Working in Cork's vibrant arts scene is a Midsummer's dream

As Cork Midsummer Festival gets underway tomorrow, COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to its Director Lorraine Maye about her career to-date, Cork’s vibrant arts scene, this year’s festival highlights, and how motherhood has changed her
Working in Cork's vibrant arts scene is a Midsummer's dream
Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan

HAVING gained work experience on the arts festival circuit in Galway, Dublin and Edinburgh, Lorraine Maye always wanted to work with the Cork Midsummer Festival.

The Galway native, who had attended Cork Midsummer festival events over the years, successfully applied for the job of managing the festival in 2013 and has since become its director.

Lorraine studied politics, economics and sociology at NUI Galway followed by a post- graduate diploma in arts administration at the university. She recalls that while at school and at college, she was interested in the performing arts and got involved in amateur productions.

“As I moved through college, I started to work a little bit more on the organisational side of things and I realised this was something I was passionate about.

“When I was younger, I would have loved to have been an actress but that completely changed. I saw other aspects of the arts and learned about marketing, accounting and got an overview of all the different art forms when I did the arts administration course.”

Lorraine got work experience at the Galway Arts Centre.

“I decided I wanted to pursue working on festivals. After my work experience in Galway, I went to Edinburgh to work on the fringe festival in 2003. That was an incredible, eye-opening experience. It was really hard work and also, loads of fun. I was working as a theatre manager for two spaces and I got a really good sense of how theatres are run and how events are put together. From there, I started a cycle of working on festivals on short term contracts.”

These included a stint with the Cork International Film Festival and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast.

“I worked with different festivals for about three years and then decided I would like a full time job. So I moved to Dublin and got a job with Temple Bar Cultural Trust. I was culture night and events manager. When I started there, Culture Night had just begun.

Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan
Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan

She said it was “incredible” to see Culture Night go from one night in Dublin to 34 regions around Ireland, and Lorraine worked in this post for six years.

Then the job at the Cork Midsummer Festival came up. When Lorraine got the post, she moved to Cork, which was made easy for her because she was engaged to a Cork-based man, Ray Boland, a barrister. They have since married and have a 21-month-old daughter, Camille. Having a child has changed Lorraine.

“Before, I probably would have worked all the time, late into the evenings. When you’re passionate about something, you tend to focus a lot on it. But now, with Camille, that just isn’t possible. I had to change the way I work and use my time really well, becoming more productive between 9-5pm. I then pick Camille up from the creche and take her home. It’s a totally different way of working and it’s not easy.

“In terms of childcare, my husband and myself are 50-50. It means we can both do our jobs and look after Camille, sharing collecting her from the creche. If one of us has to work late, we’ll manage it.”

Apart from the logistics of looking after Camille, Lorraine says that having a child has changed her perspective on life.

“Before I had Camille, I wondered how I’d feel about working and juggling. The juggling isn’t easy.”

But Lorraine now sees her job in a whole new light.

“I think the arts make a huge difference. In terms of the place that Camille lives in, specifically Cork, I’ve become more passionate about what I do. It is driving me to do the best I can do and make the best contribution I can make.”

Lorraine is one of several women heading up arts organisations in the city. There’s Mary McCarthy at the Crawford Art Gallery, Valerie Byrne at the National Sculpture Factory, Eibhlin Gleeson at the Cork Opera House, Julie Kelleher at the Everyman and Fiona Kearney at the Glucksman, as well as Fiona Clark, CEO of the Cork Film Festival. That’s a lot of girl power!

“It’s incredible. In terms of all the arts institutions and organisations, we’re all talking to each other, working together and driving each other on. I think Cork is one of the most collaborative places I’ve ever worked in.”

Lorraine says that while women have traditionally played a big role in managing arts organisations and events, “for some reason, women haven’t been in curatorial or programming positions. But that is shifting. It started to shift in Cork before it happened in other places.”

Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan
Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan

Lorraine was part of the Gender Equality Policy Working Group which included the Everyman, Druid and the Abbey.

“In terms of the role of the Midsummer Festival, we have committed to things such as achieving gender equality in the programme over a five-year period, which, given our remit, involves us especially looking at artists in the emerging stages of their careers as well as working with our programme partners to ensure the festival achieves gender equality overall.

“Most of our arts partners in Cork also have gender equality policies or commitments now, so we are all on the same page.”

Funding for the arts is an ongoing problem, says Lorraine.

“That the arts are chronically funded isn’t a matter of a moan, it’s a matter of fact. The Arts Council budget is still 10% lower than it was in 2007 and we have one of the lowest per capita spends on the arts in the EU. Addressing this will take a holistic approach, one involving arts and cultural considerations being built into policies across every government department and effective strategic planning between all government agencies, local and national.

“We are all very hopeful that the Taoiseach will make good on his commitment to double expenditure on culture and the arts over the next few years.”

In terms of funding for the Cork Midsummer Festival, Lorraine says the festival could always do with additional resources.

“But it is very encouraging to us that our Arts Council grant has increased year on year over the past number of years, last year by 18%.

“The Arts Council and Cork City Council are incredibly supportive of the festival. Without that support, the festival simply wouldn’t happen.”

Lorraine tries to see as much as she can in the arts, which involves going to Dublin as well as occasionally travelling internationally. She is enthusiastic about the arts scene in Cork, generally.

“There’s a lot of really great initiatives like the Quarter Block Party in February. That is a really brilliant addition to the arts calendar in Cork.”

The Cork Midsummer Festival lost one of its great advocates last October. Jane Ann Rothwell was chairman of the festival’s board including “during a difficult time in the festival’s history when we had a fair bit of redevelopment and reimagining to do.

“For us, 2014 was a quiet year. Jane Ann led the board with enormous energy and positivity. She really believed in the festival, in the arts and in Cork. She fought for the festival in a really skilled way. She was very open, very fair and decisive. She led the board right up until she passed away from illness.”

Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan
Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan


When asked for her festival favourites this year, Lorraine has selected events by women.

1. Cosy by Kaite O’Reilly and Gaitkrash Theatre Company.

“This is a new production of a play at Firkin Crane. The cast of six comprises three generations of women, which is unusual to see on stage. Essentially, the play is about what makes a good death. It’s also very funny, heart-warming and entertaining while being thought-provoking.”

2. A Different Wolf by Junk Ensemble and Dumbworld.

This is a dance opera taking place at the Opera House.

“Working with 80 Cork people, the show is based on talking to them about their fears. It’s about everyday fears and is all about facing our fears together, as a community, rather than alone.”

3. A Sunken Gallery with the festival’s artist-in-residence, Doireann Ní Ghríofa.

“This is the second year that Doireann has been our artist-in-residence. Her event is about the fact thatthis year is the tenth anniversary of the flooding of the Glucksman Gallery. The event will take place in the basement of the gallery. Doireann will be looking at ‘submerged texts’ accompanied by live music by composer, Linda Buckley.”

4. The Public Kitchen.

“This event is led by Kath Gorman from the festival. It involves a group from Chile called Teatro Container. They have been all over the world bringing with them a mobile kitchen in a shipping container. They will park it at St John’s Central College, where they’ll work for several weeks on the ground with the community, looking for recipes and local traditions.

“There will be a series of dining events where people can go along, sit outdoors, eat and be entertained by performers telling stories and singing.

5. The Tempest at Fitzgerald Cork.

“The Handlebards are the world’s first cycling Shakespearean troupe. Essentially, they cycle around the UK and Europe, setting up in parks and outdoor spaces, doing bicycle-powered versions of Shakespeare’s classics. This production is for all ages and families with magic, music and mystery.”

For a full programme see

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