Catalyst Arts was formed in 1993 in response to what was seen as a cultural vacuum. It is Belfast’s primary artist-led organisation. In accordance with its constitution it is run by unpaid volunteers, and seeks to adopt a poly-vocal strategy towards the promotion of contemporary art practices by large selection of artists and projects from the widest possible range of disciplines.
Catalyst Arts is always a gallery, but has also been a 24 hour cinema, a recording studio, a publishing house, a skip, a radio station, a jumble sale, a wrestling ring, a sauna, a distillery, an agnostic chapel, a banquet hall, a darts team, a leisure centre, a night club and most recently a shop.
Beyond its gallery walls, it has staged exhibitions on billboards, on gable ends, under floor boards, in a clothes shop, in the back of a van, car and a bus, on the airwaves, under the Lagan, in an airport baggage scanner, up a mountain, down the Falls, up the Shankill, over in Lisbon (not in Lisburn), in a helicopter, in an archive, in a museum, and in a haunted house. Working for Catalyst has been likened to handling a hot potato, holding onto the mane of a stampeding lion, a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride, running the gauntlet, a crash course in crisis management and a baptism of fire for those who believe in it enough to take the risk. It has accidentally shut down Stormont, been robbed, beaten and sued, has had to move four times and amazingly, it has survived through the madness of over eighty directors to date.
Now in its 25th year, it has reached the age of reason, is determined to stand up to adversity, conventional perceptions of what contemporary art should be, to socio-political correctness and the ever more stringent policing of freedom of expression. All these are objectives only a (possibly troubled) twenty-something would be brave enough to tackle. Although chronically under-funded, Catalyst Arts is probably best known for challenging the formal structures of curatorship by realising projects of an experimental nature which break the mould of the artist-audience relationship and confirming art as something to engage in or react to rather than something to “consume”. This is underscored by the fact that Catalyst runs the oldest biennial performance art festival in Europe. It also continues to showcase individual and groups of artists selected under the current directorship. During its 25 years of existence Catalyst Arts has hosted over a thousand artists, spanning continents, notoriety and stages in artistic career.
The most important factors about Catalyst are that it is non-profit and a members-based organisation to whom the present committee is responsible to. Catalyst Arts welcomes anyone who wishes to get involved by volunteering their help, sending in proposals for exhibitions / projects and most importantly by applying to become a director. A directorship lasts two years only, in order to ensure Catalyst remains vibrant with new energy, never learns from its mistakes and thus completely avoids stagnation.