Saturday, 11 July 2009

We Galwegians are divorced from the Galway Arts Festival, but want to love it again!

Everyone hates a whinger who comes out with the same knocking copy each year. Yet once again I find myself looking ahead to the Galway Arts Festival with a mixture of excitement, hurt and sadness.
I couldn’t pin down exactly why, until I read in this Noble Rag a few weeks ago an interview with Noeline Kavanagh, the Director of this year’s Macnas Arts Festival Parade.
“Macnas is like the largest divorcee in Galway.” she said. “Everybody has a relationship with it.”
There it was: replace the word ‘Macnas’ with ‘Galway Arts Festival’, and that’s how I feel. We Galwegians used to be married to the Galway Arts Festival. We lived in the same place, loved each other, had our ups and downs of course, but generally knew that we were good together. These days, the people of Galway feel so divorced from the Galway Arts Festival, they can barely remember what it was like to love it.
I want us to renew our vows. I want the Galway Arts Festival to ask us to move back in; to woo us; love us; kiss us and lick us the way it used to.
I’m not sitting here on my voluptuous arse trying to diss that plethora of extremely talented people who put a vast amount of creativity and energy into the two week splurge.
I think they do a fantastic job, but somewhere along the way the whole affair was lost.
I talk to a lot of people, and at the moment the word on the street is that shows are simply too expensive. To be fair, I don’t think that price is the single biggest factor in the decline of the Galway Arts Festival. There are many cheaper happenings in this year’s programme than other years, but through their pricing policy we glimpse how badly the Galway Arts Festival has lost touch with the people of Galway.
I wanted to see the New York Dolls, Femi Kuti and Primal Scream, for which I would pay €112, to stand at all three gigs. But what really made me angry was the fact that if I was on the dole, I’d still have to pay €110 for those three tickets.
For god’s sake, get real, Arts Festival people! Are you trying to intimidate the poor with art? Do you want us once again to believe that art exists only for the affluent élite? Isn’t that the opposite of what the Galway Arts Festival once stood for?
Climb out of your ivory towers and take a look at how many of us have been laid off, or are just plain broke. Cop on to the fact that a night out which starts with a pair of tickets at €90 belongs to a dream of a Galway past, and exists now as an insulting anachronism.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the Tiger is dead, and we’re trying to stay alive by picking mouthfuls from its rotten corpse.
We all have our personal beefs about what is wrong with the Galway Arts Festival.
Project 06 splendidly reminded us how vital it is to include local artists and performers, yet each year, the official word comes forth that the Arts Festival have pulled off another major success.
Trouble is, for years now, it hasn’t felt like a success to us, the people of this city. Let’s learn from the dazzling success of the Volvo Ocean Race. If the organisers of the Galway Arts Festival understand anything of Galway City at all, they know that you could take a burnt banana skin, mount it on top of a bus shelter, and advertise ‘The ‘Burnt Banana Skin On Top Of The Bus Shelter Festival - the biggest thing to hit Galway since last Tuesday Afternoon!’, and as long as the people of this great city were behind it, hundreds of thousands of people would flock to Galway, because we’re the finest hosts in the best city in the world to throw a party, where fun is free and family-oriented.
Don’t tell me a over a half a million people came to our little city to see a sail puff in the wind. They came because Galway is uniquely packed with brilliant, skilful and diverse talents. We’ll give you the time of your lives, as we do every year during Race Week, but the joy of Galway is on the streets.
Doubtless during the Galway Arts Festival, our city centre will be strewn with buskers and performers of all kinds, which is just as well, because this year’s Galway Arts Festival programme lists a paltry 2 street acts, performing in total 5 times on 3 different days.
Shame on you, Galway Arts Festival.
If this marriage is ever going to work again, you really need to listen, learn and understand that whereas 15 years ago we were all buzzed up and proud of you, now you appear like a distant lost relative who expects us to run around, cook, clean, sweat and serve whenever you turn up on our doorstep.
As for the 10.00pm start time of the Macnas Parade, I say again, shame on you!
Parents simply won’t want to expose small children to crushed hordes of drunken midnight revellers. I’m sorry, Noeline, because I understand what you are trying to achieve with your segmented parade that tells a story, but who is entertaining who here?
You don’t see the purpose in “walking along with a rail of images that snake through the streets”?
Well, let me enlighten you. The purpose of the Macnas Parade is to say ‘Thanks!’ to the people of Galway with a dazzlingly fun and colourful event that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. If you are with Daddy at Spanish Arch and Mammy is in Shop Street with Granny, you’ll all see the same parade and later share your thrills and joys: it’s what they call a ‘communal event’.
Do I have any positive suggestions? Why yes! In order to save this sick marriage between the Galway Arts Festival and the people of Galway City, first quadruple the free street theatre; return the Parade to the afternoon; and offer a hefty price concessions on all tickets sold to locals, upon production of a locally-addressed utility bill.
Then we might learn to love you again, and put the best of Galway - the fun, family and free - back into our own Arts Festival.


Paz said...

great article, agree 100% with you. Galway people would be at the opening of a letter if they got the chance

Charlie Adley said... well as all the others that love to come to Galway for the craic!

thanks Paz - I've had a great response by email too - always good to know you're touching the nerve....

