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A European Capital of Culture (ECOC) is a region chosen by the EU to host a year-long programme of events that reflect the richness and diversity of culture in Europe. In July 2016, Galway won the bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2020. The last ECOC to be awarded in Ireland was hosted by Cork in 2005, and before that, by Dublin in 1991. Ireland will not have the opportunity to host a European Capital of Culture again for many years. Above all, it’s going to be a year of fun, exhilarating experiences and making life transforming connections.
In 2020, Galway City and County will host hundreds of events throughout the year, with the aim of empowering communities to unite through culture, to create something amazing. Above all, it’s going to be a year of fun, exhilarating experiences and making life transforming connections.
The Galway 2020 team is currently putting together the vast programme of events, which will culminate in a large-scale opening ceremony on 20th January 2020. From that day on, and for the remaining 345 days of the year, a series of fun and inspiring events will take place in every corner of the city and county. The Galway 2020 programme encompasses all aspects of culture from art, sport, large scale spectacle, food, digital, dance, theatre, circus, film, architecture and literature, to name but a few. In short, there’ll be something for everyone.
“It’s an opportunity for absolutely everyone to experience and participate in culture, for people to go outside their comfort zone and see the amazing possibilities.” – Hannah Kiely
CEO of Galway 2020, Hannah Kiely, says the opportunity that Galway 2020 presents is unlike anything the city and county has ever seen before. “It’s an opportunity for absolutely everyone to experience and participate in culture, for people to go outside their comfort zone and see the amazing possibilities. It’s an opportunity for the city and county to interact in a way they’ve never done before, to create a more vibrant society.”
Inclusion, participation and experiencing the extraordinary is at the heart of the ECOC, suggests Hannah, where everyone, from everywhere, enjoys and takes part in the richness of Galway’s and Europe’s culture. “Galway 2020 presents an opportunity to create a different kind of society – one in which everyone is given a chance to partake in cultural events during the year and long after Galway 2020 has passed”.
Small Towns Big Ideas, one of Galway 2020’s flagship programmes, which was piloted in 2016, is testament to the enthusiasm of Galway communities to get involved, to create something exceptional. “People are getting their ideas onto a stage where they can own what they’re doing in their community. We now have lots of opportunity in the county to create cultural hubs which could become economic successes, and it’s also a chance to enhance cultural participation in the city and county.” enthuses Hannah.
“Yes, it’s about tourism; yes, it’s about more people coming into the city and the county; yes, it’s about economic development, but it’s much more than this.” – Hannah Kiely
Leaving a lasting legacy, one that will change the social and infrastructural landscape of Galway, is key to Galway 2020. One of these, says Hannah, is to “break the cultural glass ceiling for young artists, to make it a more accessible sector for younger people”.
While there are “huge challenges” in terms of cultural infrastructure in Galway City and County, it is the task of Galway 2020 to put down the foundations for the development of cultural infrastructure projects, as seen in the Government’s Project Ireland 2040, she adds.
“There’s also a challenge in how we feel about ourselves. At the end of 2020, we should all feel something different. Yes, it’s about tourism; yes, it’s about more people coming into the city and the county; yes, it’s about economic development, but it’s much more than this: it’s about the creation of more culturally vibrant communities. It can be communities at work, communities in small towns, and villages, communities in schools, but they must be more culturally vibrant than they are now, then we’ve done a good job. It’s also about participation…Galway 2020 isn’t about looking on, it’s about taking part.”
“Galway has a huge heart, and huge possibilities. Throughout Galway 2020, we will celebrate what’s the most valuable in this culture while making waves of renewal, disruption and transformation.” – Chris Baldwin
‘Making Waves’, the central theme of the Galway 2020 programme, is about renewal, disruption and transformation in our culture, says Galway 2020’s Artistic Director, Chris Baldwin. “Galway has a huge heart, and huge possibilities. Throughout Galway 2020, we will celebrate what’s the most valuable in this culture while making waves of renewal, disruption and transformation. This requires us to celebrate our traditional ways of doing things, renew our enthusiasm for all we have, while disrupting the status quo – artistically, culturally and socially. Making Waves gives expression to Galway’s boundless possibilities. It invites us all to see and enjoy the city and county as it has never been seen before, through a gigantic wave of county-wide cultural events, spreading from shores to hills.”
