New York students enjoy ‘fantastic welcome’ as they link up with The Mac in Belfast


A group of US students are in Belfast to learn about peace and reconciliation as part of a study abroad programme with the arts venue The MAC.

The students, from Purchase College, State University of New York, are majoring in playwriting, dance, visual art, music and screenwriting.

Thirteen young people travelled from New York for the programme which is facilitated over the course of four weeks and involves various talks, excursions, research projects, lectures, art exhibitions and theatre shows. By the end of the programme, the students will present their own piece of work which has been inspired by their Belfast experience.

Kira Topalian, Creative Learning Officer at the MAC, has worked closely with the group during their visit. She said: “We’re delighted to have this amazing group of people with us at the MAC and learning how they can use the arts as a tool for change through their own practice and vision. 

“Our study abroad programme demonstrates the transformative impact the arts can have on reconciliation and building peace in societies that have suffered from division.This impact is especially visible and poignant here, and part of our job in the MAC is to facilitate our artists, performers and creatives as they engage in shaping a post-conflict society.

“Expressions of hope, friendship, activism or even frustration can be found in our galleries, on our streets, in our homes and in many of the shared spaces where people gather to socialise, have fun, or share their experiences.

“We hope our visiting students from Purchase College enjoy their stay with us and learn about the powerful artistic resource we have in Belfast.”

Leah McCafferty, left, with Kira Topalian, Creative Learning Officer at the MAC, Peggy Stafford, Assistant Professor of Playwriting at Purchase College, and Jack Ward.

The group was taken on a guided tour of modern-day street art, as well as the more political and historic murals, as part of their experience. Local artist Kerrie Hanna joined the group from Purchase College to share their origins and the stories behind them, before facilitating an image-making workshop at the MAC.

Peggy Stafford, Assistant Professor of Playwriting at Purchase College, said: “Over the past couple of years I’ve been developing this study abroad trip with the MAC. I travelled across the Atlantic with 13 creative students who were both anxious and excited. Once we arrived we couldn’t have felt more welcome. The Mac has been a nurturing environment, providing for us a sense of community, belonging, and resiliency. 

“We’ve had meaningful conversations with artists, activists, peace builders, and citizens of Northern Ireland about the past, present and future, and the ways in which the arts have paved important paths toward peace. We’ve also had the opportunity to think about the role the arts play in shaping our perspective of social issues here and at home. ”

• For more information on the work of the MAC and its study abroad programme, visit