Cork Midsummer Festival: A City Rising
The best arts festivals reflect and are rooted in the people and places that own them
Crosstown Drift, part of the Cork Midsummer Festival: audiences will be brought on a journey of discovery – not only of writers and their work, but also of the city. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda
There is an incredible energy in Cork, a city with huge heart and ambition, a culinary capital and a European capital of culture. Cork Midsummer Festival, Ireland’s fastest growing arts festival, occupies a unique place in the cultural calendar. Taking place each June – this year from June 13th-23rd – it harnesses the energy, dynamism, optimism and the long, heady days of midsummer to explode onto the streets, theatres, galleries and performance spaces of the city.
Working in collaboration with the city’s brilliant arts and cultural organisations and with the invaluable support of our core funders the Arts Council and Cork City Council, Cork Midsummer Festival has grown at an extraordinary rate over the last number of years. This year will see almost 50 events happening over 11 days, much of that brand new, exciting work that promises to be innovative, entertaining, thought-provoking and relevant to who we are right now.
Like all of the best celebrations, the best arts festivals reflect and are rooted in the people and places that own them. Cork is dynamic, larger than life, forward and outward looking. This comes partly from its long history as a thriving port city, an important destination for global merchants and explorers, bringing with them all manner of innovations, ideas and goods.
There is an enormous sense of adventure in Cork and for visitors there’s often a glorious disorientation that comes from the city’s geographical make-up – the River Lee splits and surrounds the main part of the city, making Cork city a kind of an island on an island.
Cork Midsummer Festival aims to channel all of this and to be an important destination on artists’ journeys, a unique context for national and international artists to make and present work and a place where local and visiting audiences can lose themselves in the city and encounter fantastic art.
As well as presenting some of Ireland’s most talented emerging and established artists, this year we will present work from artists from countries all over the world including Chile, the US, Canada, the UK, Finland and France. This mix of national and international artists is important – for audiences the opportunity to see work they may not be able to at any other time of the year, for artists, the possibility of future collaborations and connections with those we welcome to the city.
Cork is recognised as a unique home for site-specific and site-responsive work. Visiting artists often comment on how much easier it is to gain access to venues and unusual spaces in Cork than it is elsewhere. It’s a testament to how much arts and culture are a part of the very fabric of the city – it’s in the bones of the place; and this is reflected in the incredible openness and spirit with which ambitious ideas and proposals are embraced and supported – people in the city have quite literally given their own homes over to Festival artists in the past.
The festival uses the city as a unique stage and this year events will take place in forts, parks and streets; in hotel rooms, cafes and churches. Corcadorca Theatre Company, pioneers in the art of theatre performance in unusual venues, will present a much anticipated new production of Enda Walsh’s play The Small Things at the Old Cork Waterworks, starring Pauline McLynn and Peter Gowen.
The Festival and Cork Opera House are partnering to present Landmark Productions and Octopus Theatricals’ Theatre For One, a mobile-state-of-the-art performance space for one actor and one audience member at a time. Located in Emmet Place, audiences will experience new five-minute plays by six of Ireland’s leading playwrights – Marina Carr, Stacey Gregg, Emmet Kirwan, Louise Lowe, Mark O’Rowe and Enda Walsh.
As part of the visual arts programme, the Glucksman will present a new off-site project May the moon rise and the sun set by artist Richard Profitt that will transform the interior spaces of the UCC Department of Music premises at St Vincent’s Church. In music, composer Karen Power will present her fascinating new work Invitation to Wander at the Cork Centre for Architectural Education, a new multi-roomed performance based on her field recordings from some of the world’s most inhumane environments – the Arctic, Amazon, Australian Outback and deserts.
The Words and Ideas strand to the Festival has grown hugely over the past number of years, with Crosstown Drift being one of the most exciting elements of this programme. Four years ago, I met Joe Kelly of The Good Room, who presents brilliant music and arts events all over Cork year round. He had been developing an event proposal with the writer Kevin Barry that would involve presenting readings and events by Irish and international writers outside traditional settings or literary festival formats – on rooftops, in markets, on buses, in hidden rooms and unusual spaces across the city. In doing so, audiences would be brought on a journey of discovery – not only of these writers and their work, but also of the city. It spoke to so much of what the festival is about and enjoyed a hugely successful first year with incredible feedback from audiences and artists alike.
This year, the world’s first reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson will be paying a visit to the Festival alongside some of Ireland’s finest writers including Conal Creedon, Sinéad Gleeson, Emilie Pine, Kevin Barry and Cormac Lally. Audiences can enjoy readings in secret locations on the Magical Mystery Book Tour, drift around the many rooms and spaces of the Crawford Art Gallery to encounter poetry happenings and more during A Night at the Gallery, or join all of the writers for dinner and one-off readings. It’s an intimate, informal, surprising and fun way to experience and discover great writing.
Also part of our Words and Ideas programme is a new work, A Sunken Gallery, by our Festival Artist-In-Residence, Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Created in collaboration with composer Linda Buckley, the event will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the flooding of the Glucksman. We have been lucky enough to have Doireann, one of our finest living artists, in residence at the festival for the last two years. Her work speaks to so many people and this intimate event is one not to be missed.
Right across the city, on banners and billboards, is the quote from the great poet Tom McCarthy, A City Rising is a Beautiful Thing. The festival continues to rise as an important place nationally for conversation, discovery and great art. That is indeed a beautiful thing.