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Beyond the Pale: Culture Night

Fresh from a rehearsal room, this week Janice muses on Culture Night and offers up some of her own recommendations for the evening’s events.

I have had a very good week, dear readers. I have had the privilege of working in an actual building on a project for Culture Night. As I’m sure most, if not all, of you know, Culture Night is the one night a year where the entire country opens up its arts and cultural institutions for the public in a great national celebration of our arts and culture. All events are free to the public and, generally, it’s a fair bit of craic.

Of course this year it is going to be different, with events catering to socially distanced audiences and a plethora of digital content online. Like many people I have been feeling some fatigue with online content and in recent weeks haven’t been particularly motivated to watch events online. However, I think this may be the one thing that could, in fact, be a boon for Culture Night.

Culture Night 2019, VISUAL, Carlow

You see, Culture Night was always inherently problematic for me. With so many incredible events happening all over the country, all at the same time, you are at the mercy of experiencing only what happens in your vicinity. Every year for the past number of years and particularly as Culture Night has grown in popularity, I have wished to be at this or that event but physically unable to attend because they have been taking place on opposite sides of the country. Some years it has been more difficult again because I have been involved with an event for the night which has rendered it impossible to see anything else. It’s like standing in a giant sweet shop, with all your favourite sweets, but you are only allowed eat the ones within arms reach. This year, with the advent of online events, that has all changed.

Culture Night in 2020

This year, from 4pm onwards I can immerse myself in events happening all over the country. I can go from learning about Francis Bacon’s time in Abbeyleix in Laois, to discovering new things about the Bronte sisters and their Irish connection in Kildare, to enjoying The Marlarkey Puppet show all the way down in Cork. The world, or this island at any rate, is at my feet and this is downright deadly.

There are a number of ‘in-person’ events also happening, so that if you still feel you need to leave the house to embrace the arts and culture you can do so in a safe and socially distanced manner. Though I would caution those of you planning on attending such events to snap up tickets quickly as numbers for pretty much everything will be restricted.

The programme for Culture Night is enormous, and even though I have been studying it for days, I couldn’t possibly pick just one or two highlights. (Though I have to give a shout out to the amazing project I’ve been working on at VISUAL Carlow, it would be rude not to). RTE will of course be offering their own highlights which they will feature on the telly box so if you really can’t make up your mind what to watch, keep an eye on the TV. What I can say with confidence is that there really is something for everyone. You can check out the full programme HERE and I personally hope that some of the online content will be available to watch back so that I can take as much in as I can. I’m greedy like that.

Celebrating our Arts & Culture

As an artist and maker, I have to say it has been an absolute dream to work on a project with numerous collaborators over the last few weeks. Due to the very digital nature of the evening, it has allowed for a hugely ambitious programme to be developed with an incredible group of artists from such a variety of backgrounds and disciplines which would not have been possible under the normal auspices of Culture Night. This has to be viewed as a positive, and makes me think that there is potential here for us to press a very large ‘reset’ button in how we make work moving forward.

At a time when the goal posts keep changing and the anxiety of a lockdown guillotine hovering over our necks is very real, planning events feels positively sisyphean. It is easy to succumb to the hopelessness and despair of the situation we find ourselves in. The last few months have in turn been surprising, shocking, depressing, frustrating, maddening even. There have been so many debates, discussions and arguments as our very industry has been left in the cold, on its knees. There have been times when we have worked so incredibly hard to get back up and brush ourselves off, only to be pushed back to the ground. To every arts centre, theatre, venue, company and person who has managed to create and contribute work for Culture Night, thank you.

There is no doubt in my mind that this year, as every year, Culture Night will be lauded as a great celebration and embracing of our arts and culture. It will be featured across all our media, all of the ‘important’ people will post messages of celebration and congratulations. There may even be speeches. It will be held up as proof positive of the importance of the arts and the crucial role they play in our lives and how it is a core part of our being. Words like ‘resilience’ ‘determination’ and ‘tenacious’ will be thrown around with a positive air and none of that is wrong. But it is only one night.

We are not here for one night only. We are here all year round. This is not an advertisement for our culture, this is a profession, an industry just like any other. So I ask every single person reading this: as you enjoy your free entertainment on September 18th, be it in person, online or on TV, consider all the ways you can support the industry in real terms. Buy a ticket for a show, donate to a relevant charity, do whatever you think you can to make sure that Culture Night 2020 isn’t the last Culture Night. Because if we aren’t careful, there will be no one left to make the work we all enjoy.

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