But to do it with very limited funding and no paid staff is quite a feat.
Waterford City’s Imagine arts festival has survived, and thrived, thanks to the dedication of the volunteers who have kept the show on the road for the past 11 years. It is no surprise that artistic director Ollie Breslin describes the festival as a labour of love. It receives a small amount of funding from the Arts Council, the City Council and this year, from The Gathering, but relies greatly on those involved in the local arts community to keep the festival going.
“The public doesn’t have much money to spend either so it’s a tricky time for people trying to do things like this,” says Breslin. “But because we are all volunteers and we are conscious of every penny we spend, we run a fairly tight ship.”
The festival runs over ten days, with 70 events covering all the arts forms. This includes a trad weekend named in honour of local fiddler John Dwyer who this year celebrated his 80th birthday.
With more than a decade of experience, the festival is a fairly well-oiled machine, says Breslin. “Because we are going 11 years we know a fair bit about what the people of Waterford want to see. We don’t make many mistakes. We know how many theatre events and concerts will get good houses. We know our market, but we also want to introduce new things each year and push the boundaries. People are now travelling more for arts events and there is a lot more movement within the south-east than there used to be. There is a thriving arts scene in Waterford and a lot of local organisations have become involved in recent years.”
One of the musical highlights is a performance by acclaimed English folk singer Chris Wood. “This is his only visit to Ireland,” says Breslin. “His whole English tour is sold out and he is interrupting that to pop over here and play a gig. We are really looking forward to that.”
Another musical legend making an appearance is guitarist John Etheridge who has played with everyone from Stephane Grappelli to John Williams and Eric Clapton to Nigel Kennedy. He will play jazz with the sublimely talented singer Kate Daniels. Other acts on the musical programme include Dervish and Iarla O Lionaird.
Sure to be of huge interest to local audiences will be the exhibition of the Poole Photographic Collection (1890 to 1920). Containing 60,000 photos, the collection, now held by the National Library, will be displayed in city shop windows.
’Viewfinder’ is an exhibition of works from the Arts Council permanent collection selected and reinterpreted by local children. Their pieces will be displayed together with those by the professional artists, including Robert Ballagh, Pauline Bewick and Basil Blackshaw.
Breslin is justifiably proud of the broad and varied programme offered by the festival which he believes could be even bigger and better with more support.
“We have a good balanced programme this year, given our budget limitations,” he says.
“Even though we are going 11 years, I think we still haven’t been discovered as a festival. We don’t have the money to publicise it. But we can’t complain because we are still here. A lot of festivals have gone by the wayside. We are here to stay.”
* The Imagine arts festival runs from today until Oct 27.