The city made for the arts

I’m in town for the Galway International Arts Festival – one of Ireland’s premier cultural events and, in fact, one of Europe’s top arts festivals these days. The focus for my stay is clearly the arts – it’s in the name of the event – but on the first night I meet some locals and the drinks and conversations with my new old friends are also an important part of the experience. It’s about the ‘festival’ as much as the ‘arts’ and about ‘Galway’ as much as the ‘festival’. And it’s the people who make Galway what it is.

Over the days that I explore the festival, this is one of the aspects I enjoy the most – the way the people and the venues take you through the city on a geographical journey but let you focus on the events once you’re inside. And I can see how focus could be a problem because there is always so much going on.

Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland

This year, more than 200,000 people will attend the Galway International Arts Festival. There are almost 400 events or exhibitions across the city in 25 venues. For those who live here or come for a long stay during the festival period, there are always new things happening. For me, who is just here for a weekend, there is more than enough to fill a few days.

I’ve come into the event with a motivation (although not a detailed plan) to see a good mix of events and the first afternoon I arrive, I head straight to a comedy show at the popular pub, The Kings Head. Later on, walking around, I stumble upon a man performing acrobatics on a metallic arc.

Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland

There’s the exhibition by Russian artist Varvara Shavrova in an industrial shed that really speaks to me – paintings, drawings and photographs of her travels that evoke feelings and moods more than specific places or times. There are the video works of French artist Sophie Calle that are about the journey of creation rather than the finished works. Louise Bourgeois has a series of drawings on display in the Galway City Museum that are a good reason to walk through the museum and see some local exhibitions. And then there’s my highlight – Australian artist Patricia Piccinini and her sculptures. She creates an unsettlingly beautiful world of humans and creatures that blend the imagination with reality.

Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland

I think the most defining moment, for me, at the festival is of three women. Let’s call them divas, because that’s what they call themselves – The Giant Divas. These three women roll through the streets of Galway one evening, high atop enormous dresses of frills that elevate them five metres above everyone else. As they roll along, they sing. It’s no Irish ditty, though. They blast out opera, building to crescendos and stirring the crowds gathered along their path. It captures the spirit of the festival so well.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out Michael Turtle’s full story about the Galway International Arts Festival!