What carries us all through tough times

Coronavirus has hit all sectors of Irish society, but few as hard as the arts. In response, the ‘National Campaign for the Arts’ was launched to ensure that the arts are on national and local government agendas and are recognised as a vital part of contemporary Irish life. Here Kim McCafferty speaks in the first of a series local artists giving their first hand accounts of how the pandemic has impacted on their work.

As the phone started ringing in mid March I watched the previous three months of full time work preparing Cavan Arts Festival 2020 and a major tour of our two live shows with our company Fanzini Productions disappear in a matter of days.

Instead of hundreds of shows from Poland to Columbia, Switzerland to Sligo, as well as running our third edition of Cavan Arts Festival, I suddenly found myself trying to stay in shape and rehearsing in my mother’s front garden, assuming it would all reappear as suddenly as it had disappeared and we would quickly be back touring. Having to call hundreds of artists who were programmed to bring their work to Cavan Arts Festival and tell them it was postponed indefinitely was a really horrible task. Time off is no bad thing when you are always on the road, but when you really love your job it’s a kick in the guts to not be able to do it.

Like many artist friends I spoke to, I found it hard to get focused on creating new work without the goalposts of anything concrete to aim towards. Without the top up of joy from Cavan Arts Festival this year it is phenomenally hard to plan and prepare for next year’s festival, not knowing if we can do what we love – bring people of all walks of life together for a celebration of art and life in all its varied and wondrous forms.

There is no doubt in my mind that our vibrant exciting professional arts scene will return in Cavan and nationally, but without consistent clear guidelines and support from the government we really run the risk of losing many great artists and arts venues that are at the heart of our communities across Ireland. Already we are learning to work in new ways, make work that can be experienced by audiences who can’t gather together for the time being and diversifying to be able to transfer our skills to work on film or in the digital/online world.

But for me the past few months have made it sparkling clear that the reason we go to gigs, the cinema, the theatre, art galleries or festivals is not just to experience the artist’s performance and creations, but to feel part of something bigger, whether that’s your community, people with similar tastes or interests, or a seething mass of sweaty bodies dancing and going buck mad together for one night.

The arts is just one term for what carries us all through tough times like loss, grief, heartbreak or the strangeness of this year - music, tv, films, books, you name it, it covers it all. I know that our government and local authorities know the immeasurable value of the arts for the betterment of our society, I just hope they continue to be brave and wise enough to continue to support artists, arts organisations and venues to see them through this challenging time and come out even brighter on the other side

Kim McCafferty is an actor & maker with Fanzini Productions & founder & director of Cavan Arts Festival. See some of her recent work @FanziniProductions or follow: festival @CavanArtsFestival

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