Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cultural Tourism // Sligo's Yeats' Initiative

Tread Softly... A Season of Yeats, is an annual 10 day festival running alongside and complementing the Yeats International Summer School, focusing on the connections between Sligo and Yeats through a programme of music, exhibitions and spoken word performances.

The Tread Softly festival is an initative that seeks to promote Sligo's Yeats legacy as a unique cultural visitor attraction. "The Land of Heart's Desire" has long held appeal for devotees of the poet Yeats, but the story of the Yeats family has its roots in Sligo's rich landscape.

The short video above shows the highlights of last year's first 'Tread Softly' festival. From 2:45 onward you can hear me speak! Last year I gave tours of the John and Jack B. Yeats 'Father and Son' exhibition at The Model gallery. This year I will again be giving a couple of public tours of the current Jack B. Yeats' exhibition 'Enter the Clowns: The Circus as Metaphor'.

Though not a new concept by any means, cultural tourism has gained a lot of mileage in recent years, particularly amongst regional tourism groups striving to make economic gains by utilising their unique local cultural heritage. And who can blame them? Personally, I have seen a vibrant revival in Sligo's arts and culture scene, since I returned a little over a year ago (after being abroad for almost 2 years). Much progress has been made to promote Sligo as a cultural destination, for the benefit of its locals and visitors alike. Cultural tourism also takes place at a local level, with the advent of facebook, many groups promoting local history and encouraging engagement from their members have sprung up. Some recent festivals promoting their area's unique cultural attractions include the Liberties Festival and Happy Days - Enniskillen's International Beckett Festival.

What is Cultural Tourism? Cultural tourism is about understanding the collective cultural offer of a destination, matching that offer to (and connecting with) the 'wraparound' industries (food, drink, hotels, shops and so on) and making sure that it's all packaged in a way that is meaningful to the consumer. (Helen Palmer, 'Why cultural tourism is not a quick fix', The Guardian, April 15 2013)


Recently, in acknowledgement of this, the North-West Craftfest was rebranded as the Lily Lolly Craft Fest. The aim is to commemorate the legacy of the lesser celebrated Yeats sisters, who were pioneering craftswomen in their own right. They were at the forefront of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement, founding the Dun Emer Guild in 1902 with Evelyn Gleeson in Dundrum, Co. Dublin. You can read the article I wrote on the sisters for the Women's Museum of Ireland here.

Lily Lolly Craftfest

Martina Hamilton of @HamiltonSligo officially launching the Lily and Lolly Craftfest this evening as part of #YeatsDay celebrations in #Sligo
Pioneering academic, Dr. Nicola Gordon Bowe speaking on the Yeats Sisters 'Unsung Heroines' as part of #YeatsDay celebrations #sligo
1. Martina Hamilton, owner and designer at the Cat and the Moon craft boutique and jewellery shop, and curator of the Hamilton Gallery, officially launching the Lily Lolly Craftfest on June 13th.
2. Celebrated academic and expert on the Irish arts and crafts movement, Nicola Gordon-Bowe, delivering a talk on the legacy of the Yeats' sisters, at the Lily Lolly Fest.

The Lily Lolly Craft fest coincided with Yeats Day 2013. Yeats Day is envisioned to be Sligo's version of Bloomsday (June 16th) or Shakespeare's Birthday (April 20th).These are grand shoes to fill. Expectations are hig. The Lily and Lolly festival had the support of local businesses and crafts people. My festival highlights include the Nicola Gordon-Bowe lecture, Una Burke's talk and an embroidery workshop with Amy O'Hara of Dumore Embroidery. These events certainly played close to the Lily and Lolly legacy, by promoting a body of work by by local craftswomen, and the festival was launched with a talk by Nicola Gordon-Bowe, an authority on the Yeats sisters.

Una Burke

My criticism would lie with the marketing of these events, particularly the digital strategy. While the leaflets and poster designs were of particularly high quality. There appeared to very little engagement with Sligo's online community, or the online craft community at large. Una Burke's talk was a total revelation to me, but was so poorly marketed that the attendance for what was an outstanding afternoon was less than it should have been. This lady's career is on the rise, she has designed for Lady Gaga and has exhibited in prominent London galleries! Her inclusion in the event line-up should have been shouted from the rooftops, at least the virtual ones! The failure of the digital strategy to provide a suitable platform for the local businesses that participated meant that some events didn't receive as much attention as they might have done. In this globalised world, cultural organisations cannot afford to ignore the digital sphere when working in cultural tourism.


