A Question of Taste with Cliona Maher

Cliona Maher is artistic director of Clonmel Junction Arts Festival. Picture: John D Kelly

Cliona Maher recently moved home from France in recent years, and is the new artistic director of Clonmel Junction Arts Festival, which runs in the Co Tipperary town from July 1-7.

Best recent book you’ve read:

Sally Rooney’s Normal People was a mesmerising read.

Best recent film you’ve seen:

I really enjoyed Cold War, the 2018 historical period drama film directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. My husband is Polish so we try to watch a lot of Polish cinema — it’s such a great country for filmmakers.

Best recent show or gig:

Stagecraft Youth Theatre produced a devised play last year, The Fight, which blew me away. Their artistic director, Jack Reardon, has a fantastic rapport with his youth theatre members and the resulting play is funny, horrifying and moving in equal parts. We’re bringing it back for this year’s festival because I want it to be seen by a wider audience.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

I love Vampire Weekend’s new album, Father of the Bride. I’ve also been re-listening to Mick Flannery’s Evening Train having read some amazing reviews of the musical as part of Cork Midsummer Festival. We’re really looking forward to having him play here at Junction this year.

The best gig or show you’ve ever seen (if you had to pick one!):

A show that I still remember adoring years later is a Cheek By Jowl production of As You Like It in Dublin Theatre Festival so many years ago.

If you had to pick one show or event from this year’s fest in Clonmel, what would it be?

Having grown up in Clonmel, Robert Ballagh’s installation ‘People And A Frank Stella’ was such a familiar part of the landscape of my childhood that seeing it exhibited again is going to be very emotional — like meeting a long-lost friend.

I was surprised when I saw photos of the panels at how familiar the details of the work are and this is true of a number of people I’ve spoken with. I love how the placing of this artwork in such an accessible and public spot had a strong impact on a generation. Bringing it back for the Festival to Showgrounds Shopping Centre is one of my festival highlights.

Tell us about your TV viewing:

Streaming is king! I do the classic thing of watching one thing obsessively.

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

We listen to a lot of French radio as we’re trying to make sure our son keeps his French. He was really bilingual when we moved to Clonmel two years ago, but it’s more difficult since he’s not surrounded by it any more. The super-talented Eimear King has just started the South Tipp Arts Podcast, available on Spreaker. I love the way her enthusiasm, knowledge and love of the arts shines through her interviews.

Your best celebrity encounter:

Harry Dean Staunton sang ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ to me in a nightclub in Los Angeles. My friend Tim O’Shea was the manager there at the time and introduced me. We chatted about Ireland and music, and he broke into song sitting at the bar.

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history or music event?

August 12-15, 1969 for Woodstock.

You are curating your dream festival – which three artists are on the bill (living or dead?

A piano recital by Clara Schumann. Anything by James Thiérrée — I’ve seen two of his shows and the blend of circus, dance and music is so theatrical and brilliant. And Dave Brubek and band playing ‘Take Five’.

Unsung hero — individual or group you think don’t get the praise they deserve:

Production managers. The festival wouldn’t be happening this year if our almost-resident production manager Colin Everitt hadn’t agreed to come back. He’s amazingly calm, given the stressful nature of his job, and uses local crew and technical staff which improves the infrastructure of the arts in the region.

You are queen for a day — what’s your first decree?

Increase arts funding immediately to a level where artists are paid correctly.

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