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Official Galway 2020 opening ceremony cancelled due to weather warnings

The open-air ceremony has been deemed “unsafe to go ahead”, the organisers say.

Image: Shutterstock/Madrugada Verde

Updated Feb 8th 2020, 11:03 AM

THE OFFICIAL OPENING ceremony of Galway 2020 due to take place this evening has been cancelled as a result of the weather warnings in place for Storm Ciara. 

The ceremony was due to take place this evening at 5pm, with crowds of up to 50,000 people expected. However, the Status Orange wind warning in place for Galway later today and a Status Yellow rainfall warning have resulted in the event being cancelled. 

“We have been in constant contact with the relevant authorities since the weather warnings were put in place earlier this week and, in the interests of the safety of the public the weather warnings currently in place mean that it has been deemed unsafe to go ahead,” the organisers said in a statement. 

“We are saddened for the community cast, our volunteers and the whole team who have worked so hard during the last weeks and months.”

It’s been four years since Galway won the bid to be crowned the European Capital of Culture for 2020. 

The programme for Galway 2020 comprises over 1,900 events across 154 projects with local national, European and international artists and cultural organisations involved, including Druid Theatre Company and Galway International Arts Festival.

The events will cross the genres, from theatre, music and sport, to poetry, film, visual art and more.  It won’t just take place in the city – it also encompasses the villages, towns, islands and the city of Galway.

The theme of the programme is based around the four fire seasons of Ireland’s ancient Celtic calendar; Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.

‘A celebration of community’

The woman at the helm of the programme is its creative director Helen Marriage of the British-based Artichoke. She joined the team in January of last year.

“To me, everyone is invited and that’s the passion for events all the way through the year,” Marriage told TheJournal.ie of her hopes for the Galway 2020 programme. She said they are hoping to engage with audiences who might not typically think of themselves as arts-goers.

Describing Galway 2020 as “a celebration of a community,” she emphasised that it’s a showcase for culture from Galway, Europe and beyond. 

“It’s national – it’s not just about Galway city and culture, it’s about being Irish and Irish in a European context,” she said. “I hope in the programme we have managed to capture that.”

In the original bid for European Capital of Culture, the ideas of ‘language, land and migration’ were emphasised. “Galway is Ireland’s most diverse city and 24% of the population of Galway city were born in a place that wasn’t Ireland – that is 20,000 people who are there with their own cultures as well as those they have inhabited since they came to Ireland,” said Marriage.

She said that new projects have been added to the programme since the original ‘bid book’ was devised. 

Marriage said that they were concerned about addressing “ways in which communities can become part of the event – not just asking people to turn up and witness something but that they can shape it [themselves]“.

‘Stormy at times’

There have been moments of controversy for the Galway 2020 project, long before Marriage came on board. Its original creative director resigned in 2018 in what was described as a “confidence crisis”, the Irish Times reported at the time.

There were also concerns from board member, Pearce Flannery, the then-Galway Mayor, about the progress of the budget.

“I think any major project like this goes up and down and gets stormy at times,” acknowledged Marriage. “All I’ve tried to do is focus on the content and programme and the meaning of that. The politics rages around you or in the press – that is normal when you’re working on a programme of this size. The most important part is you tell the truth and stick to the integrity of the project. Your contract is not only with the artists but with the public.”

Marriage said her hope and aim for the year is that people in Galway feel that the programme has gone beyond their expectations, “and they are forever changed by that
- there’s something challenging their thinking and experience”.

Marriage said she brings an “outsider perspective” but is “really willing to learn and willing to learn so much, particularly about Irish culture and ancient ways”.

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“For us it’s been such an amazing learning experience, something that we’re all really proud of – the embedding of us with the Galway 2020 team is really successful so we’re all learning from each other,” she added.

“What is really happening that is fantastic, is in the last week or so it feels like everyone gets it: this thing Galway has been talking about for three years.

“It’s this big sense of pride, not only locally but nationally and internationally.”

Marriage said that the City of Culture designation is a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

“It’s very easy to get sidetracked by local issues but I think that the most important thing of this and my job is to keep steering this in the right direction.”

With regards to the financing and budget, Marriage said that Galway 2020 has a full audit and the details of spending will be available publicly. “No money is wasted but if you’re going to do things on this scale, if you passionately believe like I do that everyone should have access to culture, then the money can’t come from high prices of tickets – I don’t want to charge €100 for a ticket. I want everyone to have access, whether kids, parents or grandparents.”

The organisers recently received a message from Eimear Noone, the Galwegian composer who will conduct the orchestra at this year’s Oscars. 

“She wrote and said it was the opportunity offered to her in the town band [in Ballinasloe] that led her to where she is,” said Marriage.

“That is really important, that kids this year – who know what might happen if a child sees something on the street or goes to something their parents [and is inspired]. Who knows what they might uncover.”

“I believe that artists are the prophets of the future. They see a world people like me can’t see, so it’s always worth creating a platform and opportunity for them to really express themselves. And the sparks that that ignites have repercussions.”

Visit the official Galway 2020 website for more details on the project.

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