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Westival celebrates a bumper year


IMPRESSIVE LINE-UP Westport singer Maria Kelly performed with Bell X1’s Paul Noonan in the beautiful Holy Trinity Church as part of this year’s top-tier festival programme. Pic: Amayo Photography

Ciara Moynihan

It’s been just a few short weeks since Westival set the streets of Westport alight with a heady, colourful mix of music, art, theatre, dance, spoken word and more. While the weeks that follow such an exciting event can feel like a bit of an anticlimax, not so for the team behind Westival, who are basking in the warm afterglow of a hugely successful six days.  
First established in 1976, Westport Arts Festival was rebranded as Westival in 2018 and it is  one of the country’s longest-running arts festivals. But this behemoth of the Irish arts calendar is not growing weary with age – if anything it’s rejuvenating and growing stronger.
In a massive endorsement of the festival’s 2019 programme, this year’s audience figures were double the previous year’s. “Some events were oversubscribed, we had to put on second shows and were in awe of the demand this year,” reveals festival director Conor Wilson. “We had long waiting lists for some workshops like Jimmy Lawlor and Drag + Draw.”
The total audience attendance was 10,270 across six days (it was around 5,000 in 2018). “Of these, 3,000 were for paid events,” Wilson explains, “the rest were free and include headcounts at street events and so on.”  
Crunching the numbers more, it turns out that 80 percent (8,216) of the 2019 Westival audience was from Mayo, while 16 percent (1,643) came from elsewhere in Ireland and 4 percent (410) were non-specified and overseas.
And it was not just the audience numbers that grew. This year, Westival put on 63 events – eleven more than the previous year. When all is settled, the 2019 festival payout to performers and artists will have increased by 19 percent. The box office take was also well up on 2018.
Wilson attributes the large growth in part to the Leader funding that Westival secured for the 2019 programme. “This helped us promote and market the festival properly,” he said.
“The most significant thing that I noticed about this year’s festival was that people were willing to try new stuff. Twenty-three out of 25 people at Drag + Draw, for example, had never put a pencil to paper before and it was their first time at an art class. Lots of the younger audience visited the main art gallery to see shows like Looking for Ghosts, Oliver Smith’s photographic exhibition on underground rave culture. Small things like this are a big win for the festival.”
Wilson was particularly pleased to see the festival’s welcoming ethos of inclusivity, diversity and community continue to shine bright. “Watching the undertaker dance beside the baker at the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble was my personal highlight,” he laughs. “It demonstrates that the arts really brings our community together and can reconnect us through shared experiences.”