Next year Macnas will celebrate 30 years in business. To many the business behind Macnas may be something you wouldn’t associate with what they do but for this Galway institution to exist, having a business mind is vital.
Macnas is very much a family and anyone who has ever worked with the organisation, a registered charity, will testify to this. Those of us that enjoy their outdoor spectacle at Halloween every year, witness the close relationships between everyone, built over many years at their premises in Fisheries Field.
Galway native, Sharon O’Grady took up the role of general manager of Macnas in 2009. Up to then, artistic director Noeline Kavanagh had single-handedly kept the Macnas machine on the road. Now the two of them work closely together and it’s a partnership that has a huge impact, not just in Galway but globally. In recent years, Macnas have brought their wondrous outdoor spectacle to China, Moscow, and Australia. One of their biggest achievements though is coming up next January when Macnas will perform at South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, one of the most prestigious festivals in the world.
They will do that alongside their annual parade, a performance at the Bram Stoker Festival and plan for their 30 years celebration. All this isn’t possible without business acumen and that’s what Ms O’Grady had brought to the table. Her background is impressive.
Graduating with English and Italian from NUI Galway followed by law and working in a bank for six years was just the beginning. She followed this with work as an arts officer in Offaly. Here she cemented her huge love of the arts, in particular literature and theatre. She set up the Great Balloon Fire Literary Festival, which saw literary stalwarts Roddy Doyle, Joseph O’Connor, Marian Keyes among others perform.
When she arrived back in Galway, she bought a travel agents, which took her on a different course for a number of years before she ran a business coaching franchise. Eventually she returned to the arts. She applied for the position of administrator with Macnas in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since. â€œI had never worked in the arts in Galway before but I applied and was thrilled to have got it. It was a huge learning curve to start with but I had an innate understanding of how artists work. I also had a lot of business experience and had built up relationships with the Arts Council.â€
While Ms Kavanagh was responsible for the artistic side of the business, she was tasked with everything else from human resources to insurance to funding and budgets, to name only a few.
â€œThe recession had a huge impact on all arts organisations but we have managed to keep our budget about the same year on year. We employ all professional artists and it is absolutely vital that they get paid and paid well for their work.â€
In the weeks and months leading up to the parade, professional artists work on all aspects of the spectacle from costuming, make-up, welding, carpentry and the memorable floats.
â€œThe parade has a story. It has an important narrative that Noeline discusses with artists from a very early stage.â€
Many would be surprised to know that it costs €200,000 to put on this parade. â€œThis cost goes towards paying all the artists who work for many weeks beforehand also buying materials, rent and event safety. It also goes towards running the Macnas business and paying wages.â€
â€œOn the day everyone performs for free. We are forever grateful for this but it just wouldn’t be possible to pay up to 400 people who take part. All artists get paid up to the day and on the day everyone pitches in on a voluntary basis. These artists love what they do and Macnas are incredibly lucky to have such a talented pool of people.â€
Macnas, too, nurtures talent, many of those who start with them go on to achieve huge success. For the 30th anniversary parade next year, some of those will be invited back to create work for the 2016 parade.
This year for the first time, Macnas will be looking for a voluntary contribution from the public. â€œWe have started to do fundraising campaigns more often as it is necessary for us to do to. This year, we will be asking people who come to see the parade to give what they can. If everyone gives a little it will make all the difference in keeping this tradition alive in Galway,â€ she added.
Ms O’Grady is acutely aware that their Galway parade is â€œtheir anchorâ€. â€œIt is the most important thing that we do. Their relationships with local businesses, Galway City Council, Arts Council and Culture Ireland are vital to their success.
Macnas will be an integral part of Galway’s bid for European Capital of Culture 2020. â€œThis is hugely important for Galway and I really feel we have a great chance.â€
Details of this year’s Macnas parade will be revealed shortly but a fantastic spectacle is expected. But this year, spare a thought for how it all comes together and keep this Galway institution at the top of its game by giving what you can.
The Macnas parade will take place on Sunday 25 October. To become a friend or business friend of Macnas, go to www.macnas.com. If you’d like to work with Macnas, they are currently looking for a Programme Director. Details are on the Theatre Forum website, www.theatreforum.ie.