“Go abroad. Don’t be deterred by the cost. There is so much out there.”
This is a recommendation from Carly Zimmerman to her fellow Privateers. Zimmerman is one year away from finishing the master’s degree program in arts administration at the University of New Orleans. One of the program requirements is an internship, and Zimmerman recently completed hers working as volunteer coordinator for Ireland’s annual Galway International Arts Festival, which was held July 11-24. The two week festival spanned 25 venues and included more than 200 separate events consisting of theatre and dance, spectacle and street art, music, traditional visual arts and comedy as well as a series of lectures and panel discussions on topics ranging from health and science to Ireland’s national identity. The 2016 festival saw the second year in a row of audiences numbering more than 200,000.
Zimmerman is originally from Dallas and came to Louisiana to study music as an undergraduate at LSU. Though her interest in music began with years spent singing in a choir, she didn’t want to concentrate on performance as a graduate student. She knew she wanted a career in the arts, and UNO’s arts administration program seemed to be the perfect fit in the perfect place to launch an arts career. Upon learning that she would be required to do an internship as part of the program, she was immediately determined to go abroad. One of her professors, arts administration program interim director Tony Micocci, suggested the festival in Galway. He told her that he knew the festival’s artistic director and would gladly make an introduction. Zimmerman found out in February that she was selected for a position and made her way to Galway in May.
Zimmerman’s venture was supported in part by Mid-City residents and Belfast natives Pauline and Stephen Patterson, proprietors of Trèo tapas bar, restaurant and art gallery located at 3835 Tulane Avenue, and former owners of Finn McCool’s Irish Pub. Zimmerman remains very grateful to the Pattersons for raising one-fourth of the money she needed for her trip and to Pauline especially for some insider knowledge about must-see places in Ireland. According to Zimmerman, the Pattersons didn’t even know her when they agreed to help with fundraising for her internship, but since then they have become some of her most cherished supporters.
Zimmerman started out shadowing festival administrators and eventually was assigned to build a database of names and contact information for 300 committed festival volunteers. She understood that volunteers filled a critical role in carrying out the festival, serving as ushers, ticket-takers and hands-on problem solvers throughout the event. It was no small task to identify and schedule enough volunteers to meet the demand. She kept hearing from colleagues how important her role was, and as she became more comfortable with her steadily growing database, she thought she had a good sense of her obligation.
“I kept hearing that it would be ‘apocalyptic’ if the volunteer operation didn’t run smoothly,” she reflected. But she didn’t fully understand the significance of her role until a pre-festival activity took place where 23 volunteers were scheduled to participate and only six of them showed up.
“I got on the phone and went to work,” she said. And with that lesson learned, she met the challenges of staffing an international cultural festival through volunteer help with a new appreciation of her value to the organization and a much more realistic set of expectations.
The key to developing a strong and reliable base of volunteers, Zimmerman learned, was to foster friendships and a sense of community. As relationships among volunteers evolved and grew, she said, so did each person’s commitment to the festival organization.
“You don’t want to let your friends down,” she explained. The relationships have outlasted the festival, in fact. Asked if new friends from Ireland were hoping to visit her in New Orleans she replied, “Plans are already in place!”
In addition to mastery of effective volunteer management, Zimmerman reports being able to see elements of her coursework come to life in her festival experience. According to Zimmerman, her arts administration studies taught that the European model for arts funding has traditionally relied more on government sources, whereas in America it is more typical for wealthy donors or benefactors to make art publicly accessible. The Galway International Arts Festival is unique in Europe because it has cultivated corporate sponsorships and patrons. Absolut vodka, for example, had the largest musical venue, the Absolut Big Top, and hosted acts such as Elvis Costello and The Imposters and The Gloaming, an immensely popular band in Ireland whose debut album has been described as one of the finest releases of 2014.
The festival’s model for increased reliance on private funding might be due to the 2008 financial crisis, from which Ireland’s artistic community is still reeling. Zimmerman herself heard from artists participating in a festival discussion forum that making a living since the recession is, for artists, more difficult than ever. She also observed the festival organization’s leadership embracing the American model of arts funding by cultivating private sponsorships. While acknowledging that private funding for artistic endeavors might be seen by some in the arts world as selling out, festival leaders believe Ireland’s artists are worthy of remuneration and have worked hard to generate the resources that make the festival possible.
Galway is recognized as a cultural center in Ireland. The festival experience spreading out over two weeks and 25 venues helps keep crowd levels comfortable. Most events are ticketed individually, with some venues partnering with the festival organization for ticket sales. In other words, festival goers are typically trying to reach specific destinations for appointed event start times. Before, after and in between scheduled shows and exhibits are times to enjoy all that Galway has to offer. Next year will be the festival’s 40th anniversary. Also during the 2016 festival, Galway was chosen by the European Union as the “Capital of Culture” for the year 2020. This designation will be shared with Rijeka, Croatia that year, and both cities will host a series of cultural events designed to raise the profiles of the selected locations internationally and promote urban economic development.
Even though the festival has wound down, there is still much work ahead for Zimmerman. Right now, she is actively pursuing work in the arts administration field with new vigor and confidence gained from having completed a challenging but successful internship. This semester, she will take a course in arts policy, a visual arts overview and a class called “Art, Artists and Arts Administration.” Over the next year she will write and defend a thesis about her festival experience.
She fondly remembers the time she spent in Ireland, the small town feel of Galway, the nightlife on Quay Street she enjoyed with her new friends, experiencing traditional Irish music and the beautiful landscape of the coast.
“On my walk to work every day, I passed a castle from the 14th century. It was just there on the side of the road. No big deal,” she said. Still, she was glad to get home.
“I can’t explain it, but when I got off the plane and I heard WWOZ playing … ”
Her voice trails off. Her eyes close, and she bows her head.
“There’s just no place like New Orleans.”