The ambitious programme for Galway's year as 2020 European City of Culture has essentially been abandoned. With no end in sight to the coronavirus lockdown, the Galway 2020 board has laid off all but a skeleton staff and ended its contract with the arts production company Artichoke. The Irish city still hopes to mount a drastically scaled down programme by the end of the year, but virtually the entire spring and summer programme, including spectacular outdoor theatre, poetry and arts events, has been cancelled. A few smaller scale events are still nominally only postponed.
The festival has had a disastrous history. Its opening jamboree, a fire art celebration in Galway city, which is renowned in Ireland and internationally for its vibrant arts scene, was cancelled in February when Storm Ciara lashed the country’s west coast. It was due to relaunch last month with a huge land art piece titled Savage Beauty, by the Finnish artist Kari Kola, which would have lit up a five-kilometre stretch of the Connemara mountain side for four nights including St Patrick's Day. That too had to be called off at the last moment, as outdoor gatherings were banned and bars and restaurants closed by government order, as the scale of the coronavirus pandemic became clear.
The ambitious programme involving major Irish and international artists was a salvage job created in less than a year by the artistic director Helen Marriage. Her company Artichoke took over the festival’s organisation in January 2019, following bitter internal disputes over finances and programming.
Marriage had planned a programme that would cover all four seasons into January 2021, and she had hoped to rescue at least the autumn and winter projects. However in a statement this week, the Galway 2020 board said, "We have also made the very difficult decision to bring to an end our contract with Artichoke", and thanked Marriage and her team "for their hard work and commitment".
A spectacular video of Savage Beauty, still viewable on the Galway 2020 website, and a few tattered banners in the city centre, are now almost the only tangible evidence of Marriage’s plans for the festival.
Board chairman Arthur Lappin described the decisions as "undesired and painful". The board statement said the decision were taken in close consultation with stakeholders including the European Commission, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, sponsors and Galway city and county councils. "We hope this will result in a viable, vibrant but undoubtedly contracted programme of events that will take place later in the year."