IN JUNE, a pilot scheme will begin which could have huge, and very positive ramifications for Galway's music scene, local musicians, and particularly young people, when a rehearsal space opens in the Nuns Island Theatre.
The pilot scheme is a collaboration between The Galway Music Artists Group and the Galway Arts Centre, which runs the Nuns Island Theatre, and will trial run the idea of how a community orientated rehearsal space for use by musicians primarily, but also theatre groups, and other arts organisations.
The experience of this pilot scheme will then be used as a basis for the GMAG’s ultimate aim - securing a permanent rehearsal space for Galway, a facility sorely, and noticeably, lacking in a city with a high reputation for the arts.
The lack of facilities
The driving force behind the campaignis Eoin Dolan [pictured above], the acclaimed Galway singer-songwriter, whio is also a youth worker with Foróige, and who has also set up an online petition as part of the campaign for such a space.
“Going back a couple of years there was The Forge rehearsal space, and that was a great resource,” Eoin tells me during our Monday afternoon interview. “You had two practice spaces, the owners were very kind, and it met a need, but the space has since closed and there is now a vacuum.”
'With Covid, sport mobilised to get their practice facilities and games going again. With the arts, everyone is off doing their own thing, so it’s important we come together'
Eoin was approached by a number of young musicians enquiring about rehearsal spaces, and began looking to see what was available. However he was “shocked” by the lack of such facilities. “I started looking at this issue, and what’s available in other parts of the country,” he said. “In Derry, there is The Nerve Centre, which is community centred, and it would be great to have something like that in Galway.”
Eoin, along with fellow singer-songwriter David Boland (aka New Pope ), then carried out a survey of Galway musicians to see if there was interest in setting up a community rehearsal facility. “After that things happened quickly,” he said.
Nuns Island pilot project
Eoin approached the city arts officer, James Harrold (“He has been very helpful and supportive” says Eoin ), after which the board of the Galway Arts Centre got in touch. “They said, ‘Let’s see what can be done’, and put me in touch with Andrew Flynn [pictured above], who is over the Nuns Island Theatre. He understood the issue straight away.”
The rehearsal space pilot project will take place over three weeks in June, and see “blocks of days” given over to artists needing to rehearse - despite the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the ‘outdoor summer’ of 2021 may include a number of open air shows and performances, hence the need for a rehearsal space to open soon.
Throughout those three weeks, the rehearsals will be filmed and recorded. At the end of the summer, this material will then be presented to the Galway City Council, along with the petition, as part of a package to show why such a facility is needed, the model it will work under, and how it can be made to work.
“My main concern is for young people to have access to these spaces, especially with a population that’s growing,” says Eoin. “It will be drug and alcohol free, and the need for such spaces for young people is very important. When it comes to sports, such needs are catered for, and that’s as it should be, but when it comes to the arts, there is an attitude of people being consumers of it, rather than creators of it.”
Eoin describes the Covid-19 pandemic as “a big wake-up call” in terms of this issue, and contrasts the experiences of sport with the experiences of the arts in this regard.
“With Covid, sport mobilised to get their practice facilities and games going again,” he says. “With the arts, everyone is off doing their own thing, so it’s important we come together and ask, ‘What do we need?’ Most artists are not going to be commercially successful, so it’s about providing particular supports.”
Why the facility is needed
The lack of a rehearsal space is keenly felt by Galway musicians, but why is such a facility so important? “Different artists create for different reasons,” says Eoin. “Some people are going on tour and need to rehearse and prepare. Others are getting ready to record an album, but it is also about people who just want to get together and play, or just make something for the sake of it.
“It’s the same with people playing football. Some do it professionally, others are just having a kick-about. The difference is, they have the facilities, but right now, artists do not, so it’s about getting that space.
'There needs to be more of a discussion between the local authority and what artists need, as opposed to what other people think artists need'
“On a personal level I know what that’s like. There were shows recorded for streaming at the Róisín Dubh and The Black Gate, which were great to have during the lockdown, but when it came to preparing for them, I had nowhere to go. It’s not ideal preparing for a show in a small apartment, and if you are a loud band you’ll disturb the neighbours, and there will be problems with noise levels. This is why such a space is needed.
“Playing sport releases endorphins, as does playing music, especially with other people, and there is plenty of evidence for this. It also helps develop empathy, and that's important for young people. The majority of my friends are people I have met through music and that’s the same for others as well. We hear a lot about mental health and what can we do, so here is a practical step that can be taken.”
Towards the future?
While no space for a permanent rehearsal facility has been identified yet, Eoin says the issue is more around how such a space would be run, rather than where it is located.
“If we get the model right, we can replicate the model,” he says. “It’s about developing a good relationship with Galway City Council. It’s ridiculous we don’t have a space, and this would be a win-win for everybody.
“Someone could set up a private, commercial space, and that would be fine, but there is an onus on local government to do the same for the arts. There needs to be more of a discussion between the local authority and what artists need, as opposed to what other people think artists need. We are trying to challenge that mindset. Both can co-exist - the higher end stuff with the more on the ground, where a small budget could meet artists needs for a year.”
To sign the petition for a community rehearsal space in Galway city, go to https://www.change.org/p/galway-city-council-a-community-rehearsal-space-for-music-artists-in-galway.