Mallow Arts Festival is fully in the swing of its 2021 installment, making a return to the North Cork town, after its 2020 edition was postponed in the wake of prevailing circumstances.
DJ and puppeteer Ray “Wingnut” Cuddihy served as a guest of honour at last night’s opening, while singer-songwriter John Blek made his debut by the Blackwater, and an exhibition of work from local artists opened at the town’s West End Art Studio.
Speaking on the phone with organiser Tadhg Curtis ahead of the festival, there’s a sense of gathering momentum, with many events selling well and booking out.
“Yeah, it's really been an uncertain time. Originally, we'd have been on in July, and we started planning early in the year, hoping that July would be okay, but obviously, it wasn't - the restrictions were still in place.”
“We then had hoped for the festival around Culture Night in September, but many restrictions had not been lifted by then. So finally, when the 22nd of October was declared the so-called Freedom Day, we decided, right, let's go immediately after that.
“So it's our third attempt and a lot of hard work has gone into it over the year, but now we're all good to go.”
The lineup itself holds a mixture of local interest and wider influence, including gigs from Greenshine, The Service, and the duo of hometown hero Hank Wedel & Declan Synnott; a Halloween screening of Oscar-nominated animation Wolfwalkers; poetry from Emma Muldoon-Ryan and Eileen Sheehan; and even a bit of Ringo: Music Bingo action from this parish’s own Ronan Leonard.
But with circumstances meaning that any festival booking could well be a moveable feast, communication with artists, as well as a shared understanding of events, made the whole affair easier, says Curtis.
“I think all the artists are very understanding, they more than anybody else, are aware of the situation. I mean, music and entertainment have been hardest hit throughout the entire pandemic, in terms of their livelihood being taken away. So they were very understanding, they knew that we were making bookings on a provisional basis, and it was all dependent on the public health regulations. So yeah, there were no problems there.
“With regard to ourselves, I suppose, it was the fact that we had to conduct a lot of planning meetings through Zoom. And, y'know, many people didn't take to Zoom. Indeed, some of them didn't attend the meetings at home from Zoom. And yeah, it's been frustrating at times. As soon as things eased up, we were back into the swing of things, and everybody's put in good effort in bringing the programme to fruition.”
The lineup offers up a bit of everything, in the time-tested tradition of the festival and its forebears. In striking that balance, Mallow Arts Festival has begun the work of outlining to residents the importance of arts to everyday life, sometimes in ways we take for granted, or don’t engage with.
Curtis discusses the line-up with a good bit of anticipation of his own.
“This year, the focus was very much on local artists, and local effort, more so maybe than in previous years - not bringing in any "big" headline acts, or anything like that.
“But acknowledging that throughout the pandemic, all of the artists were still working away; the poets, the writers, the musicians, etc. So we said we'd use the festival really to give an opportunity to all of them to demonstrate a lot of what they've been involved with over the past 18 months.”
Of particular interest is the exhibition at West End Arts Studio, where a varied selection of local visual artists are coming together to display their practice in a manner that perhaps hadn’t presented itself recently, prior to the facility’s establishment in recent years.
The studio, festival founders Mallow Arts Collective and live promoters Songs from the Blackwater are among the groups coming together to reaffirm the value of the arts to local life in a town with a growing population - and are making a difference.
“Just as the restrictions were being lifted, we had a response from the Department of Arts and Culture, etc, through the local authorities, to provide live music in a community setting, and that resulted in Songs from the Blackwater, and it also resulted in our concert in Mallow Castle with Emma Langford and her band, and both of those were hugely successful.
“And allied to that now, there's a pedestrianisation project, which brings music onto the streets. And indeed, the last Saturday of that, is the 30th of October, which is part of our festival. We, in response to that, I suppose, made an attempt to have more activity on the street as part of our programme.”
There's been a very positive response to the festival’s offering - pointing to a renewed engagement with the arts following the lockdown and the role of culture in our lives, both as appreciators and practitioners.
Steadily growing social media numbers and engagement speak to the festival going where the people are, and the hard work of the past few years since the festival’s establishment looks as though it’s beginning to reap long-term dividends.
“People are just looking forward to some activity. Again, people are getting out a little bit more than they were, although Covid is still there, and recent numbers again, are worrying. Now people have a chance to experience some of that firsthand.
“People are engaging, there are lots more questions with regard to the acts, the timings, etc. Things are selling reasonably well, I do think that there's equally a bit of reluctance, given the times we live in, for people maybe to commit totally, and we're hoping that it does come to pass, that there'll be walk-up throughout the event.”
Mallow Arts Festival continues until Sunday. For more information on individual events, go to https://www.facebook.com/mallowartsfest.