2019 Year in Review: Looking Back on a Record-Breaking Year

31 December 2019

Relive the highlights of the 42nd annual Galway International Arts Festival, from theatrical world premieres to once-in-a-lifetime music gigs and breathtaking art in the heart of the city.

Outside of the Festival season, GIAF’s year round work continues to expand on a national and worldwide scale. In March, the Festival was voted ‘Best Irish Festival’ by the Irish Hospitality Awards, and 2019 saw GIAF productions tour to Dublin and London. The year’s expanded First Thought Talks programme included an international Talk in London this April, as well as a weekend of talks in Galway in October.

And all the while, preparations have been underway for a very big year in 2020...

Galway International Arts Festival in London

In April of this year, Enda Walsh’s renowned ROOMS series made their UK premiere at the Barbican Centre in London. The Barbican tour marked the first time all five of Walsh’s poetic short stories were presented in one immersive installation. (A sixth, Waiting Room, premiered a few months later at GIAF 2019).

The London tour garnered praise from critics and audiences alike. In a ★★★★ review, The Guardian described ROOMS as 'Part installation, part prose-poem, this strangely beautiful piece takes its audience into other people’s heads. Immaculately designed.' The Financial Times called them 'a haunting immersive experience... meticulously decorated'.

ROOMS is a collaboration between Walsh and GIAF Artistic Director Paul Fahy, and instalments to the series have premiered every year at Galway International Arts Festival since 2013. Paul Fahy’s design was praised by The Times as ‘never less than a triumph’.

The tour of ROOMS coincided with a First Thought Talk by artist John Gerrard. John Gerrard is one of Ireland’s most unique and internationally celebrated artists best known for his large-scale and site-specific works. Paul Fahy, GIAF Artistic Director joined John Gerrard in conversation to discuss Gerrard’s work, and ‘Mirror Pavilion,’ his exciting collaboration with GIAF for Galway 2020.

John Gerrard’s First Thought Talk took place at the Irish Embassy in London, where the GIAF team was warmly welcomed by Ambassador of Ireland to the UK Adrian O’Neill. It was also live-streamed on Facebook to an Irish and international audience.

GIAF 2019 Festival Highlights

The 42nd annual Galway International Arts Festival shattered attendance records as audiences from around the world flocked to over 200 events across the City. The Festival recorded a total of 263,832 attendances across the 14 days of the Festival, which took place this year 15-28 July.

Approximately 1,000 volunteers from 55 countries supported the Festival team coming from all four corners of the globe, from Korea to Canada and South America to Australia.

The stunning Festival Gallery was an enormous draw in and of itself, attracting 60,504 visitors to artist Sam Jinks’ captivating exhibition In the Flesh. The 6,888 sq ft Gallery space, a building owned by An Post tucked away on William Street, was described by the Irish Times as ‘a cathedral of light, height, and art.’

Sam Jinks’ hyper-realistic sculptures -- and their transformed environs in the heart of the city -- quickly became one of the Festival’s most talked about and most visited attractions.

Also in the centre of town, the immensely popular Festival Garden returned to Eyre Square for the second year, drawing approximately 160,000 visitors. The central hub lined with local food vendors was also the meeting point for another GIAF19 highlight: Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tours. Grooving down Shop Street to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was described by the Irish Times as ‘not for the self-conscious’ ‘the best of craic to do, and a great festival concept’.

New plays, an opera, and a new musical made their world premieres on the Festival stage. Least like the Other: Searching for Rosemary Kennedy, a new production from the Irish National Opera drew glowing reviews from audiences and critics during its GIAF19 run. ‘Anyone could be left breathless by this,’ the Irish Times raved in a five-star review.

Druid’s world premiere of Epiphany by Brian Watkins was another highlight, as were work-in-progress performances of Breakfast on Pluto. Audiences flocked to two late-night, cabaret-style performances of the eagerly anticipated new musical from Landmark Productions and GIAF. Breakfast on Pluto will make its world premiere at GIAF 2020. Other theatre highlights included Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), the Abbey Theatre and Soho Theatre of Dylan Coburn Gray's Citysong, and jaw-dropping acrobatics from Out of Chaos by Gravity & Other Myths.

