Mary Nally conceived of, and created, Drop Everything, her ‘contemporary cultural biennal’ which returns for its fourth outing on the island of Inis Oírr this month. She tells us about its ethos, influences and how to get a ticket to it.
I believe you are in the States at the moment Mary. Did you source any ideas for Drop Everything there?
Ah ya know one or two. I was at a festival in Marfa, Texas – it was recommended from some pals that had been there last year and they drew similarities to DE so I thought I’d check it out. Marfa is kinda like an island in its own way.
What have you planned for the edition this year?
So I can’t tell you much without giving the game away. I like the audience to discover everything brand new as opposed to having an idea or expectations of what’s going to be there. One thing I can tell you about is we’re getting to program classes for the secondary school on Inis Oírr during the week leading into the event.
I found school super problematic, or maybe it found me problematic… either way the idea of being able to redesign education in any capacity is very appealing to me. The principle of the school has being amazingly open and we are essentially getting to take over for the week. The programme is called Do Anything, and the idea is by tapping into our network of creative professionals, students will get first hand insights and advice, through talks and workshops, on how to approach working in the creative industry. Ideally down the line, I’d love to take it to more schools across Ireland.
Can you explain the process for getting tickets? It is invite only. What is the thinking behind this and what decisions do you take into account in selecting attendees?
So it actually isn’t invite only. It’s open but you can’t just buy a ticket to the event like most festivals. How it works is – you get in touch by way of registering on our site or email. You get an email from DE explaining how we run things and where your money goes, if that’s all good with you, you let us know and then have the option to buy in.
This year because the demand had been extremely high we released on a first come first serve basis for the first 250 people. For the last 50 places I’ve decided, controversially lol, to offer those places to people I chose at random or feel may benefit from attending. I’ve done this by way of questionnaire, obviously that won’t be for everyone, but when you’re dealing with such a spike in interest combined with a small capacity and community it’s really important people fully understand that this is not a music festival or a piss up on an island and if that’s what they’re looking for it’s probably the wrong event to attend. The relationship with the islanders is the most important thing to me, and while it’s amazing having this level of interest it’s crucial to protect that relationship. Popularity can as easily break an event as make it. Our audience ranges from 18 to 70 something year olds, across many different walks of life and includes a fisherman who found it by accident, it’s really important to me to maintain that diversity.
Anyway from here on in I’m going to make it a lottery. I think it’s the fairest way to maintain a diverse and engaged audience. We’ll still ask the audience questions, when it’s this small effort and engagement is essential. Drop Everything is an effort for everyone involved, and that’s what makes it.
You’re well embedded with the locals in Inis Oirr at this stage? What do they make of Drop Everything? Engagement and involvement with them is key to the success of Drop Everything. Can you give some examples of this?
I think you should ask an islander that, but yeah I think things are good. They have been the most incredible hosts, they bake us bread and apple tarts, let us borrow cars and forklifts, we built a sauna on the beach and have stored all sorts in their sheds, they give us shop space and power for projectors, we put art in their handball alley and make cocktails in their bars, they catch us fish and dig us potatoes and we’ll teach their kids how to mix records and develop photos.
It would feel unnatural not to engage, I would have no interest producing an event without the people of the location being involved in someway, there’s a lot we can exchange and learn from each other.
What learnings and changes have you made as the cultural biennial evolves?
I’ve changed the ticketing process about 20 times, 3 times alone for this edition. I’m trying to find the right balance, I’ve learned you can’t please all the people all the time, but that it actually doesn’t matter. I know the intent is right and I have to be true to it. There’ll always be someone taking issue. I haven’t changed much else, it’s just evolved to include more elements but without compromising on the one thing at one time programming policy. So there’s more to engage with and less chance of fomo 🙂
Encompassing and engaging with the landscape is a key element of the weekend. How does this happen?
I’m not sure how it couldn’t happen. It would be remiss of me not to engage with every element of this location. It’s perfect.
You’ve developed a distinct line of merchandising to accompany the festival which has extended beyond it. What’s in store for this year?
Yes indeed, JP Hartnett who designs the DE identity every year decided the shape of the island was the most representative as a logo. Clothing wise our main merch partner is the Berlin based Starstyling, we’ve been friends for years, one of their staple designs is a foil shape on t-shirts and sweatshirts so I asked if they’d do a series with the island logo, they’re so popular we reissue for every event. Different designers have done special edition releases as part of DE too, The Tweed Project, JP Coss, Grace O’Connell, Pratique Actuelle have done specific pieces for the event and this year we’re working with the designer Pearl Reddington.
Any tips for first timers making the voyage?
Pack your dreams and leave your worries on the mainland. Book the following week off and let your phone die.
What other festivals, experiences and encounters have informed DE 2018?
Norway’s SALT on the island of Sandhornøya was very influential in us building a sauna in 2016 and everything following on from that this year. A bottle of mezcal my pals brought me back from Marfa Myths last year. A book set on the Orkney islands that I read in India. A tattoo from a stranger on a Friday the 13th. A gorgeous gathering called Designers on Holiday on the island of Gotland off Sweden. A magazine I found in a wine bar in Athens. Panorama Bar on a rainy Sunday afternoon. New York City. The friends you haven’t met yet.
Drop Everything takes place on the weekend of May 25 on Inis Oírr.