Ulla Hokkanen


As Galway hosts FRESH STREET#3, Ulla Hokkanen, Galway Community Circus Director, talks about the importance of street art and what she would like to see happen for the sector in the future.

This is Galway’s first year hosting FRESH STREET – what does it mean for the city and county?

Hosting FRESH STREET#3 is a huge opportunity for Galway and Ireland. Circostrada is one of the leading cultural networks in Europe and the fact that Circostrada chose Galway as the location for the third-ever FRESH STREET event is a massive acknowledgement of the work that the ISACS Network, led by their Director Lucy Medlycott, have done to build European partnerships and connecting Ireland with the wider sector over the past seven years.

FRESH STREET will be an opportunity to find out what is happening in other countries in relation to this rapidly growing sector. I hope that it will inform and inspire the Irish sector of the possibilities of street arts, circus and spectacle and catalyse a change in Ireland towards a better recognition of these art forms and a wider understanding of the impact – socially, culturally and economically of street arts on our society.


What is the importance of street art, in your opinion?

I believe that street arts and circus are the most democratic, inclusive and accessible of all art forms. Street art is art in public spaces that is normally offered free of charge in non-intimidating spaces or communal settings, creating an accessible and inclusive experience where the audience have a free choice – to stay or to go.

Sometimes, the arts and attending art events can be seen as exclusive or expensive. A large portion of the public don’t necessarily feel at home or welcomed in some arts venues or events. Street arts is the opposite of this. It’s about art for people, by people, of communities. It’s about creating meaningful art experiences in everyday locations, it’s about showcasing our streets, towns and cities in a different light and through this, creating civic pride in these locations and communities. There are no barriers and there’s no stage between the performer and the audience. The performer is only a step away from the public, interacting directly with them.

Street arts and circus is also about empowering people by bringing them to the centre stage, as performers, participants, makers, volunteers. Performing in the Macnas Parade is often the first performance experience for Galwegians.

Galway 2020 is about the people and communities of Galway and Europe. The events included in the Galway 2020 programme should be events that people want to get involved in as audiences, performers, makers, volunteers and community ambassadors. Street arts provides a massive opportunity for this.

One of the main street art events in the Galway 2020 programme is ‘Wires Crossed – A Balancing Act for Europe’ produced by Galway Community Circus, in partnership with ten European partners. Wires Crossed is an international community-based project set to promote physical and mental well-being, safe risk-taking and social inclusion through the art of wire walking, or funambulism. In the culmination of the project, participants of various ages, walks of life, cultures, nationalities and abilities will participate in a world record highwire spectacle of 400 people crossing the River Corrib and Claddagh Basin on highwires over 2020 minutes.

Members of the public are invited to take part in this project by attending our public workshops held over the summer months in Shantalla Park to learn how to walk on the tightwire and becoming performers in the 2020 spectacle. The project is supported by Galway 2020, with European funding through Erasmus+ and the Arts Council and more information can be found on our website.

“I believe that street arts and circus are the most democratic, inclusive and accessible of all art forms.”

Can you tell us a bit about the current offering of street art in Galway?

Galway is renowned for being the home to one of the most vibrant street arts scenes in Ireland. You can see some of the best buskers and street performers in Ireland performing on the streets of Galway and Macnas is leading the way in Spectacle arts in the country – inspiring young companies and generations of artists. Galway is also the home of Ireland’s largest circus school, with 650 people learning, sharing and performing circus arts at Galway Community Circus every week.

But I feel there is still a long way to go to maximise the potential of this art form in Galway. Galway has the potential to become the best small city in the world for street arts if we invest in new generations of artists, practitioners and participants.


What would you ultimately like to see happen for street art in Galway?

I would like to see street performers and the street art scene better valued for its positive contribution to the atmosphere, cultural life and tourism sector of Galway and wellbeing of its citizens. I would love to see an inclusive, high quality, community-based street arts and circus festival in Galway – similar to Waterford Spraoi – and a cultural hub for young people focused on circus and street arts.

I would like Galway City Council to invest in those who make work for large audiences and for all people and street arts being celebrated as this extraordinary cultural asset for its people, communities, visitors, environment and streetscapes.



As a result of their partnership with Circostrada, the ISACS Network will host the International conference FRESH STREET#3 in partnership with Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture. This event is scheduled to take place from 22 – 24 May 2019. It will see over 250 international delegates with a professional background and passion for all things street arts from all over the world in attendance. Artists, practitioners, programmers, producers, festivals, stakeholders, policymakers, journalists and more will make up the audience.

The theme of this event is ‘Place and Identity’ and is driven largely by the global and local crisis that the world is experiencing currently in relation to how we relate, feel and perceive same.

The event will be hosted by the National University of Ireland, Galway, with a one-day exploration of place and identity on the beautiful Inis Oírr, Aran Islands.

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