Lorraine Maye: Re-launching Cork's midsummer festival in a time of Covid

Lorraine Maye: Re-launching Cork's midsummer festival in a time of Covid
Lorraine Maye of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Picture Dan Linehan

Despite the Covid crisis, Cork Midsummer Fest has managed to put together a programme of events. Lorraine Maye tells Des O’Driscoll how they managed it

Lorraine Maye remembers the moment well. It was Thursday, March 12, and like the rest of us, the director of Cork Midsummer Festival had already heard quite a bit about a strange new virus.

Back in January, even as Covid-19 spread rapidly in China, it all seemed so far away; but by the time the coronavirus made an impact in Italy in February, she had alreadybegun to ponder the 'what ifs' of what would happen if it struck Ireland.

And then came the moment of realisation. While she was sitting in the Nash 19 cafe on Princes Street, a man at the table next to her lifted his head and announced “They're closing the schools! They're closing the schools!”.

“People started to chat about it all around the tables, and I went out onto Patrick's Street and people were already huddled in groups talking about the news,” Maye recalls of a day that already feels so long ago.

“And it quickly became really clear to me that we weren't going to be able to deliver the festival as we had imagined.”

So, after a year of planning a huge event that had in recent years again become a central pillar of Cork's cultural calendar, Maye and her team had to go about cancelling the festival. Even as the event's organisers announced the sad news on March 31, they promised they would try to bring some of the work to us “in other ways”.

Back then, that was more of a vague aspiration than a definite plan. First there was a huge job of dismantling to be done.

Literally hundreds of people had to be contacted and stood down. Artists, crews, venues, funders, community groups, other stakeholders, etc, etc. For audiences, it was a disappointment to lose such events as the visit of British spoken-word artist Kate Tempest, or a new production of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. For cast and crew, it was a huge blow not to be able to do their thing, and in the precarious world of arts employment in Ireland, inevitably some would lose out on valuable income.

“In the beginning it was very much led by the artists,” says the Galway native who has been involved in Cork Midsummer since 2013. “For instance, Brian Lobel of the Binge project came back to us with an idea on how it could be repurposed for online and how Irish artists could work on it. Also, the people involved in Little Druids for Humanity – due to manifest itself in the park in ballincollig on Criunnu na Nóg – came back with a brilliant plan on how it might still involved young people and be a really brilliant project for the moment that we're in.” Corcadorca theatre company, originally due to revive their classic Disco Pigs, chipped in with a way of putting on a new show for residents of various places around Cork; the Glucksman gallery proposed showing artworks on various billboards around Cork. And so Midsummer Moments began to take shape. What has eventually emerged is a slimmed-down programme of events that has a live component, several online projects, work by the festival's artists in residence, and a discussion strand. It begins this week and runs until June 21.

This is all great news for the festival, and helps in the crucial area of keeping the arts world someway engaged with the public, but Maye is also keenly aware of the problems facing the wider culture sector in the Covid era.

“A huge amount of support will be needed in order to ensure the survival of the sector. The National Campaign for the Arts just published a brilliant 13-point plan about how this might be achieved,” she says.

And while venues and performers have been decimated , Maye believes recent months have also given people a renewed appreciation for the importance of culture. “We're watching boxsets, we're reading books, we're listening to music, our children are drawing and being read stories. It's about ensuring that we can continue into the future in the same way. And we've also realised how gatherings are so important to us as people, and the arts sector has such a big part to play in that. ” she says.

The difficult road ahead also provides an opportunity for new thinking within the sector.

“The old rules don't apply, so we have an opportunity to create some new ones. For example, there'll be a lot of looking at how digital has enhanced accessibility to the arts in this moment, and how we can harness that into the future.

“It's good to be thinking about how we create work in a socially distant society. What does that mean for venues and artists, and how work is made, and what does that mean for audiences.

I think these are all challenges that the arts and cultural sector are all equipped to meet as we have the ingenuity and creativity. We just need the investment and trust to do it.”

................................................................

Selected highlights

Contact: Corcadorca perform a short piece in various locations around Cork, which can be viewed from local residents' houses and gardens. No advance publicity or booking.

New Light: A walking tour of eight pieces of art that have been commissioned by the Glucksman and mounted on billboards.

Audio Walk: Bring your headphones and your smartphone to a bridge in Cork, and link up via the Midsummer site to listen to a special narration.

Marie Brett in Day of the Straws.
Marie Brett in Day of the Straws.

Day of the Straws: Marie Brett and Katie Holly make links between a cholera epidemic in Charleville in 1832 and the coronavirus crisis of today. An online filmic, sound, written and visual art piece All That Is Sound, Kim Sheehan: The Corkonian opera singer and contemporary musician will perform via the festival's Youtube channel for an audience who should be wearing headphones to fully appreciate it.

Stevie G: With the city slowly getting back on its feet as restrictions ease, the Cork DJ and tastemaker will be streaming live from various recently-reopened venues. His customary mix of soul hip-hop tunes will be interspersed with chats with some of the various shops and cafes.

[I]Midsummer Moments, June 10 –21, corkmidsummer.com

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