The following policy aims to share the Festival’s artistic values, considerations and process.
Liverpool Irish Festival brings Liverpool and Ireland closer together using arts and culture.
When we say ‘Ireland’, we have an all-Ireland approach, including diaspora communities. By ‘arts’ we include both contemporary and traditional expressions, across all art forms and creative practices (including applied arts and new technologies). And, by ‘culture’, we mean collective intellectual achievement; including customs, social behaviours, character, explorations of genetic heritage and inherited stories.
We are a leading multidisciplinary, arts and culture led Irish Festival and we understand that we are unique in this. We are not a music festival; we are a Festival that has music within it, differentiating us from many other Irish Festival s across the world. These distinctions define what we programme, how we are understood and where income comes from and can be generated.
Annually, we break new ground and raise our ambitions again. We are not led by faith (celebration day) or politics, though these may feature in works as part of our cultural remit. We are anti-sectarian and anti-racist. We seek to display high quality, unmissable, innovative, resonant, progressive work.
We aim to reflect and portray the local and global developments affecting Irish people today, using art and culture to explore and share these social events or conditions. We acknowledge the importance of revisiting, responding to and re-examining the past to help unpick legacy issues and overturn needless intolerance.
“A festival has to mirror the aspirations of our times and be inspired by the spirit of the city it inhabits. It must reflect the creative work of artists in today’s environment.”
Goh Ching Lee, ‘Strategic intent with Artistic Integrity’; European Festivals Association publication:
“Inside/Insight Festivals. 9 Festival Directors – 9 Stories”.
What interests us
Each year we bring a dynamic, creative, varied, but curated Festival programme to our audiences. We believe Festivals are spaces in which we should take creative risk, explore new ideas and pilot developmental concepts. Work that happens within the Festival does so because it…
- uses arts and culture to transfer expression and provoke thought and debate
- adds to the Festival’s theme and areas of interest
- brings something to audiences that might not happen in Liverpool without the Festival
- has a distinct voice that will benefit from the Festival platform
- reflects Irish influence in the city or a global, overlooked truth
- advances progressive ideals that warrant discussion, improving social cohesion in a creative, expressive and inclusive way.
The programme provides engaging experiences, which vary year-to-year, creating unexpected moments, active discussions and deep learning points. Reattendance will not duplicate experiences, but unearth fresh ideas, viewpoints and creative expressions.
This means there are no carbon-copy answers to programming and re-booking a favoured act is not always possible. Artistic re-bookings can only occur if the act or work can be refocused; tells a new story or collaborates with us to develop work that demonstrates transformation and growth. For example, a scratch reading that becomes a full production; an artist that sings as part of a line-up becomes a headliner with their own story; a writer/playwright brings out a whole new work or episode of a story which develops the one shown previously.
A small number of events may take the same shape year-to-year (e.g., the same venue or space in the schedule, such as our launch, Family Day or Céilí). This satisfies a domestic audience, provides consistent and reliable points within the programme (especially for family audiences) and reflects our community as it grows with us. The creative outputs found within these events will still vary in theme, but are central to representing “home culture”, which naturally channels participants over time, such as presenting Comhaltas or the local Irish dance schools. The children presenting work today may be the parents and artists of the Festival’s future.
Annual and arcing narratives
The annual theme for the Festival is usually announced at the outset of the Festival the year before. E.g., we were able to announce 2020’s theme “exchange” at the launch of the 2019 Festival. It is predicted the following themes, in line with our Business Plan, will be:
- 2021 Exchange (extended from 2020)
- 2022 Hunger
- 2023 Reflections (20 years of the Liverpool Irish Festival)
- 2024 Departures
- 2025 Arrivals.
A changing annual theme drives narratives across Festivals, developing story arcs, supported by a set of interests we always carry. These include:
- In:Visible Women – challenging female visibility and empowering more to speak
- Nook and cranny spaces – identifying unusual and unexpected locations to present work in and share
- Families, dual-heritage lives and identity
- Liverpool Irish Famine Trail.
