Niall Ó Brolchain
Research Associate, Insight Centre for Data Analytics, NUI Galway
2020 will be remembered as a year when the way we live has changed irrevocably. Not as we expected, as a result of becoming the European Capital of Culture but because of Covid-19, and more particularly, the lockdown.
Mind you, it will probably go on for a while yet with fears of a second wave still evident but with real hope that the virus can somehow be contained as we get back to some sort of normality.
For now, our children have stopped going to school, many people have become unemployed, others like myself are lucky enough to be working from home, but that presents challenges. Social distancing has become the norm. Our public finances are in uncharted territory along with the world economy as a whole. We can treat this lockdown as a disaster or we can treat it as a possible chance for a new beginning.
'If the Government and employers continue to encourage working from home for those who can, there will be less cars on the road, less pollution, and more time for simply living'
On the positive side we have had time to reflect and adapt. In general our levels of stress have come down. In my case, I have enjoyed walking and cycling down to Silver Strand without the cars. I have enjoyed getting to meet my neighbours (from a distance ) as we have walked along our local roads each evening through lack of many other options. Many people have enjoyed a more natural, greener lifestyle, as we burn up more calories and far less carbon.
I have found it difficult though, to adapt to working from home as the camaraderie of the University is something I sorely miss. However, as things have settled down I have found that I am actually able to get more work done. I’ll be honest and say I prefer real meetings to those on Zoom or Skype, but as people have started adapting to online meetings, I have started wondering if we could get used to them with many of us working from home more often.
I’d probably like to work from home three or four days a week and I suspect this would suit many other people in Galway too. If the Government and employers continue to encourage working from home for those who can, there will be many benefits. Less cars on the road, less pollution, less car parking spaces needed, less office spaces required, and more time for simply living.
In truth, I’d like to see a simpler Galway, a healthier Galway, a cleaner Galway and a greener Galway. Is this possible? I think we have proved it could be.
Mayor of Galway and Independent councillor for Galway City Central
Many people have realised a newfound community spirit among their neighbourhood. I have seen many socially distanced events on green spaces within estates such as musicians entertaining people.
These are fantastic to see and something I hope will continue. As we address the serious issues of rebuilding our local economy and tourism sector, I would hope that the extra community effort that has been evident will remain.
I think we need to change our work/life balance for the good. Many of us, myself included, are guilty of not spending enough time with family or friends. Over recent weeks when we have been restricted in who we meet and where we go this has become increasingly evident for me.
'Working from home has become a new way for many. It has shown that some industries can operate remotely without affecting productivity.
We have a thriving arts industry in Galway and were set to showcase many amazing individuals throughout 2020. Galway is looked upon as a leader in the industry and can become the shining beacon of hope that is needed. By working together with all stakeholders we can adapt performance spaces, create imaginative outdoor events, and rebuild this amazing industry.
Working from home has become a new way for many, myself included. If there are to be positives from Covid-19 it has shown that some industries can operate remotely without affecting productivity.
I believe the Government should look to support any business that adapts to this new model. It can have a huge benefit for a person’s mental wellbeing as they are not sitting in traffic; clear benefits for the environment with less air pollution; and save on childcare costs for families. We must however incentivise businesses to make this change, which in turn, will greatly benefit the environment.
Cycling infrastructure must be improved. In an environment with less cars, people are more willing and confident to cycle. We must support that as a council. Work has been on-going on footpath repairs and this must continue. Many areas needed repair prior to Covid-19 to ensure those with a disability or visual impairment were able to navigate our city safely so this work must continue to be a priority.
We need to open up our streetscape. In the hospitality sector, we have bars, restaurants, and coffee shops who will struggle to maintain a business with social distancing. I believe at agreed times we need pedestrianised areas such as Woodquay and Dominick Street to allow for street furniture and an outdoor atmosphere to develop.
Granted we are not as lucky with the weather as others, but I believe this is a conversation we need to have with this industry, and residents in affected areas, to make sure we can support businesses which otherwise are on the brink. We have a duty to legislate for the required changes, but communication is crucial.
Artistic director, Galway International Arts Festival
Approximately 12,000 cultural events have been cancelled in Ireland so far this year making a huge impact on the personal and professional lives of the cultural sector with the loss of millions of euros for the economy.
The value of the arts has never been so evident as it has been during the last few weeks. We have turned to the arts for solace, comfort, and entertainment. Our Taoiseach has drawn on the words of Seamus Heaney; the HSE has used the poetic words of our esteemed President, Michael D Higgins, for its ‘Hold Firm’ campaign; we have listened to our favourite music and reread our favourite books; watched online theatre and performance; exhausted Netflix and other streaming services, and the world became obsessed with Normal People.
I have missed the magic of live performance more than ever. As I write I am thinking of two of our Festival productions which would have commenced rehearsals this week, premiered in Galway in July, with plans in place to tour the world later this year.
The arts are the heartbeat of Galway and part of the social, economic, and cultural DNA running through our veins. They are an integral part of the fabric of the nation, providing so much work and opportunity for artists, producers, crew, and the wider creative sector.
Galway is a fantastic city to live and work. We are surrounded by a beautiful landscape and the sea. We have a thriving food culture, the best bars, small independent businesses, smart and savvy young entrepreneurs, a vibrant tech industry, and of course the arts. It is no wonder the city was voted as the preferred place to visit this summer in a tourism survey released this week. We need to be supportive of each other as we navigate our way through this Covid-19 world.
'The arts need to retain its central role in Irish life by contributing to a national recovery beyond Covid-19. Festivals are about bringing people together. We need that now more than ever.
The world has enjoyed a pause, a time for reflection, albeit amidst a traumatic time and loss. For many there has been more time to spend with our families, to appreciate what we have. We have learned to show patience, kindness, appreciation, and consideration. As the country slowly reopens, and let’s hope with continued caution, we need to retain empathy and be kinder to one another.
We need to reinvent and be creative in how we remerge as a cultural industry, we are a creative people but we cannot do this alone. We need the support of Government, local authorities, and the Arts Council as we take the time to reimagine how we make work and encourage audiences back into theatres, venues, and galleries. We need to ensure Ireland’s cultural sector is able to thrive and survive.
In Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival was founded out of the turmoil of World War II to provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit. If ever we needed to elevate the mood of our nation, now is the time.
We have a collective responsibility as a nation to retain one of the key elements of what makes us unique. The arts need to retain its central role in Irish life by contributing to a national recovery beyond Covid-19. Festivals and the arts are about bringing people together, creating that heightened sense of magic when artists and audience unite. We need that now more than ever.