2020 Year in Review: Presenting Art in a Year Like No Other

21 December 2020

This deeply challenging year has also been a time of great community spirit and togetherness amongst our friends and neighbours here in Galway, as well as amongst the Irish arts sector and our international community of artists and audiences.

When the July Festival was cancelled due to COVID-19, we were fortunate to be able to present a programme this September, albeit in a radically different way. Carefully laid plans were undone, but this year’s Festival was a testament to the ingenuity and dedication of artists, casts and crew and the willingness of our audience to experience art in new ways.

Incantata in New York City

By necessity, 2020 was a quieter year for international touring, with some plans temporarily put on hold. Happily, one planned tour at the beginning of the year was able to proceed as planned. In February, GIAF toured to New York City for the US premiere of Galway International Arts Festival and Jen Coppinger production Incantata. The opening night at the Irish Repertory Theatre drew familiar faces from screen and stage including Uma Thurman, Kate Mulgrew, Damien Rice and Bill Irwin.

GIAF co-production Incantata made its US premiere in February

Incantata garnered praise throughout its New York run, as did star Stanley Townsend. A glowing New York Times Critics Pick review described the show as 'spellbinding' and having 'a touch of magic.'

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, Incantata was interpreted for the stage by director Sam Yates and actor Stanley Townsend. It first premiered in 2018 as part of Galway International Arts Festival. The US premiere of Incantata at the Irish Repertory Theatre was supported by Culture Ireland.

Autumn Edition Highlights

In May, GIAF made the difficult decision that the July 2020 Festival could not go ahead as planned due to COVID-19, but a special programme of events would take place in autumn instead. After the quietest summer in the Festival’s 43 year history, it was a joy to reconnect with artists and audiences in September for a special once-off Autumn Edition.

The programme, which took place 3-26 September in Galway city, included in person live events and an enhanced digital component. This way, GIAF’s Autumn Edition safely welcomed audiences to experience visual arts, music, theatre and talks live in person while also facilitating audiences who chose to engage at home digitally. Attendances at live art experiences across the four-week period totalled 126,327, reflecting a hunger for safe cultural events after long months at home. ‘In September, Galway was where citizens could stumble on something wonderful,’ the Irish Times wrote, with ‘art to be found around corners…sometimes unexpectedly.’

Eibhlin Seoighthe and her daughter Íde pay a visit to Night Cargo by Hughie O'Donoghue at the Festival Gallery. Photo by Emilija Jefremova

If packed crowds and wedged venues have been par for the course in Festivals past, but this year was presented very differently. Attendance at every venue was strictly monitored and events were presented with utmost care for the health and safety of audiences, artists, crew, and staff.

The centrepiece of the Autumn Edition was the world unveiling of Mirror Pavilion by John Gerrard, a major visual arts commission by Galway International Arts Festival for Galway 2020, European Capital of Culture. Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work was installed on the Claddagh Quay in Galway city and drew approximately 120,657 attendances across the four-week period.

A dazzling moment on the Irish landscape, Mirror Pavilion was undoubtedly a highlight of the year. Praised as ‘gleaming ... polished and perfect... spectacular’ by the Irish Times, what would have been a Festival highlight in any year was made all the more remarkable by challenging circumstances.

Another Autumn Edition highlight was the Festival Gallery, which returned to its William Street location for a second year. The 6,888 sq ft building owned by An Post was transformed for Galway International Arts Festival 2019 and this year the Irish Times called it ’a great cultural spot … a space made for art’.

Night Cargo by Hughie O'Donoghue at the 2020 Festival Gallery. Photo by Emilija Jefremova

The 2020 Festival Gallery hosted two exhibitions which attracted socially distanced audiences throughout the month of September. Night Cargo by Hughie O’Donoghue marked the renowned Irish artist’s return to the Festival for the first time since his 2016 exhibition One Hundred Years and Four Quarters, a GIAF commission. The Gallery was also home to Three Women by American video art pioneer Bill Viola.

A special work-in-progress showing of Medicine, a new play by Enda Walsh starring Clare Barrett, Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson, with music by Sean Carpio. The work-in-progress showing, presented before a very limited audience in the Black Box Theatre, was a taste of what’s to come when the production makes its world premiere as part of Galway International Arts Festival 2021. Medicine is a Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival co-production.

Medicine by Enda Walsh stars Clare Barrett, Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson, accompanied by Sean Carpio.

Other live event highlights included immersive theatre installation Changing Room written by Enda Walsh with design by Paul Fahy, Samuel Beckett’s Cascando from Pan Pan Theatre Company, Beethoven’s Middle Quartets with Contempo Quartet in St. Nicholas’ Church, and the return of the popular Vinyl Hours conversation series with special guests conductor David Brophy, novelist Liz Nugent and musician Julie Feeney.