Discipline and variety
We work across six broad (live and online) disciplines:
- Film, arts and animation
- Performance and poetry
- Music and song
- Talks and Tours
- Community, Family and Sport
- Heritage (from 2021).
Occasionally, we also run Food and Drink events, but invariably these connect with another discipline above. We see -and actively encourage- cross over between these.
The disciplines are underwritten by online and print functions, which expand the story, provide space for additional reflection/learning and legacy for live work.
Programme variety -per Festival and over years- is essential to creating exciting niche and popular moments, shifting energy levels across the programme and providing variation in engagement; high and low, fast and slow. It is also about the concept of generous sharing and proving new vantages and forms for people to enjoy, engage in, challenge and discuss. From 2020, the programme will be a mix of live and online, selected to provide the very best experience and/or access for audiences.
From niche to populist, the Festival takes (mitigated) risks that pursue creative expression, expose distinct voices or tell alternate stories. We are a representative voice for Irish people in Liverpool, England, Ireland and diaspora communities. With that responsibility, we intend to be progressive and inclusive. We actively welcome and nurture work from
- Black and other ethnic inheritance artists
- LGBTQI+ creatives
- Cis and non-binary gender producers
- Neurodivergent, disabled and Deaf originators
We intend that a minimum of 25% of our programme is generated by artists or aimed at audiences from these groups (cis excepted).
We are not in competition with other Irish service providers in the city, the region or the country. If we are duplicating work we should be collaborating. The Festival provides an artistic and cultural highpoint in the year, helping to shine a light on ongoing services and acting as a loudhailer for Irish influence in the city.
It is also worth noting our Black Lives Matter solidarity statement, which underwrites these values and sets expectations for our practice: https://www.liverpoolirishfestival.com/blmsolidarity/
The decision making
A small team of contractors own and deliver the artistic programme, whilst governance of the organisation is handled, mainly, by our volunteer Board. This means artistic policy is overseen by the Board, but in practice is the day-to-day responsibility of our Artistic Director and CEO, who is authorised to handle all artistic decision making.
The Artistic Director and CEO will respond to proposals (see The Process below) and will actively pursue self-generated ideas, professional and audience suggestions, network collaborations and partnerships. We have an increasing emphasis on work made specifically for the Festival and in supporting work that exports the Liverpool Irish story.
Paraphrasing Goh Ching Lee ((former) Director of the Singapore Arts Festival) our Chair believes:
‘It has been said that festival directors are like magicians. I have felt like a juggler tossing balls while standing on one foot, keeping an eye on different agendas that came with conflicting demands. We are expected to master the art of resolving contradictions to be innovative and critical without being inaccessible, to be demanding and selective without being exclusive, to embrace diversity without sacrificing identity, and to win new audiences without losing old loyalties. But herein lies the magic of festival-making, where through optimism, persistence and some good luck, the improbable can happen…
‘My wish is to see the festival develop into an independent arts organisation setting its own artistic course. My hope is that it will find its own niche to rise above the din and remain a vital force for artists and audiences in [Liverpool] and beyond. It is also because of, rather than in spite of, a busier arts landscape that the moment has come to liberate the festival from the burden of being all things to all people, in order to pursue a clear and unapologetic vision and purpose. Far from a diminishing role, I see the festival as having a strong life ahead. The best is still yet to come’.
Art Hats In Renaissance City: Reflections & Aspirations Of Four Generations Of Art Personalities; Renee Foong Ling Lee, 2018, World Scientific Publishing Company (link here).
Curation and criteria
The Liverpool Irish Festival is a curated festival. The Artistic Director and CEO and Board select the themes. The Artistic Director and CEO works through what will and won’t be in the programme, consulting with the Board on any major spending outlays, controversial topics or potentially risqué content. This human-driven process aims to consider:
- genre, style and tone
- costings and risk factors
- previous experience of the company/artist and whether this challenges/broadens their experience
- primary target audience and social need
- similarity to other events in the programme
- potential for dialogic exchange within the wider programme
- expected appeal
- practical feasibility
- opportunities for revealing the process of creative production, as well as the ‘product’ and whether we can serve as a positive incubator for the development of the work
- resource expectations, needs or dependencies
- general programme balance
- repetition with previous years
- lived-experiences of similar productions, set ups, working methods
- the missions, drivers and needs of our funders and stakeholders…
It’s an infinite list of variables. In practice, decisions are weighted according to the year’s theme, programme to date, budgets, partnerships, what is practicable at that time and ‘fit’. Clarity will always help. The core idea -and its fit with our theme/interests- is central.
