Ireland,  Lifestyle,  Travelog,  What's On My Mind

Waterford Walls: a street art paradise in the oldest Irish city

You don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree from art school, or wander around the train stations with a spray can in hand at night to appreciate what I’m about to show you.

Okay, so what is Waterford Walls and why I won’t shut up about it?

Waterford Walls is a street art festival that has been held in the Irish city of Waterford for six years. Although Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland, it has fallen economically after 2008 and unfortunately it is still trying to get out of it (every second store in the city is closed and the situation is not improving after Corona). Despite the fact that the city is trying to attract tourists to history and the so-called Viking Triangle, visually the city was derelict – ugly unmaintained buildings, meaningless streets.

In the summer of 2015, the first year of Waterford Walls was held, at that time mostly only with Irish artists, and the city came to life – colors everywhere, good mood and suddenly people started coming to the city not only because of history.

Six years and several hundred paintings later and suddenly during the coronavirus, such a festival is the only one that can be held. It’s the beginning of September 2020, Ireland is still half closed – face coverings must be worn everywhere, pubs that do not sell food cannot be opened and no more than 15 people in a group is allowed to gather outside.

Waterford is known throughout Ireland for its summer festivals – whether it’s the Spraoi art festival during an extended weekend in August, the All Together Now music festival (which I wrote about last year), or the Harvest Festival – a September food festival. And these are just some festivals, usually all festivals run from April to the end of the year. Even though everyone focuses on something different, they have one thing in common – crowds of people. All these festivals are so-called open air and they need an audience to function. As the current situation in Ireland developed, all festivals have eventually been canceled. Or all festivals until the end of September except mentioned Waterford Walls. (EDIT: Spraoi put some street decorations out and randomly let a couple of artists to perform on the streets in mid-September.)

Waterford Walls doesn’t need a crowd to run. Of course, it’s nice to see people, whether locals or tourists, amazed at the painting that is just emerging, and it’s certainly a driving force for the artists themselves. But it is not necessary for the festival to work.

So we knew that this year we would somehow put it together and the festival would take place in some form. Just to give you an idea – in 2018 (which was my first year) the festival was attended by about fifty artists from around the world and with my brother and other volunteers we were running around like crazy. A year later, there were “only” about thirty of them. This year there were to be around seventeen – domestic and foreign. We hoped that we’d be lucky with the so-called Green List and that foreigners would be able to come and participate.

In the end, no one could come over because of Corona. From the twelve allowed countries, we did not have any of these countries in the Line-Up. German artist Case Maclaim arrived and spent two weeks in quarantine in a remote village to take part in our other project in another city (which I will hopefully tell you about soon).

Waterford Walls usually runs only a week in August, but this year our team came up with a perfect solution and the festival ran for a month and a half and in the end it was filled only by Irish artists and well-known names for all fans of the festival. In the finale, seven new paintings were created, in which a total of nine artists participated.

In addition, the enthusiasts of our festival did not miss anything at all – every day we loaded the social media channels with new content – from photos, through timelapses to live videos on Instagram. The audience was able to watch the processes of creating of all seven paintings.

As I mentioned, there are currently about a hundred paintings throughout the city. Some are from the very first year, others are much younger. The owner of the building decides whether the painting will be repainted next year. Usually, however, large works remain and smaller walls find new paintings year after year in addition to brand new walls being painted to accommodate the festival needs.

In addition to the painting itself, in the past the festival also offered an accompanying programme, which consisted of live music, guided tours (which are also available outside the festival), occasional “expert panel talks” and the like. This year, we only organized the mentioned guided tours because the rest would not be possible with the restrictions. Not to mention the fact that the festival faces financial difficulties every year and many programme parts would still not be possible due to lack of funds.

How did I even get to such a festival?

For me, 2018 was a year full of changes, which I was looking for myself, which does not normally happen, but I probably banged my head … so one summer day I read the local newspapers and saw that the festival was looking for volunteers. I don’t know what I thought, but I signed up. I remember like it happened today, when I got up every day with my stomach upset, even though I really enjoyed it and I knew that nothing bad was happening there, but it wouldn’t be me if I wouldn’t be feeling anxious all the time haha.

I recruited my brother after about two days, and in the end there were jokes that he should clone, because everyone liked how hard he worked. Well, cheap labor from the East is just too difficult to match up with haha

Brother’s presence also helped me with anxiety, which he didn’t know, so this is me thanking him publicly. Otherwise, we acted there as so-called general volunteers – we did what we were told, we went where we were told, we carried water to the artists around the city, helped them with painting (my brother assisted Joe Caslin, who is a very popular domestic artist) and workshops (I was left with Shuk and his workshop with children .. which ended up being much more peaceful than I expected HashtagKeepTheChildrenToYourselves).

I have been working as a Social Media Manager for almost two years now, and I basically post and take care of content for social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And not only for this festival, but also the agency that runs it and one artistic side project funded by the European Union.

Lots of artists transfer their sketches on the wall this way – Russ on the left, Peachzz in the middle and Nina Valkhoff on the right

Karol Kachmarsky consults artist Holly Pereira about photos and posing.

Waterford Walls always brings me joy and lots of amazing experiences. Over the last two years, I have met a lot of interesting people, whether artists or volunteers or people from our core team. Last year I also had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with our photographer Karol Kachmarsky, who also captured my cover photo (in front of a painting by the Spanish artist Taquen). His photos are just great and I really enjoy them, so I was excited to be able to watch him at work and finally pose in a few photos (I wasn’t very excited about that part but of course they came out nicely).

Apart from that, a few artists remembered me last year and I met others, so this year everything went like clockwork again. In addition to all these “connections”, one also learns the current slang during such events. Looking at my notes from last year, “sound” (You’re sound./They’re sound.) was popular in the summer of 2018, and a year later it was a “legend” (You’re legend./They’re legend.). This year we were all stars. Yay.

With G. somewhere in the middle of the tour. Taken by Z.

But one of my biggest positive memories was last year when I was running around the city like a yo-yo so we could always have fresh content for social media channels and suddenly a colleague called me that someone was looking for me in the office. When I ran back all sweaty, I found out that my two friends here in Ireland had come over for a surprise visit. We had a lot of fun together that day, I took the poor souls on about two three-hour tour and they met a few artists. G. impressed the French artist Russ with their French so much that he gave us a few free postcards with his art on it. Dutch artist Nina Valkhoff handed us stickers with her paintings from different parts of the world.

Nina Valkhoff stickers in front of her painting in Waterford. Taken by me.

If you decide to travel after Coronavirus and head to Ireland, be sure to add Waterford to your itinerary – it’s really worth it. And if you want to stay in updated, then visit/follow our Instagram.

I would like to also point out that not all artworks you see around the City are necessarily part of our festival. It’s always a good idea to consult Google or the festival Instagram, alternatively The Walls Project Instagram (agency behind the festival) as well as Murals for Communities (EU funded project). If you cannot find the artwork on any of those pages then it definitely does not belong to us 🙂

With crew and artist Kevin Bohan at the closing party in the summer of 2018