Once upon a time, in a small town on the west coast of Ireland, a festival programmer by the name of Patricia Forde had a dream … What would the Galway Arts Festival look like if it invited children to join her? growing audience? Like a fairy godmother with a magic wand, Forde programmed a series of children’s plays alongside the other artistic offerings of the annual festival, and Baboró was born. The Baboró International Festival of the Arts for Children turns 25 this year and has become a key part of the fairy tale of cultural offerings for children in Ireland.
Speaking to me from his home in Co Galway, Forde explains the first impetus for the festival. “I was director of the Galway Arts Festival between 1990 and 1995,” she explains, “and during that time we saw a big change in our audience, from singles and backpackers to young families, who were looking for things for their children to do while attending the festival. So we said that we would set up a children’s program that would run alongside the main program, and that was the state of play for a few years.
“Back then, a lot of the arts depended a lot on community arts programs and social employment programs, and a woman called Jean Parkinson approached us and asked if she could do a study on the viability of a separate festival for children under one of these schemes. She came back and said ‘I think this would work’ so we decided to do it.
There has been a lot of collaboration and cooperation from the general arts community in Galway, says Forde, both financial and in-kind, and ultimately, she laughs, “like daring kids we said. to everyone, “we want to go out on our own”, and, as if they were teenagers, [people] said, ‘are you sure you can handle it?’ Well, we did, and it was a runaway train. It was great from the start.
From the first festival in 1996, Baboró defined its territory by offering high quality artistic work for young audiences. Out of necessity, says Forde, it started out as “an outward looking festival. Ireland was not a very child-minded place back then. People haven’t thought much more than [children] needed to be entertained or educated, so [Irish work] focused on problems rather than aesthetics. It was didactic, educational, because it was really for that.
However, by exposing young audiences and emerging artists to high-quality works from abroad, Baboró has become a key part of changing attitudes towards the arts with regard to young people.
“People began to realize that children had the right to be enriched and empowered [by their exposure to culture]”, continues Forde.” The Arts Council and [Galway] The city council quickly understood the importance of this, and because what we were doing was for the kids, people really wanted to help.
Slowly, with development programs and mentorships, Irish companies such as Branar – Téatar do Pháistí began to regularly produce works for the festival; Branar is creating a new work, Rothar, in Baboró this year. Today the program strikes a balance between indigenous and international work, with a notable year-over-year increase in the amount of Irish work on view and a remarkable enrichment in its sophistication and ambition.
Baboró’s current director, Aislinn O’hEocha, said Baboró’s role in promoting Irish work is one of the main legacies of the festival’s first 25 years. “There was an unofficial mentoring role there from the start,” says O’hEocha, “in terms of encouraging Irish artists to see international work and network, and that certainly played a role. in Irish artists working for the sector. But in 2015, we formalized some of that through our GROW program, which was an umbrella term for several strands of artist support. “
This included Pathways to Production, which aimed to help artists bring their ideas to life fully on stage, and Baboró also offered support for mentoring relationships, as well as a specific program focused on equality and diversity. The results of this investment in Irish artists are clear. This year, seven Irish commissions are spearheading the anniversary program – a testament to Baboró’s commitment to developing the indigenous cultural offering in Ireland.
The Brú Theater is one of the companies that has benefited from the support of Baboró. Brú’s artistic director, James Riordan, was 11 when Baboró started. He was too old to be a member of the public at this point, but he remembers “the excited energy on the streets.” Galway is so used to having music and art festivals, with a lot of tourists coming through the city, but there was always a change of energy in the days of Baboró. There would be a lot of colorful posters and artists and the feeling that the city is celebrating its young audience, and the streets would be full of teachers leading large groups of children to the town hall or to An Taibhdhearc.
A decade later, as an emerging theater artist, Riordan had the chance to meet “some of the best international works for young people, [and that] set a standard for the work I wanted to do ”. He remembers in particular Bob Théâtre’s Nosferatu in 2018. “I found that very inspiring. I’ve been there two days in a row and still think about how they created a smart, surprising and captivating universe with just light bulbs and a table. Watching quality international work, ”he continues,“ educates your palate as an artist, [and that is] important for finding your own voice and developing your practice. The theater for young people is so varied, and there is a need to see multidisciplinary and virtuoso works for a younger audience in [terms of] find new inspirations and engage with new forms and new points of view.
In 2018, Brú also presented his first show for Baboró, an in situ mask play that focused on the history of local fishing, and a version of a play performed earlier that year at the Galway. Arts Festival, reinvented for a young audience. The following year, Brú was selected to be part of Pathways to Production, and Riordan worked with Canadian company Mammalian Diving Reflex, creating a new work as part of Galway 2020. Despite Covid, Riordan and his collaborator Darren O ‘ Donnell were successful in engaging with the elementary school public to create the Lockdown Olympics. This year they were commissioned to create an original children’s work, The Libravian, a physical comedy celebrating Irish picture books – in the vicinity of city and county bookstores and libraries.
Another key development of the past 25 years is the growing role that young audiences themselves have in the formation of Baboró. As O’hEocha explains: “When the festival was founded, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had been ratified a few years ago, and there wasn’t really the same awareness that we have now. the importance of culture and play in children’s lives. O’hEocha believes that Baboró’s work “played an important role in reminding adults that children have the right to access and participate in the arts, whether by reading, drawing, going to the theater, no matter”.
Increasingly, the organizers have tried to represent the voice of the child in the festival program as well. Baboró Artist-in-Residence Maisie Lee has created an audio documentary, Remember to Wash Your Hands, which records the voices of more than 100 children in the City and County of Galway and their experiences during the pandemic . The festival will also pilot a program of young critics, “to enable children to engage more strategically with art and organization”.
However, what their engagement boils down to at its most basic level is the stimulating effect that art can have on young people. As Forde puts it, “Watching a dizzy group of five or six year olds screaming and leaping into their seats becomes absolutely captivated by what they see… it’s amazing. We need to recognize how the arts encourage them from an early age to think outside the box, to think about diversity, to empathize, to imagine, to be thrilled and delighted in a way that they feel. in their body.
“Thinking that we would deprive them of that.”
The Baboró International Arts Festival for Children takes place from October 4 to 17. The Libravian runs from October 11 to 15