Crunching numbers on the festival trail

While shoe-gazing at Kilkenomics, Mark Graham notices that economists have the better brogues

An anxiety of economists was herded together in Kilkenny last weekend for the annual festival of fret-mongering and fun that is Kilkenomics. This is the third time I've gone to the fiesta of finance and I still don't know what to call the things that happen onstage. Gigs, lectures, shows, talks or performances? I'll stick with gig.

It could have been the front-row seat, it could have been the comparison to comedians' scuffed slip-ons, but this year I couldn't help noticing that economists wear very nice shoes. Could it be a secret badge that forms a hierarchical structure within their ranks? The better the economist, the better their ability to invest wisely and afford ludicrously expensive shoes? Whatever the reason, it's difficult to imagine Constantin Gurdgiev in a pair of Converse.

The wisest words at this year’s Kilkenomics may have unexpectedly come from a fiscally battered punter who bared his soul at the Human Wreckage of Recession gig. He spoke of drinking heavily after becoming swamped in debt and illustrated the effect of recession in very real terms. Having listened to economists and comedians discuss broad-stroke demographics, it was striking to have an individual bring the worst-case scenarios to life. It may have been slightly uncomfortable for an Irish audience to suddenly feel like they were having an impromptu Oprah moment, but a statement that may have sounded glib in another context resonated here: “Failure is an event, not a person.”

The facts and figures were also being flung about the place at the Association of Irish Festival and Events annual conference in Co Galway. Kathrin Deventer from the European Festival Association discussed falling numbers at European festivals, but AOIFE's figures show a 22 per cent rise in audience numbers for 2013.

Jim Miley, project director of The Gathering, told all assembled how successful the campaign has been and put a chunk of it down to people inviting the foreign cousins home. Worshippers of the Eye of Ra also claimed some credit, their prayers bringing out the sun for the best summer since Tutankhamun was in short pants. We won't have a Gathering next year, so we may have to rely on the Continuity Eye of Ra to keep the numbers up.


You’d think that a figurehead of The Gathering would have received a hero’s welcome from a roomful of festival organisers, given the bumper year they’d had, but they weren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet and hoisting his chair aloft whilst dancing the Hora. The crowd were conflicted. Some had positive experiences of The Gathering, but others felt a massive increase in the numbers of festivals diluted resource allocation and festival quality, creating a festival bubble; great figures this year but sustaining them won’t be possible.

Joleen Cronin from the Redhead Convention in Crosshaven, Co Cork, thanked Miley for the bumper funding they'd received, having been lucky enough to be deemed a "flagship event". An organiser of a well-established festival told me the only support they'd received from The Gathering consisted of two lengths of bunting in an envelope.

One festival stalwart has become so frustrated with increased red tape and diversion of resources that he’s considering barring tourists from the events he’s involved in; why should volunteers work hard to support a scheme that breeds bureaucracy and bolsters PR companies’ books? he argues.

The numbers are being crunched like Monster Munch at little lunch, and soon we’ll be bamboozled by statistics showing us how amazing The Gathering was, but if a good deal of the volunteers on the ground pushing floats and building stages aren’t happy about it, something is not right at it’s core.

I’d love to be able to quote some of the stats Jim Miley reeled off, but I was distracted by his bróga; the dude has fancier flip-flops than David McWilliams.

Safe travels, don’t die.