Brexit gives ‘window of opportunity’ for Galway culture event

Britain’s EU divorce is a “window of opportunity” for Galway’s European capital of culture, the arts festival’s development manager Sarah Coop has suggested.

Brexit gives ‘window of opportunity’ for Galway culture event

Britain’s EU divorce is a “window of opportunity” for Galway’s European capital of culture, the arts festival’s development manager Sarah Coop has suggested.

Ms Coop of Britain’s Artichoke theatre company, who was recently appointed to raise €7m just eight months ahead of Galway’s 2020 opening ceremony, says she is “not scared” by the “big target” and short timeline for same.

International companies relocating here in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the EU will want to be associated with the State’s largest arts event of the year, she forecast.

“I’ve never not hit a target, and my target is €7m,” said Ms Coop, who has been formerly associated with the Hampstead Theatre, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and others.

Ms Coop is Galway 2020’s dedicated fundraiser — but also the first to hold the post.

Over the past week, the team headed by chief executive Patricia Philbin has hosted a visit from 40 delegates whose cities have or will in the future host European Capital of Culture festivals.

A message of support has been posted by the visiting group on social media for Bulgaria’s capital, Plovdiv, which is hosting this year’s capital of culture.

Local politicians in Plovdiv want to halt a forthcoming photographic exhibition with an LGBT theme.

Ms Coop and creative director Helen Marriage have a challenging task. Galway 2020 has a guaranteed sum of €23m, mainly from Government (€15m) and local authority support — just half of its projected budget of €46m.

Recently published accounts show €2.8m of that was spent last year, and less than €30,000, or 1% of target, was raised in sponsorship.

Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly has described the low sponsorship as “alarming”.

More than €978,000 of the expenditure was on direct programme funding, but over €330,000 was also spent on professional, legal and audit fees, external advisers and “other” unspecified expenditure.

Former city mayor and outgoing Fine Gael city councillor Padraig Conneely described aspects of the 2018 financial statement as “disturbing”.

Ms Coop and Ms Marriage have worked together for 11 years with London-based company Artichoke.

The company co-founded by Ms Marriage has a reputation for large scale public art events, and linked up two years ago with Galway street theatre company Macnas for the 2020 bid book.

Three months ago, Artichoke was signed up by Galway 2020 to fill a vacuum in both creative leadership and fundraising, after the project’s first creative director, Chris Baldwin, quit only just 10 months into his contract.

Sarah Coop
Sarah Coop

Further resignations delayed both programming and corporate sponsorship targets, as arts groups were informed of budget cuts.

The cuts forced Druid Theatre company to pull the larger of its two projects from the 2020 programme.

An EU monitoring group report last summer warned that Galway was in “danger of losing track ... and incurring further delays”.

Ms Coop says it is “easy to knock”, and notes that €23m is still a considerable amount of money.

She recently drummed up stg£6.6m over two years for four large scale projects in Britain.

Some £1.5m of this was for Processions, a mass participation in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London celebrating a century of women’s suffrage.

In theory, she has less than one year to secure a similar sum for Galway 2020, but she says that fundraising will continue well beyond next January’s opening ceremony into next year.

Negotiations on securing five pledges amounting to €1m are at an advanced stage, while links are being made with more than 50 local companies which had pledged sums of between €2,020 and €8,080 over four years.

Celebrations in 2016 when Galway was revealed as the Capital of Culture for 2020.
Celebrations in 2016 when Galway was revealed as the Capital of Culture for 2020.

Ms Coop says she was heartened by the response from business leaders at a recent presentation.

The €7m corporate sponsorship required will be a mix of partnerships and financial support, and will not include ticket sales.

The full programme is due for publication in September.

Ms Marriage said the bid book is still the “bedrock”, but she hopes to add some “additional strands” to enhance the 2020 themes of language, landscape and migration.

“The European capital of culture has to be a bigger vision of what goes on here in Galway normally,” Ms Marriage said.

She stressed that the award-winning Druid Theatre company would still be “front and centre” of the programme.

Much has been made of a lack of legacy in terms of new arts infrastructure.

The recently formed Theatre 57 grouping is campaigning for a cultural hub, and sought an “open call” for further projects in the 2020 programme.

Ms Marriage says the recently announced second round of the “Small Towns, Big Ideas” strand for community projects is effectively that “open call”.

Ms Marriage has promised an “extraordinary” opening ceremony in January.

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