Minister Humphreys was not for turning.
Try as I might to cajole her into saying that in her heart of hearts she knows that Galway will be the rightful holder of the title Capital of Culture, Minister Heather Humphreys fought back the temptation to admit it.
One bid couldn't be treated any better than another. So she praised them all.
To be honest I hadn't expected the Minister to give any insight into the race that kicks off next week when the Galway 2020 Bid Book is stamped and squeezed through the letterbox of the post office on Eglinton Street. But on her whirlwind visit to the city last Friday, she certainly got a great idea of just what's happening here on the ground.
“Galway is a great city for the arts and culture. It is renowned for its culture and its approach to the arts. Galway is synonomous with the Arts all I can say is that I’m delighted I’m not on the assessment panel because all of the bids are great bids. It is an international assessment panel who will make the decision but I am very aware of the great work that has gone on here in Galway, in particular with the high level of consultation and reaching out to the public. They have been very inclusive in their approach and all I can say is I wish Galway well.
Minister Humphreys was in Galway last Friday to perform a series of duties in her cultural brief. But if she had been in any doubt at all that we are the Capital of Culture, this has to be shattered after a whirlwind morning which brought her to the university and then to the Picture Palace and and the Town Hall Theatre. Every footstep she took was into a pathway of cultural gold.
When she sat down with me at the House Hotel, she was just ut from a meeting with Lelia Doolan — no visit west for an Arts Minister can be deemed complete without a meeting with the feisty Lelia whose Picture Palace project is now in the home straight.
Minister Humphreys started out at NUI Galway where she launched their programme of commemoration for 1916. She told me that at this, she was most taken with the photograph taken a century ago outside the Town Hall showing the good and the great of irish cultiral and political society — an image only fully accurately captioned a year or two ago.
“What struck me about that picture was that almost half the people in that photograph were women. If you were to have such a picture now, if you were putting the same photograph today of Oireachtas members you wouldn’t get half as many women. In the interim, women seemed to have faded into the background in public life and a century later we are still passing legislation,” she said.
“It really is a very very impressive programme. The university has put a lot of thought into it and have engaged in a lot of consultation on it as well. Theyve gone outside the campus of the university to get the stories of the time. I was very interested in one of the elements of the commemoration entitled A Life Along The Border and as a native of Cavan Monaghan I would be very interested in what that would have to say.
“NUI Galway, as one of our foremost universities, will play a very important role in reflecting on the events of 1916 and the impact they had on the west of Ireland in particular. Our third level institutions are a vital element of next year’s commemorations; our universities in particular will provide a platform for discussion and debate for their students, staff, alumni, and indeed a national and international audience. I would like to thank NUI Galway for the strong partnership approach it has adopted in putting together this impressive programme for 2016, which includes one of the key national conferences to be held next year.”
As part of the Commemorative Programme, NUI Galway will host the major national academic 1916-2016 conference in November 2016, with academic contributions from a broad range of Ireland’s universities and institutes of technology as well as from a number of leading international figures.
The university has appointed a 1916 Scholar in Residence to co-ordinate and curate many of the events in the university’s Commemorative Programme. Based in the Moore Institute at the University, Dr Conor McNamara will conduct research on the 1916 Rising and its context in Co. Galway and the West of Ireland. He will prepare a catalogue of resources, in English and Irish, from the university’s archives and elsewhere, with a view to facilitating future research on the revolutionaries of 1916-23. Throughout the year, he will also engage with local community groups across the country, and assist with a planned exhibition marking Galway’s role in the Great War and the Irish Revolution.
Minister Humphreys acknowledged that public consultation and awareness raising were key parts of the 1916 commemorations, especially here in Galway where unknown to many, the largest mobilisation outside Dublin in Easter Week 1916 took place, when over 600 men and women rose. "Many dreamed of a Republic, others were motivated by the prospect of land reform. In previous years, however, those involved in the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish revivals saw the West in a more romantic light, as the repository of authentic Gaelic culture. This commemorative programme examines the events of 1916 from a variety of perspectives at local, regional and national levels.”
Minister Humphreys was often a visitor to Galway in her time as an employee of Ulster Bank but when she was back as a Cabinet member on Friday, she was taken by the great energy of the city - an energy she feels will ensure it maintains its role as a cultural hub.
With this in mind, she was keen to engage locals in participating in the preparation of the Culture 2025 Discussion Document, and she met stakeholders at a meeting in the Town Hall Theatre.
This meeting is part of a series of regional meetings taking place to facilitate debate and discussion amongst stakeholders and interested parties in the arts and cultural sector. The meetings are being led by a Culture 2025 Discussion Document, which Minister Humphreys published in August.
“Culture 2025 will be Ireland’s first ever national cultural policy. If we want to protect and promote our unique and varied culture, and encourage new cultural forms to flourish, we need to aim high. Culture 2025 will set out high level aims for the next decade, and reflect the important role that culture plays in our lives.
“I hope Culture 2025 can help create a platform for bringing together the numerous local, regional and national cultural entities, so they can share best practice and look at new ways of working together. The high level document will be underpinned by the principle of upholding and supporting artistic freedom.
“The policy will also examine what challenges and opportunities are presented for culture in the digital age, and how the arts and culture can help to combat disadvantage. Ultimately, the development of our first ever cultural policy should be seen as an opportunity to increase participation in the arts across all strands of society.
“My department facilitated a colloquium of cultural stakeholders at the end of May, which informed the development of this Discussion Document. Now, we are holding a series of regional consultation meetings to spark discussion and debate on how we should shape Ireland’s first national cultural policy. I want this policy to be led by those involved in the sector, those who are passionate about the arts, and I am encouraging members of the public in Galway to make their views known.
“Through this discussion document we are posing a series of questions about how resources should be prioritised, how artists and creative workers should be supported, how access to culture can be improved in disadvantaged areas, and many other issues. I hope we will be in the position to publish the final policy in early 2016.”