Under the Heineken Big Top tent, a total of ten concerts packed Fisheries Field throughout the Festival. For many, the legendary Burt Bacharach’s Heineken Big Top performance was a night to remember. The Irish Times described it as 'Offering hope for the future is Burt Bacharach, whose 50 years of Grammy-winning songwriting could hardly be summed up in a single performance, although the 91-year-old makes a good stab at covering a wide selection of his hundreds of songs, and had the sold-out audience in the Big Top eating out of his hand...Everybody came out of that tent singing, and uplifted.'

A short distance away in St Nicholas’ Church, former Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant took to the GIAF stage with folk ensemble Saving Grace delivering a spell-binding performance that can only be described as 'food for the soul'.

First Thought Talks

Lively and engaging discussions about some of today’s biggest issues made GIAF’s First Thought Talks series a relevant and crucial part of the Festival’s 2019 programming. Over fifty speakers drew crowds over the course of the year, beginning with John Gerrard’s First Thought Talk in London in April, and continuing during GIAF19 and into the Autumn.

Former president Mary Robinson opened the First Thought Talks programme at the Festival in July with a Talk entitled ‘What Can We Do About Climate Change?’ Mary Robinson addressed a sold-out crowd in the Bailey Allen Hall with approximately 2500 people tuning in to a live-stream. Author and actress Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek, Orange is the New Black) also presented a sold-out Talk to an enthralled audience and read from her new memoir, How to Forget.

First Thought Talks returned in October for a weekend of conversations with food writers Bee Wilson and Catherine Cleary, political scientist David Runciman, TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, and journalist Vincent Browne. Autumn First Thought Talks can be viewed on giaf.ie.

Recorded First Thought Talks from throughout the year are available to view on giaf.ie where they have been watched by more than 29,000.

Touring & Producing

Touring and producing new work is an important part of Galway International Arts Festival’s year-round work. In addition to the ROOMS series’ tour to the Barbican Centre in London, two recent productions went on to tour around the country this year.

Orfeo ed Euridice, an Irish National Opera production in association with GIAF, made its world premiere at the 2018 Festival and embarked on a nationwide tour at the start of this year.

The GIAF and Jen Coppinger co-production of Incantata, which also premiered to rave reviews in July 2018, toured to the Gate Theatre in Dublin in September. Written by one of Ireland’s most revered writers, the New York-based, Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Muldoon, Incantata is interpreted for the stage by Stanley Townsend and Sam Yates.

Incantata will make its international premiere in February 2020 at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City.

An Ongoing Partnership

As part of the multi-year partnership between Galway International Arts Festival and NUI Galway, a new MA in Creative Arts: Producing and Curation launched in autumn of 2019.

Over the course of this new MA, students will have ongoing contact with GIAF team members through a regular GIAF-led speaker series as well as participating in SELECTED, the Festival’s professional development programme for emerging artists, theatre-makers, curators and producers studying at NUI Galway.

Looking Forward to 2020

With Galway taking its place as European Capital of Culture in 2020, next year will undoubtedly be one for the books.

As part of the year-long Capital of Culture programme, GIAF has commissioned Irish artist John Gerrard to create two extraordinary artworks responding to the escalating climate crisis. Straw Work will be installed at the Claddagh Quay in Galway city from April and will be in place up to and during Galway International Arts Festival in July. Leaf Work will be installed on the 4,000-year-old Derrigimlagh Bog in Connemara from September to October.

The 43rd annual Galway International Arts Festival will take place 13-26 July and six phenomenal live acts have already been announced for the Heineken Big Top. Tickets are on sale now for Pixies, Flaming Lips (pictured above), The Stunning, The Academic, Jon Hopkins, and Sinéad O’Connor.

The theatre programme will include the hotly anticipated musical theatre adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto; a co-production between Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival based on Patrick McCabe’s Booker-nominated novel.

Keep an eye out in the new year for further announcements before the full programme is released in May.

Galway International Arts Festival would like to acknowledge the support of its principal funding agencies the Arts Council and Fáilte Ireland, its Drinks Partner Heineken® and Education Partner NUI Galway.

For full programme details, Festival updates and previews, visit www.giaf.ie