More than 200,000 people are expected to attend more than 200 events making up this month's Galway International Arts Festival, which marks its 40th anniversary in 2017
The festival, which opens on July 17 and runs until the end of the month, with performances, talks, and exhibitions in 26 venues across 14 days, is expected to at least match last year's festival, which generated €23.5 million for the local economy.
Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to the festival on its milestone anniversary. "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," he said. "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 was founded in 1977 by Ollie Jennings, with help from Mary Coughlan, Joe Boske, Ted Turton, and others. The first festival took place in 1978, from April 6 to12, and featured a headline concert from Graham Parker and The Rumour. It had a budget for €1,000, a grant donated from the Arts Council, and was described by Dickie Byrne in the Galway Advertiser as "Galway Arts Society’s Week of Craic".
Over the ensuing 39 years, the festival has contributed massively to placing Galway on the map, as both a key cultural centre for the arts and a cultural tourism destination. The largest ever ticketed attendance at a festival event was at The Big Day Out on July 28 1996, when 20,000 people packed Castlegar Sports Grounds to see Radiohead, The Bluetones, Neneh Cherry, The Cardigans, The Divine Comedy, and Ron Sexsmith.
The festival has also enjoyed a number of firsts. Enda Walsh’s first play Disco Pigs, starred Cillian Murphy in his first stage role, in the 1997 festival; the first time David Gray played to more than a thousand people was in the Festival Big Top in 1999; GIAF was also the first festival in Ireland to have its own website, launched in late 1992. It was inspired by Kenny’s Bookshop, the second bookshop in the world to have a website.
It has also founded and acted as a seedbed for a number of well-known and established arts organisations in Galway - Galway Film Fleadh, Baboró International Arts Festival for Children and Macnas all began as part of the arts festival. In 2014, the event rebranded as Galway International Arts Festival, to reflect its commitment to continually developing and producing new work, which tours internationally.
“The festival has come a long way in 40 years," said festival CEO John Crumlish. "That is down to the cast of thousands who have contributed so much along the way - all the festival employees, all the board members, the thousands of volunteers, our supporters, our audiences, and all those wonderful artists over the last 40 years who created such great memories."
Artistic director Paul Fahy says the festival has "connected artists and audiences for four decades, creating many magical memories and making a huge impact or our lives. We are very grateful to all of the artists we have been privileged to have as our guests and collaborators, and to our audiences who have been so open and embracing to their talents and imagination".
The BBC has called the festival, "one of Europe's most important cultural events"; the Irish Independent declared it, "one of the most significant arts Festivals anywhere"; while The Guardian said it was "a powerhouse of ideas and innovation".