Karen Walshe

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We talk to Karen Walshe, General Manager of MusicTown Festival which is happening around the city this week…

1. Three days in, how is MusicTown going for you so far?

It has been a huge success, exceeding our expectations for year one. The response from the public has been phenomenal. From the opening night which featured a Handelian opera in Christchurch, silent films and improvised music in the IFI, to a plethora of street activity on Saturday afternoon with pop up mini operas and Breaking Tunes music trail in the city’s cafes and restaurants. The highlight of the opening weekend was a stunning show at Vicar Street, ‘Barrytown Meets MusicTown’, with the guests including Imelda May, Glen Hansard, Colm Meaney, Aidan Gillen and others who honoured Roddy Doyle and The Barrytown Trilogy. It was amazing.

2) What was the thinking behind the foundation of MusicTown and what is its vision for the future?

Dublin has theatre festivals, writers’ festivals, film festivals and art and design festivals but no all-inclusive celebration of music to harness and amplify the inspiring songs, music and musicians that make it so important to the city. It was decided that because of this, the Capital’s music and music-makers deserved to be celebrated in their own right. Music is a great unifier; it is all inclusive. Everyone has a connection to music in a way which they don’t have with other genres of art – a favourite song, album, band or concert that they connect with on an emotive level. MusicTown wanted to tap into this and bring the people of Dublin together and closer to their city and its musical heritage. However, even though music has something to offer everyone, it can be elitist and its audience fragmented, often by genre. MusicTown wants to be a unifying force, breaking down barriers where all genres and audiences are equal in the shared experience.

3) Previously to working on this project, you were involved in the St. Patrick’s Festival, what made you want to get involved with MusicTown?

I am a freelance producer and event coordinator, therefore it’s the nature of this career path to move between roles frequently. I worked with St Patrick’s Festival for 5 years, in various roles. Firstly Hospitality Manager for 2 years, then left to produce an exhibition with The Ark, as part of the Dublin City of Science Festival. The following year St Patrick’s Day Festival invited me back to work on their City Fusion project, developing two of their in-house parade pageants. When I was offered the role with MusicTown, it was difficult to leave as the team is like a big happy family but was excited about the new challenge. In this field, you have to keep building your career, so this was a great opportunity. It was also a huge challenge, unknown territory, but something I was ready and hungry for.

My passion is to organise events for the city. I love to see the final product as it plays out after what can be months of organising. To watch the public, and the performers, artists and organisations involved, come together and celebrate their skills for an afternoon or evening event, be it in the National Concert Hall or on the street, is awesome! Previously, I organised the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival/DEAF with friends, for 9 years, and in 2012 I was programme manager for the Dublin Tall Ships Festival. All of my projects have one thing in common, they involve a lot of participants and they provide platforms for the arts. It’s like solving a great big puzzle, figuring out the parts and the strategy of how to get most out of it and get it to the finishing line, gleaming in all its finery, on time and of course within budget!  This is what I love doing.

4) With a diverse range of artists involved this year, from the likes of Lethal Dialect and Misselayneous to Conor Walsh and Paddy Hanna, do you share the opinion that the music industry in Ireland is stronger than it has ever been?

I think it’s always been healthy but I also think it’s not without its challenges. In particular, the arts, as they are mostly funded and not commercial events or projects. This side of things will also be difficult for organisations, collectives or individual artists, to manage. I started off working in the Temple Bar Music Centre, 16 years ago, now the Button Factory. There are easier & cheaper ways to promote yourself via online social media platforms now. But the downside to this, is there is now a lot of noise, you need to cut through the millions of others vying for attention. A great platform is Breaking Tunes ( run by the wonderful Angela Dorgan of First Music Contact. She has done stellar work in highlighting emerging bands and giving them a presence.

5) Are there any plans in place already for next year’s installment?

If I told you I’d have to kill you! After we wrap up the festival next Sunday with the LiFT Ballymun Axis showcase in Grand Social, we will review how the first year went. The positives and the learnings. As it’s the first year in existence, there was a lot of experimentation. I believe we’ll have increased submissions and requests for involvement next year from more organisations and artists, therefore I think the potential for the festival programme to grow is huge.  Watch this space, as they say!

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