This ‘disruption’ or making waves will offer a way in for young talent, in a society where older establishments rule the roost. “This becomes more crucial in rural areas, because when young people feel everything is sorted, they get up and go. Where there’s that kind of barrier to innovation – when, for example, funding and culture is already fixed in organisations that have been there for a long time, even though they’re hugely important and high quality, it can create a glass ceiling for new generations.”
“Culture is surprising, it’s beautiful, it takes us to places we didn’t know we wanted to go to.” – Chris Baldwin
For the duration of the year, Galway 2020 plans to hold events in unexpected and “surprising” places throughout the city and county. “That’s the key to culture,” says Chris. “Culture is surprising, it’s beautiful, it takes us to places we didn’t know we wanted to go to.”
“Galway’s culture is our people, our land and seascapes, our traditions, our arts, languages and our sport. Galway 2020 will flood our communities with culture. That’s a lovely way to begin – it’s very open and it’s very generous as a vision. Culture isn’t something that artists do on their own away from the gaze, which we then somehow must interpret. Culture is almost everything we do between one another apart from sharing genes – it’s the way we talk to each other, the colours we choose to wear, the materials we choose to wear, the rings that we have on our hands – what they signify, the food that we eat, the time of day we eat it.”
“We’re ready to unlock Galway’s vast cultural capacity by celebrating new voices, young voices, our cultural jewels and our traditions, both new and old.” – Chris Baldwin
So, what will the year look like? “There’s going to be a lot more activities and invitations for people to see things, but perhaps importantly, do things – to get more involved and see how our lives are enriched by being more proactive in culture. We will deliver our vision through a series of flagship projects, each containing elements that renew, disrupt, transform and celebrate our culture and these will focus on engaging local communicates. We will invite national European and international artists into our communities to work with them. We’re ready to unlock Galway’s vast cultural capacity by celebrating new voices, young voices, our cultural jewels and our traditions, both new and old.”
Throughout 2020, it is expected that over 1,200 events will take place. From large scale flagship programmes such as Small Towns Big Ideas, An Artist in Every Place and Hope It Rains to small events that will take place in villages and towns, and in every corner of the city and county.
One of the commitments of the Galway 2020 programme is to place children and young people at the heart of everything it does. This means that every child and young person under the age of 18 will have the opportunity to experience and participate in culture throughout the year through a series of exciting events, workshops and performances.
The digital aspect of the Galway 2020 will also take centre stage, with Galway becoming the European Digital Cultural Capital of Europe in 2020. Throughout the year, there will be a large focus on digital projects, led by a large-scale conversation with young people and involving artists from all over the world.
“It’s in the hands of the communities, it’s in the hands of Galway to say what it wants. Our vision is to help Galway identify what it wants and to get it.” – Chris Baldwin
What can Galway hope to achieve through hosting Galway 2020? “It’s in the hands of the communities, it’s in the hands of Galway to say what it wants. Our vision is to help Galway identify what it wants and to get it,” adds Chris.
Galway 2020’s Finance and Operations Director, Damian Egan says that socially and economically, hosting one of Europe’s biggest cultural events will be a gamechanger for Galway. “Ireland will not host a European Capital of Culture for many years. This is something we all really want to get right, and we want to leave a lasting and valuable legacy.”
“Galway 2020 is being funded by national and local government bodies, local business communities and sponsors – that will be going back to the community. There are strong indications from previous European Capitals of Culture that tourism numbers increase, and we would hope that the same would happen here in Galway. There’s also evidence that the economy of a region improves as a result of hosting a European Capital of Culture, so we would expect to see an increase in our economy also.”
Another aspect of what the award will bring to the region is in terms of capacity building. “The opportunity here is huge,” continues Damian. “For some Galway organisations who will be working with others in Europe, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow, to bring their organisation to the next level. From a finance and business perspective, we will be in a position to support some of the smaller community groups in terms of offering advice, in mentoring them on how to manage their finances, and how apply for grants etc. So, it’s a win, win situation for all involved.”
So, what’s the overall message to those that will be in Galway to celebrate this hugely historic year for the city, county and the region as a whole? Simply get out, enjoy and partake in this year-long celebration of Galway and European culture. Whether you’re visiting or a resident here, experiencing Galway throughout 2020 will offer an enriching, fun-filled and life-changing experience.