Hanafin lends a hand as arts extravaganza returns to Marble City
MORE than 23,000 fans of word, song, image and good old-fashioned debate are pouring into the Marble City this weekend for the hugely popular Kilkenny Arts Festival.
Not content with dominating the sporting landscape as its hurlers continue the "drive for five", Kilkenny last night elbowed its way on to the cultural calendar for its annual August extravaganza of the arts.
This year's festival is expected to provide an economic injection worth about €5m to the area's economy, with over 460 artists taking part in 240 events.
As well as the event's staff, the programme will be run by up to 200 volunteers.
Before opening the festival last night, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said that the sector had been resilient amidst budget cuts and the general downturn. "I think the arts sector have realised, probably more than any other sector, that this is a way that they can lift the spirit of the nation and they've actually pushed the boat out far, far more than they have even in previous years."
Ms Hanafin said that more work was going into making such events successful. "They're making more of an effort but they're bringing a lot of people with them and they're also including a huge amount of voluntary activity, and they're realising the talent that they have locally and the potential that it has," she added.
Kilkenny programme director Damian Downes conceded that it had proved "very, very challenging" to maintain funding levels and support in the prevailing economic conditions, but the quality has not diminished.
"Right across the board, it's been difficult," he said.
"Sponsorship is down but we expected it to be down and it's down for everyone.
"The good news on sponsorship is that most of them are local and, in fairness to them, we didn't lose too many."
As is the norm in the Marble City, the arts festival hit the ground running last night with a double-bill featuring writer Joe O'Connor and broadcaster and musician Philip King.
Gabriel Byrne and Colm Toibin are among today's highlights, while journalist Robert Fisk will tonight deliver the annual Hubert Butler lecture at St Canice's Cathedral. The festival runs until August 15.