but this doesn’t cover travel or touring, so each year they need to come up with new fundraising ideas. This involves a lot of creative thinking and honing the entrepreneurial skills of the group. There is a committee of six people who support Beverly in this all important process.
Activities such as busking at Christmas time have proved very successful in raising funds, the group can earn around £200 for two hours of singing in a busy shopping centre. A 2011 Gala Dinner held in honour of the 10th Anniversary of the choir raised £13,000 in table sponsorship, raffles and an auction.
“Personally, every year brings with it new challenges, new singers, new joys and new songs, so my life is ultimately enriched by being the MD of this choir” Beverly
With such an inclusive choir comes with a very specific set of challenges; access was a concern when searching for a rehearsal space but the choir found a home in The Divis Community Centre – a wheelchair-friendly hall with ample parking.
In the early days of the choir, the predominantly Nationalist area caused some of the Protestant singers to feel uncomfortable but this was very quickly overcome, testament to how singing can help people to transcend boundaries and barriers.
Open Arts Community Choir has always sought to maintain a high standard of choral singing and in 2005 began entering competitions. Their rendition of ‘Moon River’ in BBC’s ‘Last Choir Standing’ reduced judge Sharon D. Clarke to tears!
Beverley believes it’s very important for singers to have performance goals in order to keep them invested, engaged and committed to their singing. The choir average around 10 annual performances and they’ve even released two critically acclaimed albums – ‘Going Global’ and ‘Three’. The choir also compete in choral festivals all over the UK and Ireland, regularly scooping first prizes.
Without doubt though, the biggest success has to be that this amazing choir unites every section of the community through a shared love of song.
“The choir has meant so much to me and helped me through some very difficult times. I know that whatever I’m going through being at choir is a little haven from the craziness of life.” Breege
“I really love being in the Open Arts Community Choir. I always feel encouraged and have made so many friends. It means so much being part of a choir which is inclusive, no matter what background you’re from or disability you have.” Gareth
“Joining the Open Arts Community Choir has changed my life. It has given me wonderful opportunities to travel and I have met some wonderful people who have inspired me through music and song.” Margaret
Find out more about Open Arts Community Choir on their website.