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Galway International Arts Festival 13th to 26th July 2020
The Galway International Arts Festival, founded in 1978, is a cultural organisation which produces one of Europe’s leading international arts festivals. It also produces new work that tour nationally and internationally, in addition to presenting the discussion forum, First Thought Talks. GIAF is managed by John Crumlish, acting as Chief Executive, and Paul Fahy as Artistic Director. The festival maintains non-profit status and insists that at least 25% of the festival programme is free for the public.
The festival is one of Ireland’s leading cultural enterprises and has contributed significantly to putting Galway on the map, as both a key cultural centre for the arts and a cultural tourism destination. It has also founded and acted as a seedbed for a number of well-known and established arts organizations in Galway.
Originally The Galway Arts Festival, the organization was founded in 1978 by University College Galway’s Arts Society in collaboration with community activists of Galway Arts Group. The first festival was described in local papers as “Galway Arts Society’s Week of Craic.” Their original budget was €1000 of Arts Council Funding and most of the artistic events were staged in an arts centre that now homes Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.
The name was changed in 2014, to Galway International Arts Festival, to emphasize the diversity of contributors to the festival. “The festival presents and produces work in Galway which sits side by side with the work of artists and companies from around the world,” Artistic Director Paul Fahy explained. “Both are local and global; both are international.” The name change also facilitated the vision of the festival as a producing body, creating works that tour internationally.
The festival takes place in Galway, Ireland for two weeks in late July. It presents and produces programmes across theatre, music, visual arts, opera, street spectacle, dance, discussion and comedy. The 2018 festival set records for attendance, breaking a quarter million for the first time, representing a 20% increase over the participants in the 2017 festival. Over 600 artists created and took part in over 200 events across the festival. This 41st festival also featured a brand new Festival Garden which transformed Eyre Square into a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, offering pop-up performances and local food stands. The Festival Garden attracted more than 145,000 people. Visitors to the 2017 festival were estimated to be 45% from Galway, 18% around the rest of Ireland, and 37% outside of Ireland.
In the last seven years, the organization has produced or co-produced 23 productions and has toured to London, New York, Edinburgh, Chicago, Adelaide, Sydney, Hong Kong and Washington. These include 4 major exhibition commissions. One of the major relationships that GIAF has fostered is with Landmark Productions, a Dublin-based production company. Together they have produced multiple works written by or directed by Irish playwright Enda Walsh that have toured internationally.
View of the Big Top at night
In recent years, GIAF has hosted world-renowned musical guests in their iconic Big Top tent, erected yearly in the Fisheries Field on the campus of NUI Galway. GIAF also partner with local music and comedy venue Róisín Dubh for many of their programmed events. Highlights from the music programme in recent years include: Elvis Costello, Suede, The National, St. Vincent, Philip Glass, David Byrne, Blondie, Kronos Quartet, Brodsky Quartet and Bon Iver.
From inside Architects of Air’s walk-in sculpture ‘Miracoco Luminarium,’ designed by Alan Parkinson and on display in Eyre Square during the 2018 festival.
Visual arts highlights include David Hockney, Bill Viola, Henri Matisse, Patricia Piccinini, Hughie O’Donoghue, David Mach and John Gerrard.
In 2018, GIAF announced a new Internship programme in the visual arts which will train 25 participants to be able to engage with patrons in the galleries in an in-depth way.
Theatre and Dance
Irish playwright Enda Walsh has featured prominently in the recent GIAF line-ups. His first play, “Disco Pigs”, which was also Cillian Murphy’s first stage role, debuted in the 1997 festival. Walsh has since gone on to work with the festival to also produce works ranging from operas to experimental staged ‘Rooms.’ His 2014 Ballyturk won Best Production at the Irish Times Theatre Awards and his 2011 Misterman toured to New York City and was the New York Times Critics’ Choice for eighteen days in a row.
American actor John Mahoney was a frequent performer in the festival starting in 2000 and is said to have considered Galway one of his favorite places in the world.
Visiting international theatre and dance companies have included the National Theatre, Propeller, The Royal Court, Steppenwolf, Fabulous Beast Dance Company, Hofesh Shechter Dance Company, Michael Clark Company, Druid Theatre Company and the Bristol Old Vic.
First Thought Talks
Starting in 2012, GIAF hosts a series of talks each festival that revolve around a theme. The 2018 festival’s First Thought Talks about ‘Home’ was opened by President Michael D. Higgins and followed up by 43 other scholars, artists, scientists, and athletes, both Irish and International. The majority of these talks are recorded and can be accessed online. They are also live-streamed on Facebook