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The Big Festivals

The festival season is approaching. In Kilkenny we’ve already had the Rhythm & Roots event on the May bank-holiday weekend. This has become accepted as the first of the high profile festivals based in the city which span the spring, summer and autumn. Next weekend we’ll have The Cat’s Laugh Comedy Festival. This has achieved massive international prominence over its brief 16-year history. Later in August we’ll have the daddy of them – Kilkenny Arts Festival. And in October, the Savour Kilkenny Food Festival will again clamber up that greasy pole to try and match the prominence of the other three biggies! It certainly achieved that last year with the conversion of The Parade into a tented food village. 

Hard Times
But these are interesting times for festivals. As the froth of the Celtic Tiger (anyone else sick of that phrase?) has blown off the economy’s pint of beer, so a lot of the spare funding from public bodies has reduced or disappeared too for even high profile events. The Source Festival that filled the July bank-holiday slot came and went like a comet. The music festival based in Nowlan Park GAA stadium started in 2001, was very successful but hasn’t happened since 2006. And it’s no secret that the Comedy Festival has no overall sponsor this year. The other major events must be feeling the pressure too. So if these relative giants are feeling the stress, how must the much smaller rural events that Kilkenny LEADER Partnership (KLP) supports be doing? 

Who are those guys?
Those festivals are Freshford Conker Festival, Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre Festival, Graiguenamanagh Town of Books Festival, Callan’s Abhainn Rí Art Festival, Inistioge’s Art Festival and- graduating to the bigger events now, the aforementioned Savour Kilkenny Food Festival. Together they constitute the ‘Kilkenny Community Festival Network’. Most of them, Savour excepted, are operating at a different level to the big events. In a fashion this frees them from the tyranny of requiring large levels of funding to service even a basic event. Not that funding is not a concern. And of course KLP is interested in supporting the strategic development of the festivals collectively, with the hope that one or more of them will grow to the level where it can balance the event attractions of the City. 


What is a Festival Network anyway?
Working with Liz Nolan, the contracted Festival Trainer, the Network was formed a little over a year ago to undertake training aimed at facilitating cooperation. In that time the Network has moved from collective sessions on marketing, health & safety, scheduling, etc. to agreeing on sharing of festival equipment, developing a common constitution and even adopting a logo for use in shared signage. Remarkable progress in little more than a year. There have been some groups who have dropped out for varying understandable reasons. It is a demanding thing to ask local voluntary festivals to cooperate on what seems initially to be abstract benefits of cooperation. Well done to all involved. 

The fruits of the collective effort will hopefully be seen in the coming weeks and months when the members’ festivals will present for the first time since the network’s formation. We are looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labours.