Monday, July 11, 2016

July 23 sees Makeshift Ensemble and Southern the Hospitality Board take their Quarter series to Fitzgerald
Park for a summer spectacular. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Leah Hearne about Quarter Park Party


The Quarter Park Party takes place in Fitzgeralds Park.

The Quarter Park Party takes place in Fitzgeralds Park.

SINCE its maiden voyage in 2015, the Quarter Block Party has very quickly become one of the most important entries in the Leeside cultural calendar.
Co-produced and promoted by the Cork arts collective Makeshift Ensemble and gig promoters Southern Hospitality Board, the event began as a way of getting the Quarter all-day events out into the city, but has become so much more for North and South Main streets. Producer and curator Leah Hearne expands on the overall effort the Party has been part of.
“I’m so hyper-aware of the street now, it’s impossible for me to be objective about it. Of course, there are others who have had their attention focused on the area as well; the City Council have a painting grant scheme and CODAC/Reimagine Cork have been doing trojan work. Shine’s community garden on Kyle Street is looking so beautiful as well. It is great to see how the street has transformed, and there have been other, less visible, transformations too, in terms of building relationships and community.”
The goodwill the festival has helped generate for the city centre has resulted in a new sister festival being announced for Fitzgerald’s Park, Quarter Park Party.
Happening all day on July 23, the fest takes Block Party’s DIY vibe and places it in a much different environment, both physically and in terms of audience. With a family-friendly nature at the centre of the event, was it different to programme from the last two years of QBP?
“The programming happened quite naturally and didn’t really require a change in thinking. We’ve always considered most of QBP’s daytime events, those taking place in the businesses on the street, to be open to people of all ages. Although, as the Southern Hospitality Board and Makeshift Ensemble/Quarter’s pre-existing audiences were primarily young adults it’s something we need to build on and make people aware of. Age inclusivity was something we tried to increase this year by printing any age restrictions (or lack of) in the brochure and I think we had a little success with it.
“It was particularly nice having people of all ages and musical abilities playing together at the Cork Community Gamelan workshops, seeing kids dancing to Stomptown Brass, and having students from Cork Life Centre get involved with Reimagine Cork and performing in Lockout. It is, of course, important to respond to the environment we’re in for the Park Party, that’s where the idea for Darragh Murphy’s Ecological Obstacle Course came in, to allow people to discover a bit about the ecological interactions going on around them.”
Central to the success of Quarter Block Party’s success has been its working relationship with the Southern Hospitality Board, helmed by the duo of Aisling O’Riordan and Makeshift Ensemble co-founder Caoilian Sherlock, whose tireless efforts to advance Cork music have placed them at the heart of its community. Leah expands on their role in Quarter events and the relationship between the groups.
“Southern Hospitality are completely autonomous in their music programming and equal partners in the festival as a whole. We work as a co-operative so would make decisions about the identity and goals of Quarter Block Party together, and then Aisling and Caoilian just do their thing putting together the music programme within that.” Amidst all of the activity will be a performance from neo-soul six-piece Shookrah, re-emerging from a period of hibernation. The band have turned heads over the past few years, and their mix of effortless cool and outstanding musicianship make them a perfect fit for the event.
“Yeah, I’m excited to see them! They’ve been busy recording a new EP so it’s been a while. Funnily enough, there was initially another act in mind for that slot (hope I don’t get in trouble for saying that, but Shookrah did play QBP in 2015). When that act fell through I think the three of us all independently thought of Shookrah. Moments like that happen a lot!”
Also on the cards is that treasure of community festivals everywhere, the community games. Egg and spoon races, three-legged races and penalty shoot-outs abound, in what’s sure to be a source of comedy gold for participants and spectators alike.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a good laugh alright. This was something we were planning for February but never materialised then. I’m delighted it’s going ahead in Fitzgeralds Park now, it’s the perfect setting for it. It’s not winning but taking part that counts!”
QPP definitely takes advantage of the park’s surroundings, with mindfulness on the lawn, an obstacle course around the rest of the park, plays and such onstage. Such a versatile location for all manner of attractions. Were there any, kind of, mad ideas floating around that proved to be a tad unworkable?
“Ah, no mad idea is unworkable. The madder the better. We’re certainly not shy about extremes anyway, going for a whole hour of mindfulness and a three-hour duration of Inma Pavon’s ‘The Art of Dancing’ which they haven’t done before, I think that will be really special. So often at a festival you’re running from one thing to the next but these events give you the opportunity to slow down, to observe, relax and reflect. Participants for ‘The Art of Dancing’ can come and go as they please so there could be 60 people dancing at one moment and at another just 1. I’d love that.”
Conversation turns back to Block Party. With the current slew of bad news to have affected North Main Street taking its toll, the role of QBP and the arts community in raising morale and making a difference is up for discussion.”
”I’m not sure, or rather, not sure what power we have to make a difference beyond what we’re already doing. We can highlight the history and character of the street but I think it’s up to individuals then take their business to these places to keep them going.As is the nature of arts and culture, once one event concludes, the planning and preparation for the next begins. Leah expands on the next step in the journey.
“Once Quarter Park Party wraps up we’ll be full tilt into planning and programming for Quarter Block Party 2017. I think we also need to have some big conversations about the future of the festival and it’s sustainability because we all love doing it, think it’s important and want to see it continue. Ideally we need a dedicated development officer whose sole focus is fundraising because none of the present team have that skillset and are artists in their own right and work throughout the year on different projects.
“I think for the first two festivals we felt a need to prove ourselves and created a packed programme that was a lot of hard work for us all to pull together. We’re also just very excitable and want to follow every idea through even if that’s putting a strain on our time and resources.
“So for 2017 I’d like if we could deliver a festival within our means, one that’s able to pay all of its staff a wage but can still deliver quality events that excite and challenge people. That’s the dream.”
Quarter Park Party happens all day on July 23 at Fitzgerald’s Park.

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