Sinead Dunphy believes the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival can grow again to emulate the success of major international events, writes Pádraig Hoare.
For Guinness Cork Jazz Festival director Sinéad Dunphy, the city has every right to think itself as a major player on the global arts scene.
Having worked in a pub to put herself through UCC where she studied drama and theatre, the Waterford native worked her way to the top of the tree in the Cork arts world over the past 18 years, managing bands and organising concerts, heading up business development and marketing at Cork Opera House, in between stints in a bank and accounting firms.
After a successful tenure as Cork Choral Festival manager, where market research indicated it was worth €11.5m to the local economy in 2017 with over 47,000 attendees, Ms Dunphy was headhunted to lead the team for the revered jazz festival, one of Cork’s most anticipated annual events.
Highly regarded for her financial, data, marketing and business acumen, Ms Dunphy is convinced Cork should be looking to emulate the likes of New Orleans and Montreal in terms of jazz, not live in their shadow.
“In the development of my vision for the festival, I created a vision statement.
"One of the things was to foster an awareness of jazz but also to establish a hub of the genre.
"I’m meeting all these festivals across the world to create partnerships in the long-term.
"We’re looking at some significant international partnerships going forward. New Orleans is on the radar, Montreal is on the radar.
“As Cork people, we have such pride and we should never undermine what we are capable of in any genre.
"That is the most important part of the festival for me, it is to strive to be bigger and better,” Ms Dunphy said.
Cork can be synonymous with jazz all over the world, she said.
“Across the world, a lot of jazz festivals have gone down the commercial route.
"Cork has gone a little more commercial in the last couple of years, and for very valid reasons.
"I’m trying to bring it back to the essence of the festival, which is jazz music.
"This year’s programme is testament to that, and I hope people can agree with it and support it.
"We have the possibility of being the segue between transatlantic and continental,” she said.
Retaining the 9% Vat rate for the hospitality sector in the upcoming Budget will help the likes of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival grow internationally, according to Ms Dunphy — but valid criticism of skyrocketing hotel prices for major events needs addressing, she said.
“To retain the 9% would be the most beneficial thing. I’ve done a lot of work with hoteliers and Fáilte Ireland over the years and it is them we need to be supporting.
"They’re helping bring in the people with festivals.
"We’re creating experiential packages for these visitors, who ultimately have a good time and continue to go back.
“A by-product of that is the spending in the restaurants and the shops, and also supporting indigenous industry that is the fabric of local life.
"We’re not talking about spending in an international chain in Cork when they can simply do that at home, we’re talking about small indigenous shops that are creating something incredibly valuable.
"Retaining the 9% is really important to allow that happen.
“However, I do agree that hotels in terms of when big events happen, they need to look at themselves. Prices shoot up.
"I’ve met with the Cork Convention Bureau and the Irish Hotels Federation and they have been very supportive in creating and retaining reasonable rates for my artists, so we are creating this big experience for everyone together.
“Maybe there should be an understanding that if the 9% Vat rate was to be retained, that negotiation should happen that a strict top line be put in place as to the rates that can be increased.
"That will ultimately bring everyone together singing off the same sheet,” she said.
An event centre for Cork would be transformative, according to Ms Dunphy.
“Additional infrastructure, whether it be hotels, event centres or concert halls is massively important to the growth of festivals.
"I’m sure there would be smaller festivals who feel it may harm what they are doing, but if you look at somewhere like Dublin’s docklands, you’ll see that the 3Arena has led to the absolute regeneration of that area.
"It was so important to the overall infrastructure of Dublin.
“I believe an event centre in Cork could do the same for Cork. We should always be aiming higher and higher for Cork.
"The Jazz Festival could bring in the likes of Jamiroquai, a massive acid jazz fusion band with an international reputation.
"We have wonderful venues but an event centre would allow us to compete monetarily to bring the likes of Jamiroquai here, which means in turn that the festival can get bigger.”