Friday 23 February 2018

The face of Cairde

Creative director of Cairde Sligo Arts Festival Tara McGowan tells Sorcha Crowley she's gearing up for a magical week of music, acrobatics, drama and intrigue

Creative Director of Cairde Sligo Arts Festival Tara McGowan. Pic: Donal Hackett
Creative Director of Cairde Sligo Arts Festival Tara McGowan. Pic: Donal Hackett

If they say walls have ears, perhaps Breda Murphy's house at No.2 John Street will 'talk' for the first time in two decades next month.

You will be able to enter, stroll around and enjoy several short intimate musical performances in the rooms of her house as part of the Cairde Sligo Arts Festival.

Creative Director Tara McGowan had always wondered about it.

"This house is one that I've always admired. It's right at the corner behind the Cathedral. The house with the green door and green around the windows," she tells The Sligo Champion.

Sipping a glass of water on a rare break from preparing for the festival, she's enthusiastic and eager to talk about the highlights, such as Breda Murphy's house.

It's one of the more unusual acts in the programme and will see Bottlenote Music move their sell-out show outside of Dublin for the first time.

Audiences will be led from one room to another to experience a series of quiet improvisations, explosive sets and moments of magic.

Tara saw the show first in a Georgian house in Dublin in 2013 and loved it.

She knew the musicians and talked to them straight away about bringing it to Sligo.

She applied for funding to the Arts Council and got the green light this year to bring it to Cairde.

"I am so excited about that. It's absolutely brilliant," she smiles.

The brief was finding a house that was semi-derelict but safe enough for people to enter and for musicians to be in.

It had to be atmospheric and with character, a house people might be curious about having a peek inside.

Breda Murphy's former home ticked all the boxes.

"I called Fr Hever about it and asked him if it was owned by the Church and if I could look inside," said Tara.

"It was perfect. All we know so far about the history is that it was known as Breda Murphy's house and that was the last family to live in there," she said.

A calendar from 1997 lies in the house, a clue to when it might have last been occupied, although the house itself could be well over a century old.

"There will be a music concert trail for audiences of 20 at a time who will be led from one room to another. In each of the rooms there will be a musician so it will be quite intimate," she said.

The performances in each room will be just ten minutes long on the trail throughout the three-storey house.

"I'm really happy with it. It's certainly something we'd like to do more of, events in unusual spaces and locations. It's something that has added interest for people to go in and have a look. It's placing art in an unusual space. It adds to the interest and piques the curiosity," said Tara.

Another fun event will be Old Time Radio a live performance of plays from the golden age of radio in Connolly's pub July 9th.

Cairdre the Arts Festival will celebrate ten years in existence next year.

It's gone from audiences of 1,000 to 10,000 last year.

Galway Arts Festival celebrates 40 years this year and takes place a week later - is it something Cairde aspires to?

"We have a way to go. We're not benchmarking yourselves against Galway. We're working on budgets of around ¤45,000. Galway Arts Festival budget is around ¤3.5million," said Tara.

Cairde has just taken a desk in The Building Block in Waterfront House. Taking an office would be the next step.

It's a natural progression for a growing organisation.

"Cairde Sligo Arts Festival will continue to grow each year but our main focus is on continuously evolving and improving the festival," said Tara.

"Our ambition is to foster more creative collaborations between artists; commission and produce new work and to extend opportunities to artists and audiences alike to participate in exceptional arts and cultural activities," she added.

She's keen to get both dedicated culture vultures and mildly interested passersby who might be grabbed by an event outdoors.

The festival opens and closes with family days with gallery talks and wine receptions in between.

"Park Fest in the Peace park is a day long musical theatre, aerial theatre, arts, craft and food stalls in the Peace Park," said Tara.

"When the sun shines and the weather is good the Peace Park can take 3,000 people in a day, coming and going over the day. Outdoor events like that have the capacity to reach out to a lot of people," she said.

Street Fest will close the festival in Stephen Street car park as part of Creative Ireland, a nationwide initiative headed up by Sligo man John Concannon.

"The idea is to have something for everyone so there is a really high quality arts programme. Some of it is happening in a park and in some way that makes it accessible for many people," said Tara.

She acknowledges there are still barriers around attracting people to the theatre or gallery, something she sees being addressed by adding more events in outdoor locations "that a passerby might just happen upon and take part in, even as an unplanned spontaneous occasion."

Is Sligo doing enough to promote the arts?

"I do think that Sligo would benefit from more investment in terms of infrastructure," said Tara, while also pointing to the many individuals and organisations in Sligo who "have a hugely positive drive and vision for Sligo and who are all working together to make Sligo a better place to work and live."

In what little spare time she has, Tara and runs her Irish design and craft boutique Cait & I with her sister Kathleen McGowan.

She's earned her stripes in the arts world, having worked with Blue Raincoat Theatre Company and the Model since 2000. Tara's work is year round. She starts work on next year's programme in August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Booking: 071 916 1518.

Sligo Champion

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