Tara McGowan, founder and director of Cairde Sligo Arts Festival. Photo: Donal Hackett
Inspired by the creative energy of the North West, Cairde Sligo Arts Festival is a unique coming together of artists and audiences. A truly civic multidisciplinary arts festival which works with local, national and international artists; encourages collaboration and the creation of new work, celebrates diversity; highlights the uniqueness of our region and encourages engagement of diverse audiences. Cairde Sligo Arts Festival takes place each year in July. This year festival takes place on 3 to 11 July, 2020.
How would you describe your daily routine?
Running a festival has many facets to it, and hence my daily routine will vary depending on what current priorities are. In general, my working day starts at 9 am after dropping my kids to school. I read and respond to e-mails and correspondence first. I try and organise the week so that meetings take place over one to two days, leaving the rest of the week free for research and development — seeing new work, planning, programming, grant writing, fundraising. As my work with the festival is officially part time (but at times definitely not part time), I have to be disciplined with set goals and targets that need to be achieved within a certain time frame. I thankfully have a wonderful supportive board who I can delegate certain pieces of work to.
The festival runs year round collaborative arts workshops which often culminate in a performance or exhibition during the arts festival. I tend to take quite an active role, often participating in these workshops, which is a great way to really get to know the communities we are working with. We also develop and commission new works in collaboration with a variety of artists and arts organisations. These projects can take place over a number of years — so a lot of planning and communication takes place throughout the year.
What was would you say is your biggest challenge as a Festival Maker?
Time Management is always a challenge. Managing a very varied job under constrained hours means I have to be very organised (or attempt to be!). Learning how to delegate and prioritise where time and energy is spent is very important. Seeing new work can be a challenge - time and resource wise -but it is extremely important to get out and see work as often as possible. And of course, fundraising and diversifying funding streams for the festival to enable all the incredible artistic and creative projects to take place – that is a constant challenge.
What is the best piece of advice you received as a Festival Maker?
To write a short and succinct strategic development plan which can be used as your bible. This takes time and it is very valuable to get input from a wide range of stakeholders but it is worth the time and effort put in to get this piece of work right. It is a very valuable tool to the festival’s continued development.
How would you say your festival impacts on the surrounding locality?
Cairde Sligo Arts Festival has become a much anticipated feature in the cultural calendar of Sligo’s North West — people look forward to it and regard it as an annual highlight. Many aspects of the programme serve to develop artform areas on a year round basis. Events such as Cairde Visual have been most welcomed by the Visual Arts community in the North West but also throughout Ireland. The further development of a literary strand within the programme enriches the strong literary tradition and heritage in Sligo and offers opportunities for creative professional development. Our Young Curators programme engages young people in a meaningful way in the festival programme decision making and develops skills in cultural curation. Our collaborative arts work with communities has a long lasting legacy in many areas and we can honestly say that it creates long lasting paths to engaging with the arts as a way of life.
What has receiving Arts Council funding meant to you?
The receipt of Arts Council funding enables us to take creative and artistic risks — to pay artists properly — to create and develop new work over long periods of time — to engage with communities and the public meaningfully and to enhance the professional development of artists.
It has enabled us to enrich and extend opportunities for artists, audiences and communities alike; having a very positive effect on the arts infrastructure in Sligo and the North West.