Looking at organisations finding their soft spot in engaging the cultural and digital sphere ... one of the more unique places I have gone to see a performance, Sligo's Blue Raincoats Theatre company staged a performance of W.B. Yeats' play Purgatory at the summit of Knocknerea mountain, at the base of Queen Maeve's cairn. Incentives like this promote Sligo as a unique cultural destination, a place where magical things happen, such as a contemporary theatre company staging a play by one of the counties famous sons, at the summit of an ancient mountain.

Sligo Who Knew

The 'Sligo Who Knew?' campaign turns to social media to unearth the counties hidden gems and to promote Sligo as a 'staycation' destination, being only a 2 and a half hours drive from Dublin. Using the #sligowhoknew hashtag Sligo businesses, cultural centres, selected digital ambassadors, tourists and Sligo tweeters can share the hidden corners of Sligo, from their unique point of view! You can see all the tagged content from all social networks on the #sligowhoknew tagboard. It is probably one of the most forward thinking digital tourism strategies in Ireland at the moment! As a Sligo person, I too play a part in this dialogue, as the press release highlights - "Locals Become Proud Ambassadors of their Homeland".

"… Sligo was a different habitation. A small and beautiful town situated almost at the western edge of Europe, it was bounded by green fields, mountains, and the sea, and its narow streets were lined with small shops. At the quays there were boats loading and unloading, and sailors with stories that made the world seem “full of monsters and marvels”. Over the town to the west loomed the mountain Knocknarea, on its flat top an enormous mound supposed to contain the remains of Queen Maeve; to the north beyond Drumcliff stood Ben Bulben, the long stone outcrop ending in a massive, razor-sharp edge. With its mists and changing colours, its ancient mysterious mounds and dolmens, Sligo was a place where one could easily believe in a world of magic.”
'Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839-1922)', William M. Murphy,
(London: Cornell University Press, 1978)

Sligo and its enchanting landscape was a constant source of inspiration for all of the Yeats siblings. Prompted by their father's inability to secure and retain commissions they entered into artistic professions with the intention of earning a living, with the explicit aim of utilising their creative talent into something productive and profitable. These recent festivals promote the Yeats family legacy and seek to place it at the centre of the cultural, historical and physical spirit of Sligo, inspiring a new generation to be inspired by Sligo and its creative traditions; just as the Yeats family once were.

See more:
Cultural Tourism Ireland
Museums connecting cultural tourists: more substance over style, please
Helen Palmer, 'Why cultural tourism is not a quick fix', The Guardian, April 15 2013
‘Sligo – Who Knew?’ Turns To Social Media To Unearth Hidden Gems
Tread Softly ... A Season of Yeats festival
Treading softly in Sligo (Irish Examiner, July 24 2013)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Steps of Rome // March, 2013

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Hane and I with our heads huddled together, Tara and I at the Spanish steps (our poses in that picture remind me of Manet's Petit Dejeuner sur l'herbe!)

Rome is so expansive (and continuously expanding!) that we spent quite a lot of time with our noses in our map. This final leg of the journey was for our return flights home, so we only spent 2 nights in Rome. We took it easy, leisurely walking the streets, not neglecting gelato breaks of course! We had these incredible pastries called 'sorchetta' topped with cream and chocolate one night, after a night of socialising with my Roman friend Aurora, and our mutual German friend Hane (both of whom I'd worked with in Venice, oh that all seems so long ago now!) Where we'd usually get curry cheese chips, the Romans have delicious patisseries open into the the wee hours, and no anti social behaviour. I could get used to that way of life, my waistline wouldn't find it hard to adjust!

Aurora took us to a small family owned restaurant called A Casa di Alice on our last night. The menu had dozens of different spaghetti dishes, all the pasta being made fresh in the kitchen. She went to secondary school in the area our hostel was in (east Rome), so she was familiar with all the best social spots, luckily for us! It was all very reasonably priced and with plenty of choice for vegetarians, so different from home.

Rome was very touristy, but it has a charm of its own, the locals are well dressed like so many Italians are. There are many, many designer boutiques, which didn't interest us. One afternoon, I removed myself from the mania of Rome and the Piazza di Spagna and found refuge for an hour in the Keats Shelley House, located right beside the Spanish Steps. It was a peaceful haven in the heart of the ever pulsing Rome, Keats himself would appreciate that I think.

