About the festival
Each year we present a kaleidoscopic programme of works by local, national and international artists, across a variety of artforms including dance, street arts, spectacle, literature, circus, visual arts, film, music and theatre.
We also work with artists and communities throughout the year to create new work. This year-round work informs, diversifies, and strengthens our annual festival programme by ensuring that it is current, responsive and relevant to the needs of the artists, communities and audiences that we seek to engage and support.
The mission of the festival remains the same: to make art accessible to everybody.
Formerly Éigse Carlow Arts Festival (Éigse meaning ‘a gathering by poets’), Carlow Arts Festival began in 1979 as a community initiative, celebrating Irish heritage through Irish language, poetry, music and dance.
For its first decade, the festival was run by a core team on a voluntary basis. Among the most active organisers were Bride de Róiste (Irish language), Deirdre Brennan (English and Irish poetry) and Fr. Kevin O’Neill (visual arts). A central aim was to make the world of arts more accessible for the local Carlow community and to provide a platform for local artists and craftspeople to display publicly.
In the 90s, Éigse continued to depend on volunteer committees but began to focus less on the Irish language and more on the visual arts, with an upscaling of the programme and the addition of several international artists.
Into a new century
This focus on visual arts and presentation of international work paved the way for the realisation and construction of the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art & The George Bernard Shaw Theatre - one of Ireland’s leading contemporary art centres, which opened in 2009. VISUAL is one of the festival’s longest established presenting partners along with Carlow College St. Patricks.
In 2002/2003 the first professional director was appointed as the festival started to move into a more professional era with a renewed focus on a multi-disciplinary programme and in 2013 the festival changed its name to Carlow Arts Festival.
Carlow Arts Festival has continued to evolve and is now one of only six strategically funded multi-disciplinary Arts Council funded festivals in the country and a highlight of the Irish cultural calendar. The mission of the festival remains the same: to make art accessible to everybody.