Every year, the European Commission designates one or more cities in the EU as a European Capital of Culture. The initiative is designed to promote European Union cultural activities between member states and to highlight the cultural richness and diversity of Europe. The scheme also aims to revitalize the chosen cities and strengthen their international profile.

In 2020, there will be two European Capitals of culture, Rijeka in Croatia and Galway in Ireland. The Galway main attractions will involve a full program of cultural events held throughout the year, including art, music, theatre, dance, and acrobatic performances from both Irish and international artists.

Foreign travelers who wish to experience Galway 2020 will not be required to obtain an ETIAS to visit Ireland, as this electronic travel authorization will not be implemented until the end of 2022. Also, ETIAS requirements state this visa waiver will only be necessary for Schengen Area countries, and Ireland has not yet signed the Schengen agreement.

Galway 2020 Programme Overview

The European Culture Capital events in Galway in 2020 are being overseen by Helen Marriage, the co-founder of Artichoke, an arts organization that aims to create ambitious public art and performance in cities, the countryside, and on coastlines around the UK. Marriage has announced that she is working in tandem with 12 major festivals in Galway and Ireland to create an extensive calendar of events, which will include 27 dedicated Capital of Culture productions in Galway.

Marriage has asserted that the principal aim of the events is to sustain cultural activity, with the emphasis placed less on ticketed performances and more on providing a range of activities that will continue throughout the whole year.

The official programme of Galway 2020, European Capital of Culture was launched on Wednesday 18th September in Eyre Square in Galway, at a family-friendly outdoor event. The following Galway 2020 projects were confirmed to make up the bulk of the events that those who visit Ireland in 2020 can expect to enjoy:

  • FRESH STREET # 3 - The International Seminar for the development of Street Arts is premiering a diverse and creative arts program for Galway 2020. An open call for artistic presentations was launched in January 2019, and the selections for the final pieces were made from over 120 applications from all over the world. The final selections will all share the theme of ‘Place and Identity’.

  • Symphonic Waves - A new youth orchestra for the West of Ireland, which will showcase the wealth of musical talent in the region. The aim of the initiative is to create a sustainable music education legacy for young musicians in Ireland. Auditions for the musicians hoping to join the orchestra are being held in Dublin on Friday 15th November.

  • Aerial/Sparks - A series of acoustic projects that will explore the relationship humans have with the ocean, managed by artist Louise Manifold. Artists from Ireland and across Europe have been commissioned to develop new work while spending time on the Marine Institute research vessel The Celtic Explorer – one of the few marine research vessels with sonic capabilities.

  • Wires Crossed - An international community-based project which will use the art of funambulism (highwire walking) to promote physical and mental well-being, safe risk-taking, and social inclusion. Galway Community Circus is looking for people of all ages and abilities to get involved with the project and learn the art of wire walking. There will be lots of opportunities to take part in workshops and training over the months leading up to a main Galway 2020 event.

Galway 2020 Opening Ceremony

Although the Capital of Culture designation for Galway starts on January 1st, 2020, the launch ceremony will be held in February. The decision was taken to use the “Celtic calendar” for planning the launch, in order to give the opening ceremony more of an Irish Celtic flavor. The ceremony will mark the official launch of the Galway 2020 events which will run throughout the first few months of the year. An exact date for the opening ceremony has yet to be announced, but it is due to take place at least a week after the launch for the other European Capital of Culture. This is to allow EU representatives to attend events in both Rijeka and Galway. Although the event organizers have said the opening ceremony is still a ‘work-in-progress’, it has been confirmed the launch will be a major outdoor event. The full budget for the entire program of events throughout the year is a reported 39 million euros, with a large part of the support coming from private sector funding.

Galway 2020 Main Events

The Galway 2020 main activities that have already been confirmed for specific dates during the year belong to the Fresh Street #3 programme, and consist of the following free events:

  • 22nd-24th May - Our Hands UK artist Vicky Malin will present an intimate experience centered around the possibilities, stories, and perceptions of the human hand, in order to reflect on identity and explore what connects us all. Each session will last for around 10 minutes and between 1-6 people will be able to enter at a time.

  • 22nd May, 10 pm - The Ship of Destiny by Luxe

A landscape spectacle to be held in the streets of Galway, The Ship of Destiny will bring the audience and performers together on a quest to discover the soul, as they carry fire on a journey to where the land, the sea, and the sky meet.

  • 23rd May, 11 am - New Territories

Slovakian artist Deana Kolenčíková is behind the first Galway 2020 activity to be held on Inis Oírr, the smallest of the three Aran Islands off the Galway coast. Kolenčíková will ask participants to draw a map of Ireland and identify their current position. The results will be displayed on Inis Oírr, with the aim of challenging our identity and political viewpoint of the world.

  • 23rd May 3 pm - Kate Boschetti and Liam Wilson

Áras Éanna Arts Centre on Inis Oirr has selected two artists in residence to create Galway 2020 projects on the island, based around the themes of place and identity. Boschetti and Wilson will live on the island for the entire month of May and immerse themselves in the community to create a site-responsive artwork which will be unveiled on May 23rd.

  • 23rd May, 6 pm - Remnants by Turas Theatre Collective

A project by a local theatre company which will explore the theme of displacement using soundscape and physical theatre. Remnants tells the story of three people who find themselves alone and homeless and explores both the past of these characters and their hopes for the future.

  • 24th May, 5.30 pm - One Sink Two Float

A performance from a Belgian theatre and dance collective to take place in Claddagh, a former fishing village located just outside the old Galway city walls. One Sink Two Float is a surreal and visual story that features two performers who will explore the nature of water and the hidden depths that can lie below the surface.

Although the exact date has yet to be announced, the main event of Wires Crossed for Galway European Culture capital will consist of a world record spectacle crossing of the River Corrib and Claddagh Basin over 2020 minutes and is expected to involve over 400 participants. Wires Crossed are also planning a large Circus Festival in Galway, which is expected to be held in August.

Remember, as Ireland is not yet in the Schengen Area, it will not be necessary to obtain an ETIAS or a Schengen visa to visit the country for Galway 2020. Please check Ireland’s entry requirements and visa policy for further information about the required travel documents for Ireland.