By Susan FitzGerald of Vibrant Ireland
You may have heard the nicknames — Galway: the cultural heart of Ireland, Galway: Ireland’s cloudiest city. But are they true?
Certainly the organisers of the annual Galway Arts Festival find truth in both; in fact, famous cloudspotter Gavin Pretor-Pinny was part of their imaginative and eclectic programme this year. The legendary Irish author Samuel Beckett had this to say about Galway—‘On him will rain again as in the blessed days of blue the passing cloud’… well, okay, he didn’t say that about Galway, but this was said in Galway during one of the most hypnotic performances of Beckett’s work ‘Lessness’ that you’d ever be likely to see. And certainly visiting Galway during the buzzing, imaginative, and especially for arts lovers, blessed days of Galway Arts Festival is a joy not to be missed.
Wonder, laughter, thought & reflection and of course the craic are always on the Arts Festival menu. From works that can deeply move and challenge viewers, to performances of sheer spectacle and fun, you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice with the Galway Arts Festival programme. Two amazing weeks and over 55 works, events and performances to see in 2015– the numbers grow each year. In fact, the 2015 festival was the busiest visitor-wise yet, with around 200,000 culture lovers having the craic in Galway. I experienced this myself; when I was perusing hotels for my visit, many were sold out. No harm checking out Galway hotels here and booking early for 2016; visiting Galway City at Arts Festival time is best not left to last minute planning! The 2016 festival dates are July 11-24.
Eclectic cultural mix
Whether you are a curious cultural omnivore or a person who knows exactly what you like & loves to concentrate on that, I reckon you’ll have a blast in Galway at festival time. It’s a cliché, but yes, there really is something for everyone…unless you only want to hear Nintendocore (Nintendo tunes merged with Metal– yep, this is a thing). If Nintendocore is your only love, then perhaps you will be disappointed…but for most folk, there’s always a good variety of music, from contemporary to classical to trad. But don’t stop there; Galway Arts Festival has comedy, theatre, dance and street performances too. You’ll find intriguing talks on subjects ranging from Big Data & The Cloud by folk who work at places like The Insight Centre for Analytics (the mind boggles!), to talks by folk are like poets of ideas, such as Gavin Pretor-Pinney talking about bringing back the joy in noticing the (actual) clouds gracing our skies. And of course there is plenty of visual art throughout, as well as a fantastic general buzz in a city known for its creativity, charm and craic.
One of the joys of arts festivals can be watching the reactions of people to the pieces. Galway is full of all sorts of folk from all sorts of countries- people watching is great here. Sometimes the differences in reactions of age groups can be an interesting adjunct to the artworks. ‘Relativity’, an exhibition by artist Patricia Piccinini consisting of almost-real creatures and vehicles along with slightly surreal photographs and videos, is a case in point. Kids mainly responded to the sculpted creatures; they did so with an open curiosity & excited interaction. Many adults seemed to feel a bit off-put in spite of their own interest in the works; perhaps due to the uncanny valley* effect. Looking at the photos, what do you feel?
*The uncanny valley theory: When something looks almost, but not quite, like an actual animal or person, many people become unsettled and possibly adverse to it. On the way out of the ‘Relativity’ exhibit I heard a few other folk remarking that they felt strangely disoriented, and I felt that way too! When I mentioned this to my partner, he told me about the theory. That’s the thing about art—it can cause a myriad of reactions, even within the same person. For the curious cultural adventurer, this is exciting!
The magic of Galway
Over 3 days and 2 nights in Galway we did what might seem improbable; without feeling at all rushed we packed in seeing music, dance, theatre, talks, visual arts, street performance and a museum. We indulged our love of spotting different types/ages of architecture, went walking & people watching along the river Corrib and the seaside, had fabulous meals, sipped pints in cosy pubs, enjoyed good coffee in unique cafes, found eclectic teashops, wandered through charming shops and bought a glorious amount of beguiling books in bookshops we wished we never had to leave. Such is the magic of Galway; the city is small, most Arts Festival things are within walking distance, the people are cheerful and the pace feels unhurried even though the atmosphere is exciting. I reckon if you come to Galway for the Arts Festival, you’ll find it creates a special place in your cultural heart and you’ll find joy amongst any Galway clouds as well.
The next Galway Arts festival is July 11-24, 2016. Watch this video for just a tiny taster of what we experienced in 2015. I’ll be giving you some tips on visiting Galway City in an upcoming article.
Find out more about Galway Arts Festival at www.giaf.ie.