Meet the Team: Helen Marriage


Helen Marriage joined Galway 2020 as Creative Director in January this year.

She is the director and co-founder of Artichoke, the company responsible for parading an 11m-tall mechanical elephant through London for their production, The Sultan’s Elephant. With a portfolio including numerous Lumiere light festivals and David Best’s Temple in Derry, Helen’s experience is an asset to the Galway 2020 team.

Struck by Galway’s already “rich cultural life”, Marriage sees the coming year as an opportunity to create new relationships across Europe, allowing ideas from Galway artists to travel beyond the city and county. “Here, the challenge is not to do just  what Galway does bigger or better resourced, but to interweave what Galway does so brilliantly with new ideas and other ways of working.”

Marriage says their work garnered acclaim for their one-off spectacles but the long term effects of their work are perhaps overlooked. “You could see them as simply spectacle but what nobody sees behind the scenes are the months of work that go into preparing them, and quite often the outcomes which are: communities regenerated, new relationships founded, groups that continue to meet…”

“The knitting together of genuine connections across the world into Galway is part of the programme.”

Many of the participatory projects planned for 2020, however extravagant or celebratory, remain thoughtful. “[Victorious celebrations] are often about winning, and art is very often not about winning. It’s about creating a kind of open question about meaning. Undermining those victory or heraldic moments is really interesting because you can get a community to reflect, rather than just react.”

We sometimes underestimate the public’s openness to new forms of meaning and social connection. David Best’s 2015 Temple, built and set alight in Derry~, is an excellent example. “We deliberately recruited people from both sides of the community who had never talked or worked together. Bonfire burning is traditionally a gesture of hostility in Northern Ireland. We were trying to show that the skills used to build these amazing constructions could have a different set of values.” In Galway, Marriage will continue to work with ideas of memory, pride and cultural narrative. “There is a need to address some of the darker sides of Irish life and those issues around what it means to be living in Europe in the 21st century, post-Brexit. The European Capital of Culture programme provides a lens through which you can look at that.”

Marriage’s vision for Galway 2020 is that of an engine for change. She says  that global connections will provide local opportunities; there will be no “parachuting in and out.” “The knitting together of genuine connections across the world into Galway is part of the programme.”

Well aware of Galway’s reputation as festival capital of Ireland, the 2020 team will work closely with the county’s existing major festivals. Marriage insists however that the main aim of the programme is to sustain cultural activity – “not necessarily ticketed performances but things happening throughout the whole year.”

Above all, she is looking forward to witnessing astonished reactions at the opening ceremony in February 2020, “whether that’s people signing up to take part or showing up and being amazed at what they’re seeing – that lovely sense that you’ve helped to create a change.”

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