We stayed at the Papaya Hostel. We visited some of the main attractions in the city centre - the Spanish Steps, the Keats Shelley House, the Palazzo del Quirinale, the Via dei Condotti. However, we mostly just walked the streets, as we both had visited the city before, and we preferred to catch up with friends than fret about getting into the major attractions.

1am 'sorchetta' from Laboratorio Lambiase, Rome with @teelydon
The last supper: home made spaghetti with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and pumpkin: 'Halloween' pasta
Cute menu!
1960s Dollyrockers velvet liberty print shift dress & murano glass stud earrings #wiwt
Keats bed, in which he died on February 23, 1821 in Rome, at the age of 25
Silhouette (1823) of Fanny Brawne (1800-65) by Augustin Édouart at the Keats-Shelley House, Rome
Homeward bound over the Alps yesterday afternoon
1: 1am 'Sorchetta mora', from pasticceria Lambiase, Rome
2-3: Home made spaghetti with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and pumpkin: 'Halloween' pasta from A Casa di Alice
4: Hostel selfie, wearing 1960s Dollyrockers velvet liberty print shift dress & murano glass stud earrings
5: Keats bed, in which he died on February 23, 1821 in Rome, at the age of 25
6: Locks of Shelley and Keats hair.
7: Silhouette (1823) of Fanny Brawne (1800-65) by Augustin Édouart at the Keats-Shelley House, Rome
8: Homeward bound over the Alps

All these wonderful photos were taken on my friend Tara's camera, the instagram pictures are my own.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

One doesn't come to Italy for niceness, one comes for life! / Florence, March 2013

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1: Statue of Michelangelo's David (replica) in Piazza della Signoria // 2-6: The view from the roof of our hotel, (Hotel Medici) // 7: Cheeky fun with David // 8-9: Recalling that scene from A Room with a View // 10: Tara and I

I began this post last week, cup of tea in hand, as the rain poured down outside my window. Disheartened, I got distracted. This week couldn't be more different! The weather took a total turn around last week and we are enjoying temperatures in the mid-20s all across Ireland. So now I am recalling my Italian trip with fondness, and sharing some of our pictures! I had meant to blog about my Spring trip months ago, I did write a blog post on gelateria in Florence in March, if you're into that sort of thing!

Tara is one of my best friends, we met in our first year of university as we were placed in student accommodation together, and happily a firm friendship was formed. We took the same Art History classes and vowed to one day visit Florence. We fulfilled that promise earlier this year. Tara works in Dubai, so our rendezvous point was at Rome's International Airport. From there we took a fast train to Florence. I would advise that you book these in advance, or you can buy a ticket for half the price, but it takes closer to 4 hours to travel between the two cities.

We were (and are!) two twenty-somethings on a budget, so we took our trip in the down season (though is there every really a low tourist season in Italy??) We stayed at Hotel Medici, a 2 star hotel in the city centre. Our rooms were actually a 5 minute walk from the main reception, but we could easily walk to the hotel in the mornings for a simple breakfast. Italians are reknowned for their generous meals, but breakfast is an altogether simpler affair. Typically they may have a pastry for breakfast with a strong expresso, so they can enjoy a long, lazy lunch. We would eat heartily at lunch so we got used to our simple breakfasts. After breakfast, we strolled lazily along the characteristic Florentine streets to our first attraction of the day. On our first evening, we picked up a cheap bottle of Italian wine and sat on the balcony admiring our up close and personal view of the Duomo (see above). I can confirm that Italy does actually have a cold spell during the winter and spring, so do bring a warm jacket and scarf. We had 3 aran sweaters to share between the pair of us, so we were fine!

We visited all the major attractions - the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens, the Uffizi gallery, the Accademia galleries, the church of Santa Croce (c. 1443), and Florence Cathedral (San Maria del Fiore).

As with any trip, if you want to save on admission prices, book in advance. You can get reduced rates up to 12 hours before your visit. In 2011, a tourist tax was introduced for the major Italian cities. This rate is paid daily, to your hotel, and varies depending on the star rating of your hotel. There is a cut off point (eg. 10 nights is the maximum charge for Florence).

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1-2: Interior of the infamous Dome of Florence's catherdral. A feat of engineering, designed by Brunelleschi in the 15th century // 3: Italy's old restaurant signs // 4: Looking over the river Arno, after consuming the best panino I have and will probably ever eat again // 5: Facade of the Church of Santa Croce (c. 1443) // 6-11: At the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens

All these photos were 'borrowed' from Tara's superior camera. Thank you again!