Arts Management Summer Study Abroad: The Arts & Cultural Heritage of Ireland

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Arts Management Students Revisit the Sights and Sounds of a Summer in Ireland.

This summer, eleven students enrolled in AMGT 599: Global Arts Management: The Arts & Cultural Heritage of Ireland and embarked on a two-week-long study abroad intensive in Galway, Limerick, and Dublin, Ireland. The group was made up of undergraduate, Accelerated Master and MA students and was created and led by AMGT Director, Karalee Dawn MacKay. 

Students standing in front of water
George Mason Arts Management Students on Walking Tour of sunny Galway. 

Class started in Galway with students getting a true sense of local living by staying with local host families in homestays. The host families taught us the best way to navigate public transportation, suggested activities to do in our free time, provided breakfast and dinner each day, and answered our many questions about life in Galway. On the first full day of the course, the first activity was a walking tour where students learned about the rich history of Galway City Center and the Claddagh, a small former fishing village whose people are known worldwide for creating the Claddagh ring, a symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship. 

In just two days, students met with special guest speaker Donnchadh O'Baoill from Údarás na Gaeltachta, and four arts organizations including the Galway Arts Centre, Katie's Cottage & Claddagh Heritage Center, the Galway City Museum, and Town Hall Theatre. Representatives from these organizations discussed their unique missions, strategies for community outreach, the different challenges between running an arts organization in Ireland versus in the United States, and their participation in the Galway Arts Festival - a two-week festival with over 300,000 attendees each year. While at Katie's Cottage, students met Elizabeth, who taught us more about the Claddagh people and their unique culture and history in Galway. After our visit, Elizabeth insisted we take a short boat tour of Galway Bay. She set up a tour for our entire class, and while on the boat, students got to see the small family of four dolphins that live in Galway Bay, drive the boat, and hear about the history of the area. 

Students on boat in front of water
George Mason Arts Management Students on boat tour of Galway Bay looking for dolphins. 

While in Galway, students were given two full days off to explore the city on their own. In the morning, students explored the large local craftsman's market that featured pieces from local artists, fresh food and produce, souvenirs, and more. Afterwards, several students elected to travel slightly south to Salthill, home of the famous O'Connor's Traditional Irish Pub, and spent some time listening to buskers perform along the streets of the Latin Quarter in the City Center. Others chose to take a day trip exploring the Aran Islands, a series of small islands just off the coast of Ireland. Finally, to wrap up their time in Galway, the class took a guided day trip to the famous Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, and the Wild Atlantic Way. Throughout our time in Galway, we were blessed with sunny weather that made the Cliffs of Moher even more beautiful. Locals made sure to remind us that the sunny weather was not typical and asked us to come back soon in hopes we would bring the sun back with us. 

Students sitting behind Gamelan instruments
George Mason Arts Management Students playing traditional Gamelan instruments.

Students also traveled to Limerick for a quick day trip. While our time in Limerick was short, it was full of fun and meaningful meetings with the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick. Several faculty members performed traditional Irish songs, told traditional folk tales, and spoke about their outreach program to help Ukrainian refugees in the city find community and support through music. After tea and biscuits, students were invited into the Gamelan music room where they had a crash course on how to play the traditional Javanese instruments, and even creating a new song of their own. This was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip because I have been interested in Gamelan music since studying it briefly as an undergrad. 

The last stop of the class was in Dublin, Ireland's largest city. While in Dublin, students met with several guest speakers at six arts organizations, including The Abbey Theatre (Ireland's National Theater), Project Art Center, the National Gallery, the Irish Writers Centre, and the Irish Traditional Music Archive. After our meeting with the Irish Traditional Music Archive, where we learned how they are working to preserve Ireland's rich culture of traditional music, we were invited to attend their concert at the National Concert Hall. The concert included music from many different artists representing a range of cultures while performing traditional Irish music and was a highlight of the entire trip for many students. 

Students in front of painting
George Mason Arts Management Students at the National Gallery of Ireland.

As part of their coursework, students gave presentations to the class on arts experiences they had outside of the planned activities for the class. Topics for the presentations included seeing a play at the Abbey Theatre, catching a traditional music session in a pub, experiencing the local Galway market, and observing the large amount of graffiti murals across the city. Finally, after a busy two weeks, the class concluded with a group dinner at The Church restaurant that featured Irish Céilí music and dance performances. The group was given time to reflect on their study abroad experience, and to celebrate course leader and program director Karalee Dawn MacKay's birthday.

Throughout the class, we had extremely enlightening and meaningful conversations with arts professionals across Ireland. The best parts of the class, however, were the organic and spontaneous experiences we had because of the connections we made while we were there. The value of studying abroad, even for two short weeks, cannot be overstated. Keep an eye out for future AMGT study abroad opportunities!