First Thought Talks - shining a spotlight on creativity

FROM MUSIC to dance, from theatre, street performances, to exhibitions of all kinds, the Galway Arts Festival is continually seeking innovative ways to engage with its ever expanding audiences, and this year is no exception with the new addition of the First Thought Talks series.

With 34 years of wowing audiences under its belt the Galway Arts Festival has expanded its programme to include First Through Talks in association with NUI Galway. This is a series of lectures, talks, panel discussions, and interviews which aims to explore the nature of creativity, and how creativity can be encouraged, progressed, and used to create what festival chief executive John Crumlish likes to call the “game changers”.

Regarding the idea behind First Thought Talks, Mr Crumlish explains: “We had a notion for a while that we wanted to start a debate on creativity, where creavity is in Ireland. We’re very fond of saying that we are a very creative and innovative people but the physical manifestations of that are not always as obvious to see, so we thought we would create a platform where people can talk about creativity. Galway is often described as a creative city, a cultural city, and we want to know how to explore that, and also how to move it on, how to become more creative, how to create the game changers who are the Steve Jobs of the future. Let’s face it, Ireland only needs one game changer and we’re back in business. So how do we create the conditions that allow us to recognise that we have game changers and what do we do with them in order to allow them to give the country what it needs.”

It was the success of Backstage At The Festival that really helped to develop the First Thought Talks idea. “The Backstage At the Festival was our first go at it, with the creators of the shows and exhibitions talking about their work. Last year Cillian Murphy and Enda Walsh did a backstage talk [following a showing of Misterman] and out of an audience of 450, there was a wait of about 20 minutes, and only eight people left. There was a queue outside with people wanting to get in for it. There was such a great appetitite for these talks and we thought we should develop it further,” he said.

The First Thought Talk series includes Jules Evans, policy director at the Centre for History of Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, who will be talking about his book Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations and looking at how ancient philosophy has inpsired and influenced modern therapy and how people use ancient philosophy as a way of life today. International speaker and adventurer, and founder of Kanchi (formerly the Aisling Foundation ), Caroline Casey, will be speaking on the importance of creativity in entrepreneurship and tackling the challenges we face as a society. The author of The Rest Is Noise and Listen to This, Alex Ross, will be holding a talk with the interesting title of Pale Vampire: Wagner’s Influence on Joyce. As well as taking to the stage at the Festival Big Top, Chic front man Nile Rodgers will discuss his life and work with Jim Carroll of The Irish Times. Treading the boards in the play The Outgoing Tide with Northlight Theatre will be Tony Award winning actors, John Mahoney and Rondi Reed who will take time out to discuss their careers at a special event during the festival. A welcome addition to the First Thought Talk series is Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and president of the Mary Robinson Foundation, who will be holding a discussion with Finton O’Toole, assistant editor of The Irish Times and author. Mr O’Toole will also be hosting a conversation with playright Tom Murphy and artistic director of Druid, Garry Hynes. Also part of the series will be Trailblaze which will showcase ideas, people, and possibilities that are alive in Ireland today and which provides a platform for a variety of ‘trailblazers’ to share their experiences and inspirations.

“We’re really very excited by this,” says Mr Crumlish, adding: “All the talks are based around the concept of creativity and what it means in different places, whether you are the director of emotional reseach in London or you are Alex Ross, who has written probably the definitive book on classical music in the 21st century, or you are Nile Rodgers who produced some of the greatest hits of the eighties and was Mr Eighties. They all have something in common, and that’s creativity. It is about giving a platform to discuss creativity, whether you are the genius that is Tom Murphy, discussing how he does what he does, or whether it is Mary Robinson talking about diaspora coming and going, and what this means for our creativity, what emigration does to the longer term development of a country economically, culturally, and socially. We want to develop First Thought Talks further and widen it out into IT, medicine, education. Our guess is that in order for people to get where they have to go they are encountering similar problems, to get through the creative process. We want to be part of that debate, spark something off and get people talking. Ultimately we’re going to have to ask what edge have we got, and that edge will be creativity.”

There are already big plans being made for the First Thought Talk series in 2013 and festival organisers will be keeping a close eye on this year’s series, taking stock of the reaction of speakers and audiences alike. Continually coming up with innovative ideas is part of the success of the Galway Arts Festival which remains the biggest arts festival in the country and is also a big player on the European arts stage with a significantly growing presence globally.

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