Through four decades, the Arts Festival has shaped Galway

Pictured at the launch last evening Paul Fahy ( artistic director), artist Kady Berry and John Crumlish chief executive. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Pictured at the launch last evening Paul Fahy ( artistic director), artist Kady Berry and John Crumlish chief executive. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

I love the smell of the Galway International Arts Festival programme.

Maybe I should be ashamed to say that I caress it before I read it. I sniff it. I inhale it.

Maybe it’s to do with the fact that I’m a hack from the days of print and lead and when you could smell the words as they lay newborn on a fresh clean page.

But the Arts festival programme seems to be printed with an ink that acts as a sign of times ahead.

I think back to the days studying the science of semiotics when the Signifier and the Signified were explained to us.

The Signifier was something that suggested something else.

The Signified was that which the Signifier suggested. Together, they created meaning.

For me, the Galway International Arts Festival programme is the signifier, as the mere sight of it, the mere smell of it creates a concept of summer, warm July evenings, with the sun setting and its dying embers turning the faces of all orange, as they gasp openmouthed at whatever wondrous piece of performance the festival has brought to us.

This year the Festival marks four decades of art and culture and to see the people who were involved in the first years, you would think that the time that had passed was just four months or four years. They are kept fresh faced by the pursuit, age cannot wither them when their souls are so full of desire to produce and create something for us all to share in.

For me, the Festival brings us kicking and screaming to a frenzy of delight before the city flips itself on the head and gets ready for the Galway Races. It is as if the people with the hummus in their hands and the patches on their tweed jackets blowing airkisses suddenly turn themselves inside out and transform themselves into the racing punter squeezed into a confirmation suit with a copy of the Racing Post sticking out of his arse pocket.

Of course for those who work in the Galway International Arts Festival, it must be so different, they know all year what they are trying to capture for Galway. The endless treks to see shows, to watch DVDs to worry about the logistics of how something will work if it turns out to be a wet evening in July rather than the sunny picture I am creating. They too must work at the whim of the promoters who can use Galway as a stopping off point on a trek to Europe.

This week, President Higgins, who will no doubt coincide attending Festival events with Galway United matches, said that for its four decades the Galway International Arts Festival has reminded us that the arts are a crucial vehicle for citizen participation and that good artistic work is an essential part of being human. The festival has enabled the showcasing and appreciation of such artistic work, in the process broadening and deepening Ireland’s international reputation as a country and a people defined by its artistic work and enriched by its inventive, creative and original people.

The festival is all that and more however, as through its continuation it has helped create the perception that abounds of Galway.

And in order to do that it has graduated into long trousers and sprung wings and now has productions travelling internationally, so that the brand of the festival travels far, makes new friends and this all helps to make the core event all the stronger.

There is no doubt but that were it not for the Festival, Galway would not have the image it has, and this was crucial in securing us the 2020 title last summer.

In ten year’s time, the Festival will be 50. In two year’s time, the Advertiser will be 50. It is a noble age, and one that has seen both institutions straddle the city as it grew from a town into a place where people are allowed to imagine.

I spoke at the Best of Galway awards about the importance of Galway retaining its difference, because through difference we make choices. Now, the word Galway alone is one of those aforementioned Signifiers — it draws an instant picture of a place where expression is encouraged, where we hope inclusion is maximised. And these are two goals that we must improve on again and again.

The Galway International Arts Festival has created an image of Galway, but to make it an ideal one, we must all be allowed to participate, to enable people to feel welcome and free to create.

And it must allow people like me the freedom to go on sniffing Festival programmes.

Well done to John and Paul and the festival crew. The region looks forward to another exciting festival. Thank you and your team for making it so.

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