Monday, July 17, 2023

The Galway International Arts Festival Archive - Out of the Western World

The Festival Big Top.

The last two weeks of July means that the Galway International Arts Festival is once again spilling through the streets of Galway. A programme of events of theatre, music, spectacle, visual arts, talks, and more brings together a collision of culture throughout the city. Since the festival was founded in 1978, leading local, national, and international artists have come to Galway, enthralling audiences and contributing to the Festival becoming one of the biggest festivals in Europe. 

The Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF) archive is part of the collections at University of Galway Library. Consisting of more than fifty boxes of materials, and hundreds of outsize posters and ephemera, the GIAF archive is treasure trove of festival memories. Comprising photographs, festival programmes, posters, flyers, press files, early administration and correspondence, the GIAF archive builds a record of the growth of the festival, as well as a record of the acts, artists and others who have captivated audiences for over four decades. 

The first festival took place at a different time of year - in April of 1978. That first festival featured acts, musicians, writers and artists such as De Danann, Team Theatre Company, John McGahern, Seamus Coleman, Gerry Dawe, Druid Theatre Company, among many others. The iconic Galway Arts Festival poster became a fixture from the beginning. The first festival poster was designed a food menu, offering 'starters', samplings and other delectables for audiences to try. As the Festival continued, posters were designed by artist Joe Boske, blending images in forms from collage to pop art and creating a unique poster design each year that became synonymous in people's memory as a festival memory in itself. 

Like the poster, the acts, and artists that drew audiences to the festival, new venues became established part of the Galway cultural landscape, The festival Big Top at Fisheries Field is for many one of the first signs the festival has arrived. Its canopy rises above Fisheries Field and can be seen from across Salmon Weir bridge. The earliest reference of a gig at the Big Top from the GIAF archive is from 28 July 1989 and a performance by El Gran Circo Theatro, from Chile, who presented 'La Negra Ester' at the Big Top. The earliest photos of acts at the Big Top include Mary Black in 1993 and visiting group, 'Circque Gosh', who performed in 1994. Photographs in the archive show the Big Top from across the cityscape of Galway. 

A reminder of the concerts and events can be seen in the archival ephemera, such as tickets, flyers and press cuttings, where photos of festival goers at various events provide a visual record of GIAF audiences, as well as the acts they are going to see. Exhibition catalogues from visual arts exhibitions also give an important record of past art exhibitions, which cannot be so easily re-encountered as much as a playscript can give the text of a play, or an album can allow you to listen to a band's music. 

Flyer from Footsbarn Theatre Company at GIAF

The GIAF archive is unique resource that allows access to years and decades of festival memories and objects which can remind us all of the first events we went to as Festival audiences, prompt memories of those we attended with and of our favourite acts. As another installment of the Galway International Arts Festival arrives, more events, acts, and memories will be add to over forty years of festival memories and to the archive of the festival and the archive of festival-going. 

Assorted Tickets from early GIAF events

The Festival Big Top viewable across Salmon Weir Bridge

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