Factotum is an arts organisation or artists' project that was formed in 2001 by Stephen Hackett and Richard West, who both wanted to create projects outside conventional exhibition spaces or formats. The first Factotum work was a video piece called 'Bottletops', which consisted of still photographs taken around Belfast with comic explanatory captions. This was animated (unintentionally) in such a way that the captions changed before the viewer had time to read them. This work was premiered at a book launch in Catalyst Arts in 2001. It was subsequently lost, though a copy of it may exist in Northern Spain.
An early ambition was to publish a free newspaper but with no resources early projects concentrated on a (less expensive) series of guided tours of central Belfast called 'What's He Building in There?' and contemporary dance pieces, for which the organisation was very proud to receive a nomination for the Belfast City Council Arts Awards. Just as it seemed Factotum was destined to express itself entirely through the medium of dance, the opportunity arose to design and generate editorial for a community newspaper called Citywide. This newspaper appeared to have arisen by accident as it was published by a charity mostly concerned with the care of the elderly and run by a Canadian woman who would have to return to her home country once her visa ran out. In 2003 Factotum volunteered to take over the running of the paper (and its generous grant from the Department of Culture) and modified its name to The Vacuum (it's Citywide). Also in January 2003 Factotum completed its first large project, a book and CD package called Belfast Songs, which was launched with a jukebox jury event to decide the audience's favourite song about the city.
The Vacuum continued to appear monthly until April 2004 when a fire consumed North Street Arcade the home of Factotum's office and a number of other organisations. This fire was started deliberately and completely gutted the building, no one has ever been charged with the arson. Following a brief interlude to establish a new place to work, it was decided to publish two issues simultaneously on the themes of God and Satan. Two weeks later, on 1 August, the City Council debated the contents of these papers with some councillors accusing Factotum of 'encouraging devil worshiping'. This started a process of debates through the Council, taking a number of months and culminating in the Council disregarding legal advice and demanding that Factotum apologise to them and the citizens of Belfast. In December of 2004, to lampoon the Council's demand, Factotum held a Sorry Day and published a special Sorry Issue of The Vacuum. A week later a judicial review of the Council's decision was started. This has since gone to the Court of Appeal.
Factotum received a boost in 2005 when it received a Paul Hamlyn Award and was then selected to participate in Northern Ireland's first showing at the Venice Biennale. December 2005 saw the most recent collaboration between Factotum and the gallery Belfast Exposed with the exhibition 'The English'. In 2006 The Factotum Choir performed for the first time at the opening of an exhibition at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin. The Factotum Choir and The Vacuum continue to be core activities and future exhibitions and performances are also planned.