Galway 2020 reinvents itself in safe mode for Covid era

Revised European Capital of Culture year will run to March 2021

Macnas’s flagship project Gilgamesh will go ahead, but has been reworked with smaller performances

Macnas’s flagship project Gilgamesh will go ahead, but has been reworked with smaller performances

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Galway 2020 will on Thursday announce a reworked programme for its European Capital of Culture tenure. The “reimagined” line-up comes after live events had to be cancelled suddenly in early March due to Covid-19.

The Capital of Culture year will be extended, with events running from September 2020 to March 2021. The revised line-up features versions of planned presentations over seven months by more than 350 local and national artists.

While the pandemic has curtailed international productions and visitors, international partnerships will continue with digital events, said Galway 2020 head of programme Marilyn Gaughan-Reddan.

Sticking with the original themes of language, landscape and migration, there are 28 projects, as well as 78 local collaborations called Small Towns Big Ideas. Despite the shutdown, said Gaughan-Reddan, “the want to create these projects was so strong”.

The original plans unveiled last autumn had 54 projects.

The revised Galway 2020 has both live and digital elements – with the option to attend in person or from home, including outdoor installations, publications, online events, outdoor performances, exhibitions and broadcasts – from companies including Macnas, Druid and Galway International Arts Festival.

Galway 2020’s core team was cut from more than 30 to a staff of 11, who worked over the lockdown with production companies and artists to reconfigure plans. “Revising the programme has been challenging and difficult, but these artists have been with us from the beginning, and we want to see it through,” said Gaughan-Reddan.

Macnas’s flagship project Gilgamesh will go ahead, but has been reworked with smaller performances. However, its planned large-scale parade cannot go ahead.

“When we look back on 2020,” Gaughan-Reddan said, “we’ll remember the huge losses we’ve had, but also some moments of joy. I hope this programme can bring some joy and hope to people when they need it most.”

Events are reconfigured within public health guidelines, allowing for social distancing and limited attendance. The team describes the approach as cautious but agile and flexible, making the work as Covid-proof as possible so they can react if restrictions change.

The priority, Gaughan-Reddan said, was “to present the work in a safe way, but which also reflects its beauty”.

Volunteers, called “wave makers”, have been trained in health measures, and are a key part of keeping patrons, artists and staff comfortable and safe.

“It’s been a huge challenge, probably the biggest all of us have ever faced,” said Gaughan-Reddan, who praised “the brilliance and resilience” of the artists.


– Mirror Pavilion by John Gerrard, using cutting-edge digital technology, one of the largest outdoor installations ever in Ireland, as part of Galway International Arts Festival.

– DruidGregory, exploring the life and work of Augusta Lady Gregory with live theatre in Coole Park. Six plays, with 12 actors and musicians directed by Garry Hynes, plus a 14-venue, four-week Co Galway tour.

– Spectacle storytellers Macnas’ legend of Gilgamesh, outdoors and indoors, across city and county and online.

– Hope it Rains, turning bad weather to good use with installations and artistic responses to weather.

– RISE from Baboro International Arts Festival for Children, placing the voice of the child at the heart of performance.

– Exhibitions from TULCA Season of Visual Art; BAA BAA (celebrating sheep); Monument (about stone monuments on Europe’s smallest islands); Deeper Shades of Green; and Oughterard Courthouse Arts Programme.

– Blue Teapot’s Into the Dark Woods, a modern-day fairytale as experienced by someone with an intellectual disability.

– Galway Moves site-specific dance.

– Patricia Forde’s book To the Island, about the mythical island Hy Brasil, gifted to every child starting school in Galway in 2020.

– Small Towns Big Ideas, based on the Meitheal tradition – 30 new projects from local communities.

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