Art and music will be found in all sorts of places at Killorglin’s K-Fest this weekend, Neil Browne tells Ellie O’Byrne
EVERY year in August, the town of Killorglin indulges a strange and ancient custom; the crowning of King Puck.
Four years ago, a group of artists and musicians decided to bring a second festival to the town; a multi-disciplinary arts festival to inject new life into the many vacant properties that years of rural decline had brought to Killorglin by putting them to use as pop-up gallery spaces, theatres and concert halls.
“I’m a huge supporter of Puck Fair and I enjoy it every year, but what we wanted to do was to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is Puck Fair, and we’re going to be the opposite of Puck Fair,’” K-Fest’s artistic director, Neil Browne, says. “The test was, can Killorglin have two completely opposing festivals; do we have the locals’ interest? We just wanted to move out of pubs and into unique and strange spaces and expose the general public to this very diverse array of arts.”
This year, 145 artists will take over 21 spaces in the town, and it’s not just visual art that’s catered for: There will also be spoken word, music, film and children’s events.
Artists will vie for K-Fest’s annual Screaming Pope Prize, named for Francis Bacon’s nightmarish Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. “We really want to foster a familial feeling, but a little competition is never a bad thing; it definitely incentivises artists to submit to the festival,” Browne says.
K-fest opened their submission process to the public in 2016, following two years of generating submissions through outreach in colleges. The result, Browne says, has been an enriched programme, but one which still celebrates emerging artists over established names.
For many locals, the festival is more than just an influx of interesting visitors; it is, Browne says, an “outstanding feat of socially engaged art”, and a kind of test case for the place of arts in rural redevelopment.
Killorglin was hit badly by the recession. “All the traffic in the town just ground to a halt; all the footfall and everything just left,” he says. “We had all these empty buildings and we just wanted to do something with them. The town is small enough that everyone knows each other, so we just put the word out there and said, ‘look, do you mind if we borrow your building for the weekend and put four or five artists up on the walls?’ We started getting yeses. It was a bold thing to ask for in this small town in Kerry.”
The proof of the festival pudding is in the funding; now, 75% of K-Fest’s funding comes directly from local business owners and sponsorship.
The pop-up venues are themselves a huge draw. P. Sheehan’s sweet shop on Bridge Street was the haunt of generations of children, and is one of K-Fest’s most poignant and evocative locations. This year, it will host four audio-visual installations.
“The woman who owned it was 85 when she died,” Browne says. “She had the shop out the front and her domestic dwelling at the back; a bedroom, a sitting room and a kitchen. When we opened it up, we couldn’t believe it. The house hadn’t been touched; I’d say there hadn’t even been a lick of paint on it, and all her old appliances were there from the 1960s and ’70s. It leaves a huge impression on people.”
Hopefully, the rest of the festival will do the same.
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