Galway 2020: the event according to Elena Toniato

02 Jan

The Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture programme is a celebration of our city, our islands, our county, our language and our people, with the collective imagination of creative Galway on show for one magical year.


It features the best of our local and national artists and cultural organisations, alongside incredible European and international artists who together will transform the city and landscape.


In recognition of our historic traditions, this programme is based around the four fire seasons of Ireland’s ancient pre-Christian calendar, examining the country’s roots in celebration and commemoration.


It will begin in February 2020, as does the pagan festival Imbolc, which represents the start of spring with its promise of new life and new beginnings.

Following a spectacular opening ceremony outdoor, the programme will unfold throughout the year according to the Celtic seasons of Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.


The core themes that run through Galway 2020 are Migration, Landscape and Language and all three resonate within a broader European context, one where Galway will become a cultural focus in 2020.


Migration celebrates Irish history as well as the diversity of cultures in Europe against the backdrop of Galway County and City – a city in which 24% of the population was born outside of Ireland.


Landscape reflects Galway’s position on the edge of Europe, seeing as it collaborates with European partners to delight, challenge and engage citizens across its rural and marine landscape.


Leaving a lasting legacy, one that will change the social and infrastructural landscape of Galway, is key to Galway 2020’s success.


We want to address the big topics of the day – identity, our place on the planet, how we care for its resources, how we live in harmony with each other and with nature, and our history and future.


We want to see a Galway where young artists flourish, where communities come together to celebrate life. We want to see a Galway where creativity is rewarded, where culture is at the heart of everything we do, where life is made better for everyone who lives in and visits this beautiful city.


This celebration promises to be one of the most exciting times in Galway’s history, with the potential to change our cultural landscape forever.


“We plan to have all eyes in Ireland, in Europe and around the world to be turned towards Galway.”


The three main themes of “Galway 2020” had been decided during the beat face, before Galway had been elected “Capital of Culture”.

The cities that were competing against Galway were Dublin (who was out of the competition after the first beat face), Limerick and the “Three sisters (Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny)”. Moreover, Rijeka ended up being the second winning city in the competition.


Rijeka and Galway are very similar in many aspects. On this occasion, there will be many cultural exchanges between the two cities; both of them have a similar project within the program (the one in Galway is called “Small Town, Big Ideas”), and through them, the exchanges will take place.


Also, the volunteering programme is promoting exchanges in different areas. Indeed, there have already been some ‘cultural exchanges’, for instance indeed the rector of the University of Rijeka has come visit Galway to meet its representatives and learn more about the city.

This is quite important because it is thanks to the partnership with Rijeka that some of the projects in the programme will be realized.


As said, Galway 2020 is based on the four Irish seasons, Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.


The reason why all the activities will start in February is because this is the month in which the Imboloc will start; the Imboloc represents the start of the Irish Spring.


For each season a new brochure with all the upcoming events will be published and made available to the public, so that they can keep up with the different programmes.


Each season will be marked by a fire ceremony; each will be different from the others. It’s difficult for me to say which season will be the most exciting; I reckon it may be the Imbolc, since it will start with the opening ceremony, which is a huge event curated by the same company that worked on the opening ceremony of the Rio (2016) and London (2012) Olympics.


Moreover, the Imbolc will be the start of everything. All the hard work that has been done in the past years becomes something real, something that we can finally see and witness with our own eyes. Everyone will be very excited about this huge event in Ireland!


During the Imbolc there will be also the amazing event curated by Kari Kola, called “Savage Beauty”. It will take place in Connemara, where he will create a massive light installation… one of the biggest in the world.





The volunteering programme was launched in February because our goal was that of trying to get as many people engaged as possible, in order to create a community of Wave Makers (name of our volunteering programme).

How does one become a volunteer?

The first step is signing up online, the second is to arrange a face-to-face meeting with us, because I think the personal approach is really important; meeting the volunteers in person is essential and will also obviously make it easier for us to explain what we expect from them.


We have met nearly 650 people until now and there are 400 people more that are filling out their application, so to be honest the amount of volunteers is not something that worries me, even because the large majority of projects doesn’t need a huge number of volunteers. It’s main ones, like the opening ceremony, that do.

Volunteers will be the ambassadors and the face of Galway 2020. Being a volunteer for such a big event is like being part of it, being part of everything that goes on behind the scenes, but also representing the event itself.

At the moment, the volunteering programme involves people of 53 nationalities, which by itself should remind us about the importance of the theme of migration in Galway 2020.

Indeed, Galway is the most multicultural city in Ireland. Our hopes is that the volunteering programme will bring all of these communities together, allowing people to be exposed to new cultures and realities; this should only ensure a positive message is spread.


In my eyes, there is no such thing as a “perfect volunteer”; this programme is meant to be as inclusive as possible (indeed there are people in wheelchairs, members of the Death Metal community and so on).


There will be a variety of roles available, so people can pick and choose theirs. When you find a person that is willing to be part of the team, who has a positive attitude and a lot of motivation… it means you have found your perfect volunteer.


To everyone reading who might be interested I would just like to say: “Join our volunteering program!”. The minimum age for volunteering is 18.

You’ll have great fun, meet new people, make new friends… all while living a unique experience in the beautiful Galway.


I think that for people who are interested in event management, in working in arts, being project managers, this would be a really good experience to add to your CV that will allow you to gain work experience! Indeed, in Ireland (as well as everywhere), when people volunteer they show a great deal of interest towards a specific topic.  




Interview to Elena Toniato, Responsible for the volunteering programme in Galway 2020