Galway 2020 – Arts Groups Rally to the Cause

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory best sums up the behaviour of the powers-that-be in Galway after the region was awarded European City of Culture for 2020. The event will, of course, take place despite serious funding shortfalls. But it will happen because Galway’s arts groups, who were shamefully sidelined since the designation was granted, will rally to the cause.

The announcement in July 2016, that Galway had defeated Limerick and the Three Sisters to win the designation, marked the culmination of great co-operation between business, arts organisations and the municipal authorities across Galway. Unfortunately, the momentum dissipated almost immediately, leaving a vacuum that was only filled in May 2017 with the appointment of a CEO (now departed). She was followed by a creative director (departed) and other employees in areas from HR to PR, but no cultural producers. Galway 2020 set itself up as a private company, with a board that included City and County Council representatives, and a Chair from Belfast.

Galway City Council has, so far, given nearly €3.5m to 2020, while Galway County Council’s contribution is well under a million.

Local councils each pledged €6m to the project and a Business Engagement Director was to be appointed to raise €7m in sponsorship. That sponsorship initiative never got off the ground. Galway City Council has, so far, given nearly €3.5m to 2020, while Galway County Council’s contribution is well under a million.

Since last year, arts groups whose projects were included in the successful Bid Book, contacted 2020 staff for updates. They were ignored. These groups had created shows with a European dimension, based on the Bid Book budget. But as sponsorship failed to materialise, funding was slashed. Druid Theatre withdrew its proposal for that reason.

While the artistic community were aware that the 2020 ship was rudderless, the only response from its officials, board and Local Authority bureaucrats was that everything was fine. But it wasn’t.

A new CEO has now been appointed, amid moves to get the project back on track, but the denial of reality, disrespect for artists and failure, so far, to create any cultural legacy for the West of Ireland, offer lessons on how not to run a Capital of Culture. The show will go on but the Tribes of Galway now need to row – together.

Judy Murphy

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