The First Thought Talks strand returned to explore the big issues and challenges of the day with a wide range of speakers including Samantha Power, Professor Luke O’Neill, Marion McKeone, Colm Tóibín, Eamon Dunphy, Fintan O’Toole and many more. These were both in-person and online events, and for the first time, every Talk was live-streamed to audiences around the world on GIAF’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

The First Thought Talk with Samantha Power and Áine Lawlor took place virtually in front of a small, socially distanced audience. Photo by Andrew Downes

The aim of this year’s enhanced and expanded digital programme was to make sure no one was left behind, especially those who are unable to travel to Galway or are staying at home for health reasons. Online viewership to date totalling 17,333 saw audiences joining virtually from Ireland, UK, US, Spain, Germany, Eastern Europe, Canada and as far away as Australia and New Zealand to enjoy the digital component of the programme online. Autumn Edition digital content remains available to enjoy on giaf.ie.

First Thought Podcast

Building on the success of the Festival’s popular First Thought Talks strand, Galway International Arts Festival launched new podcast First Thought in August. With 13 episodes released to date and plans to develop new content just for the podcast, First Thought is yet another way to enjoy Galway International Arts Festival wherever you are in the world.

First Thought is available on iTunes, Spotify, the Apple Podcast app, giaf.ie and wherever you listen to podcasts.

New sponsors Flogas and Aerogen

Flogas became Galway International Arts Festival's Energy Partner this year and supported Mirror Pavilion by John Gerrard. Photo by Andrew Downes

Amidst a challenging year for all industries, GIAF was more delighted than ever to welcome a new corporate sponsors onboard. New Festival Energy Partner Flogas Ireland powered Mirror Pavilion, lending their generous support to one of the largest outdoor art installations Ireland has ever seen.

The partnership between Flogas and the Festival is one of only a small number of corporate sponsorships announced in Ireland this year, as research showed a 46% drop in the number of new reported sponsorship deals in Ireland in the first half of 2020 versus the same period last year.

Irish aerosol drug delivery firm Aerogen, a global leader in their field, also supported the project.

Friends of the Festival

The ongoing support of Individual Friends and Business Friends of the Festival continues to be pivotal to Galway International Arts Festival’s work.

”We are are so grateful to all our Friends of the Festival for your support, this year more than ever,” Fundraising Manager Aisling O’Sullivan said. “In times like this it is important that we realise we get by with a little help from our Friends. We look forward to a brighter 2021 together.”

Find out more about becoming a Friend of the Festival here, or purchase a gift membership for someone else.


Volunteers at the Festival Gallery. Photo by Emilijia Jefremova

Given the circumstances, it was remarkable and inspiring to see 180 people volunteer over the course of the September 2020 Autumn Edition. Volunteers generously gave their time to Mirror Pavilion, the Festival Gallery, First Thought Talks and more. Not only that, but volunteers kept events safe by brilliantly following GIAF's strict Covid-19 protocols.

This year’s Star Volunteer Award went to Valerie Jackson, and the two runners-up were Hannah Boal and Nadine Leleux.

SELECTED Programme

The 10th annual SELECTED programme took place online this year.

This year, Galway International Arts Festival and Education Partner NUI Galway celebrated ten years of the SELECTED professional development programme for emerging artists, theatre makers, curators and producers currently studying at the university.

Due to Covid-19, this year’s SELECTED participants took part online, adapting admirably to the revised programme and forging connections with Festival staff and each other. Find out more about their experience here, or find out more about the programme’s 10 year history here.

Coming in 2021

Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work will be installed at Derrigimlagh Bog, Connemara 20 March - 11 April 2021.

2021 will start off with the return of Mirror Pavilion, which will be installed this time at Derrigimlagh Bog, Connemara 20 March -11 April. Mirror Pavilion is a work of two parts, and this second part, entitled Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work will feature a new virtual landscape by John Gerrard. Originally scheduled for October 2020, the premiere of Leaf Work was postponed in the hopes that as many people as possible will be able to travel to experience the spectacular installation.

The 44th Galway International Arts Festival will take place 12-25 July 2021. Audiences can look forward to the world premiere of Medicine by Enda Walsh as well as show-stopping music gigs. Tickets are on sale now for the full Heineken Big Top lineup, which includes two concerts by the Pixies, The Flaming Lips, the Stunning, the Academic, Jon Hopkins, Kaiser Chiefs and Sinéad O’Connor.

The full Festival programme will be announced in May 2021.

Thank You

Thank you for your support in 2020. We look forward to seeing what 2021 brings, and gathering together when it is safe to to so to celebrate great art.

Galway International Arts Festival would like to acknowledge the support of its principal funding agencies the Arts Council and Fáilte Ireland, Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, Education Partner NUI Galway, Festival Energy partner Flogas and Drinks Partner Heineken®.

The Festival would also like to acknowledge the support of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture for funding Mirror Pavilion, and for the additional support provided by Festival Energy Partner Flogas, Festival Partner Aerogen and Bluesky Ireland.

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