Our intention is to work in the best interests of
- the artistic programme
- the artists (drawn from Liverpool, Liverpool Irish, Ireland and the Irish diaspora)
- Liverpool, Liverpool Irish and Irish communities, broader arts and culture audiences and arts and culture tourists
- the Festival as an organisation
- our partners, funders and stakeholders
- Liverpool and the city region, as a mainspring of arts and cultural activity.
The policy is flexible to ensure the programme remains dynamic and ambitious, but agile enough to respond to regional and global events/needs.
Each year we produce an artistic statement (setting the theme). We have a standard creative call, which contains a checklist of the questions we’d like artists to consider before making an artistic approach to us. Using this will help your proposal, ensuring there are fewer barriers to us understanding your needs.
The call is here: https://www.liverpoolirishfestival.com/support-us/creative-call/ It states that content is key and your clarity will help us deliver you a response. We are open to artistic and cultural projects of any scale, but must understand what the originator requires from the Festival to pursue the core idea. Thus we are open to:
- receiving completed work that supports aspects of our own theme or topic focuses
- considering partnership to develop research and production methods, through to full delivery, that pursue areas of interest we share
- piloting ideas and staging bids across years, especially those that help us to develop our themes
- co-authoring funding bids, where synergies allow
- promoting work that shares a natural audience with our work
- co-developing and delivering projects/work that advance our artistic or business goals
- work from emerging or established artists, by which we mean visual artists, applied artists, illustrators, poets, writers, playwrights and performers, musicians and singer-songwriters, filmmakers and animators, dancers and choreographers, academics (if there is a focus on art, creativity and/or culture), theorists and philosophers…
The defining questions to answer will be: does your work relate to our theme or interests? Is it arts and culture? Does it reflect Liverpool, Liverpool Irish or Irishness?
Understanding that creative cycles bear no witness to calendars, we have tried not to set strict deadlines! That said, with an October live programme it is worth noting that any proposals submitted in August or after will likely miss all print/hard-copy deadlines. It may be worth considering a longer lead and submitting for the following year.
The organisation and relativity to arts and culture
We are small, publicly funded charity, not a commercial venture. This is important in defining the work we do, our programme balance, who we are for and what opportunities we pursue. Being a charity means projects must be financially robust or self-financing*, bringing no financial risk to the organisation. Where the Festival is a commissioner, total fees will be outlined at the start and may not be exceeded.
* Self-financing may mean publicly funded, box office costed, donation based or have costs built in to existing Festival applications.
We have no physical space of our own and therefore collaboration with us is based on pursuing artistic projects, idea generation, creative support and the use of our networks, partners and platform.
How do we know if the policy is working?
Recurring partnerships, venue re-usage, artist career tracking, network support and promotion, positive testimonials, inclusion in other people’s programmes and promotional material are all signs that we are trusted and bring benefits.
We have a robust set of KPIs and evaluation mechanisms that intend to evaluate the power and inclusion of the programme, audience demographics and engagement, quality, enjoyment and much more besides. A successful programme will allow us to grow each of these areas. For example a 5% growth in social media followers/audiences/funding would be deemed a success as a result of relevant content and new audiences reached. Meeting or exceeding the KPIs set out in out Festival Review will allow us to implement the Business Plan, showing intention and results. The annual Festival Review is a key instrument in understanding our success and is the mechanism we use to hold ourselves accountable, year-on-year. See previous Festival Reviews here: https://www.liverpoolirishfestival.com/about/festival-review/.
Organisational pride is intangible, but important to understanding whether we have accomplished what we set out to do and reviewing our collective impressions of the experience and evidence will figure in our development.