Funding key to future Beckett Festivals

Published: 30 Aug 2012 13:000 comments

WITH the cleaning up operation for the inaugural International Beckett Festival now well under way this week a question mark hangs over the possibility of there being another event next year.

Actor and singer David Soul (second right) joins Tourism Minister Arlene Foster and (from left) Thomas O'Reilly, Chairman Fermanagh District Council; Neil Morton, headmaster Portora Royal School and Sean Doran, Festival Director at the opening of the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.

Hailed as a huge success, the five day celebration of Noble Prize winning laureate, Samuel Beckett, literally attracted interest from across the globe.

Tourists from as far away as Australia descended on the Island town over the course of the Bank Holiday weekend and journalists from Paris and New York were among those weighing in with their views of the festival in its first ever year.

But as Festival Director Sean Doran breathed a huge sigh of relief in the knowledge that his gamble to hold the event here had paid off, he had concerns over whether there would be a "next year".

"We need to address the issue of 'one year funding' if there is to be a next one," he told The Impartial Reporter on Tuesday. "This Festival, on an international scale, needs funding for the longer term to secure it for this town and for planning purposes."

It's been no secret that funding for this year's event was only secured as late as March.

"That was a huge challenge," Mr Doran said, "It's essential, and it's down to the major stakeholders -- the Fermanagh District Council, the Arts Council and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, that we don't have that scenario again. Let's secure this for Enniskillen now.

"To be honest, I felt the one year funding was a punt. Let's really give it a go.

"There was a massive article in the New York Times about this festival -- that's putting Enniskillen's name out there in a way that can only be of benefit to the town.

"And hopefully, when people come to Ireland they will think of Enniskillen and be attracted to come to see it."

Mr Doran said he had been "astonished" by the positive response to the festival and had proved many of the sceptics wrong.

"I couldn't have dreamed it could be that successful in year one," he said, "That was more like a year three scenario. It proved all the points of what was possible and it proved any of the doubters wrong. Enniskillen rose to the occasion and everybody was talking about what a beautiful place it was.

"One thing that really took off was the 15 minute concerts -- there were 400 to 500 people turning up for the performances. Duke Special and Ian Bostridge were a huge success as well as the likes of Lady Antoinette and Edna O'Brien.

"We have a template or a blue print of the festival now that we know can work and we now know that Enniskillen can work as a festival town. This is but a beginning -- this festival can grow immensely."

Mr Doran was enjoying two days rest this week before work on the Festival started all over again.

Spending his birthday on Tuesday down in Donegal, he said the next few months would be crucial in securing the festival's future.

"If the opportunity is not grabbed now it will be too much of a challenge to do a next year," he explained, "We just have to wait to see if Fermanagh District Council will come to the table with the Tourist Board and the Arts Council and say 'Yes, we want to do this. Yes, let's work out how we can establish this properly for Enniskillen."

The Festival Director said he would be heading home to Australia for a few weeks in October before returning to Enniskillen again.

"I want to have as many meetings as I can before that and some time in October I will come back see where things are then. Hopefully we will know then if we can have a festival."

The Director of Leisure, Development and Arts and Fermanagh District Council, Robert Gibson, said the Beckett Festival "went very well".

"Audience numbers for the wide range of events were good to excellent with many overseas and out of county visitors attending," he said, "Feedback from local attendees has also been very positive. Press coverage has been international, national and local putting Enniskillen and Fermanagh on the map as a cultural destination.

"The Council would like to congratulate Sean Doran and his team on delivering the first International Beckett Festival which had a wide and varied multi-arts programme including arts, culture and sport.

"The Council would like to acknowledge the considerable financial support which came from sources other than the Council including the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Cultural Olympiad and many local businesses.

"The Council would also like to thank the volunteers who assisted and the local community who supported the event.

"Council officers will be shortly be meeting with Sean Doran and his team regarding a full appraisal of this year`s event and discussions about an event next year. The Council has not yet been formally requested to provide funding nor has a budget been discussed."

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