Beyond The Pale: A cancelled festival searches for the possible

Each week, Stage Door Live’s Associate Producer Janice de Bróithe takes a look at theatre Beyond The Pale. This week, Janice looks at a festival that is close to home for her, The Carlow Arts Festival.

Each week, Stage Door Live’s Associate Producer Janice de Bróithe takes a look at theatre Beyond The Pale. is determined to offer you coverage of everything Ireland has to offer in the world of theatre and the arts, and as the only member of the team currently living ‘down the country’ it has fallen to me to take up that mantle and turn the spotlight in that direction.

This is my little corner of the universe dedicated to bringing you all the events/happenings/artistically inclined and noteworthy (one hopes) occurrences outside the walls of the Nation’s capital.

Carlow Arts Festival was set to take place in June 2020.

This week, I was looking for a positive festival related story. With so many festivals being cancelled all over the country, and many others struggling with the decision of whether or not they will be able to go ahead as the future is a minefield of uncertainty, I was determined to find a good news story to brighten our days. As it turns out, I did not have to look very far, only down the road to my native Carlow.

The team of the Carlow Arts Festival made the very difficult decision to cancel the festival, due to take place in June, earlier this month. This was an incredible, if somewhat expected, blow to the town and everyone taking part. The multi-disciplinary festival has been a part of the National festival landscape for 40 years and in that time has showcased the best of national and international works.

Many of my earliest theatrical memories are of this festival as every year our school would trot us down the town for some culture. Indeed, one of my fondest memories is of a madcap version of Alice in Wonderland staged in the basement of one of the pubs and involved spectacular puppetry and a dolls house I wish I owned.

At the core of the festival, since its birth in 1979, is ARTWORKS, and it is through this exhibition that Carlow Arts Festival is bursting through the dark clouds of Pandemic Cancellation in a riot of colour and hope.

Carlow Arts Festival 2019 – Celebrating 40 Years!

Carlow Arts Festival 2019 is this weekend! Celebrating 40 Years with a jam-packed programme filled festival premières, spectacular free performances, live music, visual art, family friendly events and virtual reality experiences. And over 80% of our programme is FREE! Immerse yourself in international and award-winning artistic adventures at the first big cultural event of the Irish Summer!4-9 June #CAF40 #CarlowArts2019

Posted by Carlow Arts Festival on Thursday, June 6, 2019


ARTWORKS is an open call exhibition at the centre of the festival. The exhibition celebrates contemporary visual art and since 2009 has been displayed in the epic VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art & George Bernard Shaw Theatre in the centre of Carlow town. Each year carries a particular theme and from hundreds of submissions, successful works are selected by a panel and displayed in the galleries for a number of weeks. The exhibition, in line with CAF’s mission to make the arts accessible for all, is completely free. Every artist selected receives a fee, and in recent years they have established two prizes: one for the most outstanding work in any medium, and the other for work by a recent graduate selected for the most outstanding work in any medium.

Thoroughly delighted at the discovery that ARTWORKS 2020 was going to go ahead, I got in touch with Emma-Lucy O’Brien, Artistic Director of VISUAL and one of the selectors for the exhibition who was happy to fill me in on some of the finer details.

With the decision to cancel the Festival, things may have felt very bleak and disappointing, so thoughts naturally turned to what might be possible. A few facts were very clear: the arts and culture play a vital role in mental health and well-being, there was prize money they wanted to give, and, VISUAL as a building is rather on the large and spacious side of things. ARTWORKS was possible. Perhaps not on the original timeline, nor in the usual way, but definitely possible.

The theme for this year’s open call is ‘climate and our natural environment’ and will be titled, rather fittingly in my opinion The Sky is Blue. (If that doesn’t inspire positive thinking and brings to mind the unfailingly uplifting melody of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky, I don’t know what would.) Having extended the submission deadline, they received over 300 submissions and are now facing the unenviable task of selection. Naturally, this will now happen virtually between Emma-Lucy and the other selectors (Jo Mangan, Carlow Arts Festival Director and Katie Holten, New York based artist and activist respectively). They, like many of us, are watching the world of the regulations and restrictions very carefully, and it is their hope that they will be able to open the galleries in July or August. VISUAL is Ireland’s largest gallery space, and as such, employing social distancing would be very easily achievable.

Jo Mangan launches Artworks 2019

Emma-Lucy is incredibly excited and bowled over by the work that has been submitted and is very hopeful (and determined, if you ask me) that this exhibition will provide a very positive cultural experience for all. In this time of unending cancellations and indefinite postponements, ARTWORKS 2020 brings with it a ray of hope for all of us, be we makers, creators or viewers. It carries the possibility of providing a meaningful space to reflect the true value of the Arts.


Blue Sky thinking?

Absolutely, and isn’t it wonderful?

If you yourself are situated outside the ‘Pale’ and you have (or know of) some form of event or happening that you would like me to cover in this blog, please get in touch – I am interested in everything.

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