Cork arts on the Rebound!

Next month, a collective of UCC student arts organisers and event managers will curate a full weekend of arts events and exhibitions aimed at kickstarting the heart of the city’s creative community. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Matt Corrigan about Rebound Arts Festival.
Cork arts on the Rebound!

Rebound Arts Festival is produced by the students of UCC’s MA Arts Management and Creative Producing.

The talk in these pages in recent times has, thankfully, slowly but surely come around to the realities, challenges and positives of the post-Covid situation for the arts in Cork, its venues, facilitators and practitioners.

Questions of what spaces might be available, how gig-goers might respond to event announcements, and the effects of the last two years on the city’s cultural life on the long-term do all remain, but a mood of optimism seems to be slowly dawning for now, as people are ready to get back out and showcase new ideas, work and concepts.

Enter the Rebound Arts Festival. UCC and Cork Opera House have been working together in the past few years to create an MA course in Arts Management and Creative Producing, geared at the often-thankless work of events management in the worlds of music, theatre, visual art and performance.

This year, prospective graduates have been tasked with finding spaces in the city and creating site-specific events and exhibitions to suit - from the history of St Peter’s, to the intimacy of PLUGD Records. One of the team is a familiar face to Leeside music heads - Matt Corrigan, otherwise known as Ghostking is Dead, a singer and songwriter that’s part of the Leeside-based HAUSU collective.

“It's interesting, because as far as I'm aware, there's various courses on art management, and cultural policy, but very specifically this course is about producing. The festival itself is obviously at the very core of that.

“It's an incredibly interesting thing, because it's from day one. The first day we go in there, we are immediately talking about festivals, spaces, things that epitomize so many theories around art production and around spaces where people consume art.

“So it ends up being this pedestal for everything that we learn about, from art to production, so everything we learn along the way, it's all with the final goal of building the festival.”

The festival has five streams of programming - Reverb (music), Self+Place (civic issues and urban life), Unbound (multidisciplinary art), Gather+Engage (participation), and Pathways and Pitstops (public art). Each is based in or around a different aspect of the creative condition, and post-Covid experiences and perceptions that might pertain to each.

With a team that draws on a wide range of previous work and artistic intent, coming from a variety of backgrounds, it was a process in and of itself to reach consensus and find ways of helping each other realise their ideas, says Corrigan.

“I don't want to say the festival is irregular, but certainly unorthodox. Everybody who's come into this course, is somebody who's very, very ambitious, somebody who loves art, and because of that, everybody had a particular, idiosyncratic idea.

“For the five streams, everybody had some initial concept bubbling away, and then it was a case of everybody getting together, writing our names, and what we wanted to do down on pieces of paper, and deciding, okay, we're going to help each other finish our ideas, we're going to help each other come together bring a bit of cohesion to this.

“And we were able to form the five groups with our initial ideas, carry each other and guide each other, through group sessions, to the finished ideas of each of our events.”

Rebound Arts Festival is a Ronseal title for an event if ever there was, and the idea of re-entering left-behind or forgotten spaces is central to its remit.

Taking ideas for events around to different venue owners, liaising with them, and bringing them along, however, wasn’t guaranteed to be a success. Corrigan discusses the lay of the land with events in the city after Covid-19.

Everybody's been very, very supportive, and artists in general have been very, very responsive

“The response in general has been incredibly positive, and I think we all were surprised in a way. All of our open calls were amplified by other organizations, like the Glucksman. Everybody's been very, very supportive, and artists in general have been very, very responsive.

“There's a great sensation for artists in that, 'okay, we're coming back, here's a festival that's about the "aftermath" trying to bring things back together, you want to be part of this somewhat unusual thing?'. And the answer, pretty universally, has been yes to that, which is brilliant.

“For a lot of the people involved, some of them have run tonnes of things, for some of them it's a little earlier in their journey. For those of us that have been doing it for longer, we're surprised by how easily it kind of came together in that respect.

“Everybody, I think, is very, very supportive of the fact that we're students, the fact that we're learning, and the fact that we're trying to do something different.”

Many of the team behind the festival are artists themselves, and as such, you can see that the idea of coming back from the pandemic and demonstrating how spaces can be used and conversations can be had represents a level of fulfilment.

As far as booking events, curating programming strains and bringing disparate ideas together to form a coherent whole, Rebound presents a unique opportunity to collaborate and realise ideas based around fostering conversations and questions of the future for the city.

“It bears mentioning that the course is a perfect 50/50 split of international and Irish students. There's a couple of us that are from Cork, and we know the city. But there was the general confusion and not being sure what to do that comes with not being from Cork, of course, but then there was the problem with the fact that, oh, yeah, space is kind-of difficult to come by.

“We're very, very lucky that the people that do have spaces like Jim Horgan in PLUGD, obviously, an absolutely stellar individual who is hosting multiple productions for us that weekend.

“host/ghost (see boxout) is specifically about that, essentially - they really, really tried to get their hands on a disused space for the thing itself, but they're actively trying to find a space that would be appropriate.

“In the end, it's in St. Peter's, which is an incredible space, and they're very thankful to have it. But it was just very interesting that even in the face of all of it, they still found it difficult to get space.”

High notions and aspirations aside, there is also the question of the nitty-gritty of event promotions after Covid-19 - the amount of poster spaces around town has been flattened, social media audiences are increasingly fragmented, and the spread of word of mouth has changed as the crisis did quite a bit of damage to established, in-person communities.

As with many aspects of running a festival nowadays, getting the word out has been subject to fundamental changes.

We're trying to create things digitally, that make people excited to come out physically

“It's a very strange thing to try and do now. Because you feel in a way, like, things are kind-of coming back. But what do we do? What did we do before, what used to work? At what stage do we draw the lines and go, 'I'm not going to stand around handing out flyers on street corners’. What is going to work? Our marketing team certainly have been having a hard time with that.

“We're lucky enough to have examples to look at, these other great festivals like Cork Midsummer, try and understand what they do and what works there. But what we found is we're trying to create things digitally, that make people excited to come out physically, you know, meeting people in their new territory, in this digital space that everybody has kind-of reclused back into, and coaxing them out, I suppose, with depictions of real world beauty, and that's a very, very tough thing to do.”

Rebound Arts Festival takes place at venues in Cork city centre from Friday, April 8, to Sunday, April 10. For more info, head for https://www.ucc.ie/en/fmt/theatre/reboundartsfestival/.

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