“I say I have dual citizenship in both Carndonagh and Galway”

John Crumlish
John Crumlish

John Crumlish says he’s a “little bit busy at the moment.”

A “little bit” might be a slight understatement, as the Carndonagh man is currently preparing for the forthcoming 37th Galway International Arts Festival, which takes place from July 14th to 27th.

Last year was the largest ever, with a phenomenal 165,000 visitors.

This year, the festival has added the world ‘international’ to its title, in order to reflect its expansion and success across the globe, both by welcoming artistic talent and exporting it.

Speaking to the Journal, John, who last year was awarded the Galway Person of the Year, said he was “extremely lucky” to be working in the industry he loves.

He also conceded that despite being away from his hometown for a number of years, he was still a “Carn man.”

“You can take the man out of Carn and all that,” he laughs.

“I say I have dual citizenship. I support Galway in the hurling and Donegal in the GAA. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the Ulster final, as it’s in the middle of the festival. But, I’ve three kids who are big Donegal supporters, so we’ll be cheering them on.”

John left Carn, where “there aren’t that many people with the name Crumlish,” when he went to study in Galway. But he didn’t remain in the city, and came home for a few years while studying in Northern Ireland.

But, Galway’s pull was to strong and he returned, becoming involved in the festival as a volunteer at first. He became increasingly involved within it and became managing director 11 years ago.

He, working alongside artistic director Paul Fahy, is roundly credited with making the arts festival the success it has become.

It is evident to see he has a huge love for the event and the arts.

He said: “There’s a great appetite for the arts in this country. I hope it will grow even more in the years ahead. We run a series of talks around creativity and innovation and through these, we have found so many people have a strong interest. A wide variety of people, from all walks of life, are looking for creativity and innovation. These people are very open in their own minds and also in their approach. The continued success of the festival highlights this.”

John discloses that in his years with the festival, the biggest transformation he has seen has been in the move to digital.

“This has been huge for the arts,” he said.

“We do an awful lot of our communication now through social media and the vast majority of our tickets are bought through our website. I think this is where we can grow.”

John said the decision to add the ‘International’ to the festival this year was done in order to “reflect” what it is about.

He said: “The festival lasts for two weeks, but a lot of our own work appears both nationally and internationally long after it. For example, the play, ‘Ballyturk’, by Enda Walsh, which is being premiered at the festival, will go on to Dublin and Cork before moving to the National Theatre in London in September.

“We did a previous production with Enda and Cillian Murphy, who is also in ‘Ballyturk’ called ‘Misterman’, which did well in the United States. That’s just one example, but it shows how we are not just about bringing in international acts and work but also bringing it to the rest of the world.”

John said he was “quite confident” this year’s festival would prove even more popular than last year,

The schedule of events includes major exhibitions from John Kindness, Janet Cardiff and Patrick O’Reilly; the Royal Court Theatre’s trilogy of Beckett’s Not I, Footfalls, Rockaby and performances from The National, described as Brooklyn-based indie rockers.

While artists and companies from around the world are featured, there is also a strong emphasis on Irish writing.

John says one of the highlights of the event will be the European premiere of Chappati, by Galway’s Christian O’Reilly, which features acclaimed actor John O’Mahony, of ‘Fraser’ fame. There will also be a Live at the Festival Big Top (co-produced with the Róisín Dubh) which features a line-up of Irish and international musicians.

Despite the fact he is surrounded by the best in theatre, visual arts, music and more, John is still able to be awed by creativity.

He tells how one of his cultural highlights last year was an event which ocurred right here in the North West,

He said: “The ‘Lumiere’ in Derry was just incredible. I went up with my mother and aunt and we spent four glorious hours walking around Derry in semi-darkness. It was really fantastic.

“It depicted the transformative power of culture and arts. There were hundreds of people across the town that night, just enjoying this event.

“It and the whole City of Culture in Derry was a great indication of what’s possible. You have to applaud those who have that vision.”

John’s vision and that of the team who create the festival takes quite a long time to come to fruition.

While some may think that organising a festival of this calibre involves a few months work beforehand, that is not the case.for example with ‘Ballyturk,’ it took two years of planning.

But for John, it’s all worth it.

“I do enjoy it and I feel very lucky,” he said.