Kim McCafferty’s not one for hyperbole. Find another interview with the driving force behind an arts festival, and you’ll be doing well to locate the word ‘small’, let alone ‘tiny’. And definitely not ‘teeny-tiny’.
“From tiny acorns... will be the tagline,” she says as she explains her vision for the Cavan Arts Festival, which comes into being on Culture Night – Friday, September 21.
Kim’s modest sales pitch shouldn’t be misinterpreted however, she is ferociously passionate that the event will, in time, blossom into a heavyweight festival. For a first time festival director, it’s just a matter of ensuring it goes off without glitch and building faith in those who matter that the county town can sustain it.
As an actor, Kim notes that her office space is other towns’ festivals, and each time she lands into another town the same uncomfortable question pokes a pointy elbow in her side: why can’t Cavan have this? With the launch of Creative Ireland back in 2017, she and some like-minded friends decided, there’s no good reason we can’t. “I suppose a group of us felt that since the Fleadh, and all the successes of the townhall, we have such brilliant audiences developed in the town, and there’s so many artists around the county - that there really is a need for an arts festival. Now that said, the resources are absolutely tiny, and venues are tiny to say the least - to the extent they are non-existent. But we said, ‘You know what, we have to start somewhere’.”
That somewhere for “99%” of the festival is Con Smith Park. It’s a venue which must have happy memories for Kim as the children’s playground was where she premièred her brilliant physical comedy show Busyness at last year’s Culture Night. The Cavan Arts festival however has greater staging demands that a kids’ climbing frame can’t fix:
“In lieu of another venue we are putting up a circus tent,” explains Kim, “a very beautiful blue and yellow teeny big top, we’re calling it, because it’s not a very big one.”
They also promise to “bring music to the bandstand”, and will bring Cavan’s Culture Caravan out on the local byways.
“There will be a tiny caravan running tiny events, experiential theatre and music and dance; and we will have other locations around the trees and part of the park,” says Kim.
She explains that the modest resources leans itself to celebrating and showcasing the local “incredible talent”.
Despite the downplaying, the programme has too much to list here. However it will include classical music by Cavan Youth Orchestra, The Fanzini Brothers will come all the way from Kerry to bring us comedy circus. There will be drama by Gonzo Youth, poetry readings galore, workshops in spoken word and rap, visual artists creating installations around the park, and sculptor Joey Burns will bring his wood sculptures to life through music. Meanwhile artist Jane McCormack’s new piece called This Moment depicts portraits of ‘Townhall People’ in the spirit of Andy Warhol’s 1960s screen tests. Another highlight promises to be the new collaboration between poet Noel Monahan and guitarist Daragh Slacke, there will also be a kids’ rave, and the ever popular “musical magical minstrel” Larry Beau will entertain and enthral in equal measure.
Just because something’s good, doesn’t mean it will last however. The excellent Cavan Theatre Festival had its final curtain after just one outing. Longevity is a factor exercising Kim’s mind since she, in her words, started “plaguing” Creative Ireland and the Cavan Arts office in 2017 to support this.
“People will say ‘Cavan Arts Festival’ that’s a bloody big title for only a couple of events in the park on one day and one night. We feel, if we start small we will have a stronger foundation from which to grow. We are working on a teeny tiny budget this year, and what we are going to try to do is leave a little bit in the bank to show the Arts Council, and show people next year, that we can move forward and - I can’t believe I’m saying this because I don’t have one for myself - have a five year plan.
“So what we’re looking at now is Friday night and Saturday. But in five years’ time it’s all over the town – we’re bringing shows to local businesses, that we’re spreading out into unusual venues, that we might have a Dawn Concert up Shantemon Mountain in five years over a long weekend, and in 10 years it’s Cavan International Arts Festival – we feel that we can start slow and strong and there’s enough experience from the production side, the creative side, and the whole county, bringing in the arts groups around the place – the museum and theatre, so that we can grow like that.”
Helping her nurture the project into being have been Creative Ireland Cavan, Cavan Arts Office, Tom Sullivan, Catriona O’Reilly, Rhonda Tidy, Savina Donohoe, Derry Scanlon and Conor Harrington.
With the whole merits of community festivals playing on Kim’s mind, she paraphrases Dr Niamh NicGhabhann who runs the MA in Festive Arts in the University of Limerick, and who she recently heard speaking on RTÉ’s Arena arts show:
“She says how many more times do we need to spend all our hard earned money to pay to see extremely rich people, very far away on a big stage? How much of a collective experience do we get from that?
“What we are looking in the programme here is that something for all ages. So I’m trying to think, what would my mum like? What would my granny like? And what would the kids in the skatepark also enjoy? And seeing can we create a common denominator space where we can all enjoy things together.”
Will the sun shine of Kim’s plans?
“We are praying - we would like the whole town to get the Children of Prague out – the whole lot of them, the Cousins of Prague and everybody, and we’re hoping to get beautiful weather, but we are totally weather proofed if it’s not. ”
Whilst this budding acorn of a festival maybe “small”, it’s not as small as the admission fee over the two days - every event at the inaugural Cavan Arts Festival will be free of charge. Put it in your diary, and enjoy it from the start, as Kim says: “Good things come in small packages.”