Miles O' Tool said...

Well said. The Arts Festival stopped being fun many years ago but very few people will say it out loud. The Emperors clothes have become a bit seethrough.

I think the problem is that it has become an "important" event on the Arts circuit. We are putting on stuff that is "worthy". Many people involved in the arts take themselves very seriously indeed. Read the letters page of the Free Thursday Paper (between the ads for furniture sales) where worthies squabble over semantics.

Instead of the "Galway Arts Festival" we now have the "Arts Festival which happens to be in Galway". The local worthies try to impress the other worthies with their worthiness. We have ended up with a homogenous event that could be transplanted anywhere else.

Put the Galway back into the festival, bring back the free events, some of the old ones were a bit crappy but we forgave them because they were our own.

I await the programme with anticipation every year, some events in the past were magnificent, the Harlem Gospel Choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, Els Comediantes...

Ni fheicimid a leitheid ann aris.

Charlie Adley said...

Too right Miles - for many years I've written in the papers that we used to be a festival city, and now we're just a city with a festival.


Gary McMahon said...

"Well, let me enlighten you. The purpose of the Macnas Parade is to say ‘Thanks!’ to the people of Galway with a dazzlingly fun and colourful event that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. If you are with Daddy at Spanish Arch and Mammy is in Shop Street with Granny, you’ll all see the same parade and later share your thrills and joys: it’s what they call a ‘communal event’."
Hate to disagree with you but the purpose of the Macnas is not, and never has been, to say thank you to the people of Galway. Why should it be? Thanks for what?
The purpose of the Macnas Parade each year should be about the public expression of either an individual or collective artistic idea.
It's purpose is not the creation of some civic feel-good feeling.
Macnas is, or at least should be, an artist-led company creating spectacle on a grand scale. If people, including kids, feel good after experiencing the Macnas Parade - great but we're in the realm of unintended consequences here. Plenty of Macnas Parades over the years had the distinct notion of critiqueing the way Galway was or was headed.
It's why Macnas is an arts company in an Arts Festival - not a circus participating in a civic celebration.
Gary McMahon

Charlie Adley said...


Of course you're right, as far as art and art's function is concerned, but I was writing as a Galwegian and not an art critic.

As such, I am right too, because that's what I feel, and that's what people who live here tell me on the streets every day.

Macnas is a wonderful organisation that has given us Galwegians so much pleasure and wonder over the years, and it can and must do whatever it pleases. But all creative people and organisations run a risk of appearing arrogant and dismissive of their audience.

Gary McMahon said...

"As such, I am right too, because that's what I feel,"
No, you're wrong.
You have, of course, the right to feel as you do but you're expectation of both an entertainment from Macnas and a re-visiting of a (fictional, past) Festival full of free events (never the case) is not right, ie is wrong.
The festival and Macnas should challenge their audiences not just give them what they think theý've had before.
If that's perceived as arrogant, well, cést la vie.

Charlie Adley said...

Gary - your point is both arrogant and fair, an argument well made.

If the festival did really challenge us, beyond extra traffic, that'd be truly great.

As far as the old festival, the free events and the positive effect it had on this city and its people, I have colyoom inches of newspaper turned sepia extolling its praises.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts - it's good to have a lively debate, because it does matter.


Miles O Tool said...

Well I feel so humble! There was I thinking that Macnas was a home for crusties and unemployable students giving the poor eejits a chance to prance around galway in scary costumes and bang drums off beat.

All of these years I've been witnessing art (sorry, Art) on a grand scale. And I just thought it was a few chancers having seen visiting groups at early festivals and thinking "I could do that". Amn't I the Philistine!

Just as well that I'm not on the money dispensing side of the Arts Council. €470K for the new "home". Who paid for the site? How much sonsorship and patronage from local councils and business?

No, why should we want thanks? We should just want Macnas to express themselves and indeed be grateful if we are accidentally entertained along the way.

Please enlighten us some more, Sir. Tell us why Art in these beleagured times has no responsibility to make us feel good.

Gary McMahon said...

In theory, I still think I'm right; in practice, Miles might have a point after all:

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Having been involved creatively with many events I would love to support Macnas. I nearly volunteered but was warned off - it seems rightly. Macnas is about to disappear up it's artistic backside.

Performance art will always be about entertainment & as we pay for it, we deserve to be entertained. How many of the spectators watched the parade & marveled at the artistic interpretation of Pan ?. How many even had a clue what the "theme" was ?. Macnas have a choice like all other entertainers -entertain or starve.

Throughout history artists have had to please their paymasters. We, at Court, are not amused. Instead of a 10pm summer parade lets have a 7pm Halloween parade ending in a communal bonfire & fireworks. That would be a real community event but .......would it be "Art" darlings !.

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks galwayguy. Good to hear from someone with experience of performance.

I can't help thinking of a Macnas afternoon parade years back, about Noah and the Flood, watching a giant God squirting water at schoolchildren from his giant Godlike fingertips. It was understood by all. It was art. It was Art. It was fun and it made us feel special and lucky to be Galwegians.