Ireland Communities and society, Culture, sport and tourism

Local Government Festival of the Year – Ennis MELA

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Ennis Mela. Credit @ClareCountyCouncil

Next up in our series of articles showcasing the latest local government innovation from the Chambers Ireland 2022 Excellence in Local Government Awards, Clare County Council tells us about the success of Ennis MELA.

Ennis MELA was a new initiative by the Arts Office of Clare County Council to encourage performance and sharing by culturally diverse groups in the town. Curated and produced by Fidget Feet, an Aerial Dance Company, local musicians gathered with performers from Belfast Mela to put on a free day of activity, food and fun. The day featured performances from India, Nepal, Spain, South America and Pakistan as was compered by a member of the travelling community. The Market Building in Ennis, which normally functions as a car park, was transformed with staging, backdrops and flags to host the open air event which attracted large crowds and a very receptive audience.

The inclusion of the travelling community was very positive and the compere for the event, the rapper Willzee, was excellent, making people feel welcome and at home.

The target sector were locally diverse communities, particularly those who don’t speak English as a first language. They were identified as having had a particularly hard time during Covid-19, with language barriers mitigating against them in terms of day-to-day communication and in online activities. Many became very insular, only speaking to family members and mixing within their own communities. Ennis MELA grew out of a cultural response to Covid-19, to assist people with their creativity and wellbeing and as a means of overcoming social isolation (particularly amongst the elderly). MELA was a way of reaching out to them, to encourage them to come out and enjoy activities that they would feel comfortable with – traditional songs and dance from their own countries. It also provided an audience for many who had not been able to perform for quite a long time, something that was deeply appreciated by them.

The local community was involved in some of the performances sharing their traditional music and dance skills. As a showcase, we had hoped that the event would be a catalyst for increased future participation in cultural activities and the reaction to it seems to have realised this aim as very successful intercultural events also took place on Culture Night and St. Patrick’s Day, following the MELA.

Funded by Clare County Council and through the Arts Councils ‘In the Open’ Covid Response Scheme. Fidget Feet curated a spectacular event.  A significant investment took place by engaging a community co-ordinator to liaise with the various community organisations and groups working with diverse communities in Ennis. This in person engagement developed relationships in the community from which lasting contacts have emerged. Relationships have been strengthened between the local authority arts office and diverse communities, through this investment.

The impact of the initiative was measured in two ways:

  1. a) audience numbers were monitored but reflections on the make-up of the audience were also noted to enable us to gauge the communities that engaged the most.
  2. b) We noted the number of participating artists and their ethnicities. The performers were especially grateful for the opportunity to perform as many were professional artists whose livelihoods had been significantly affected by Covid-19.

The event struck a chord with many, as other performers who came to watch the festival made themselves known to the organisers, wishing to be involved in future performances. There was significant interest in the further development of the festival from the audience with offers of volunteering etc. going forward. This reach is invaluable in terms of building bridges with and between the various communities in the town and there is a strong desire, following on from the Ennis Mela for further opportunities to connect and perform.

This innovative festival is developing as an inclusive cultural initiative. This curated and professionally produced coming together has assisted in developing an impetus for further collaborations between diverse groups in the county.  It is anticipated that the MELA will grow significantly over the coming years, encompassing new communities and diverse voices. There is a significant community of LGBTQI people in Clare, and the local authority has a long-running arts programme with disabled people in the county. We plan to include both sectors going forward.  and we would hope to expand the MELA to incorporate these elements also. We see the MELA as an opportunity for our diverse communities to meet under the umbrella of arts and culture, as an opportunity to not only find their voice but raise their voices with pride and as a wonderful way of building relationships throughout the county.

We are very much looking forward to the next MELA taking place on June 10th, 2023 in Killaloe Co. Clare.



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