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Covid-19 played its disruptive part, of course, but diversification took centre stage at GCS and heads were – in effect – banged together to come up with alternatives. “We had to come up with ideas. Our main concern was those at home,” Head of Development and Education, Davina Barbara, told me. “We had a responsibility to help and come up with a plan and programmes were structured on a weekly basis.”

The wonderful creation of the internet and online availability was one solution and any number of morning library story telling sessions held in small groups, live story reading from home with parents taking part also, music, arts and crafts, and theatre workshops involving GAMPA, focus on Gibraltar Archive and Fine Arts, videos of past exhibitions with much of it online and shown on other social platforms got underway. “We also had Paulette Finlayson showing groups of school children around the Mario Finlayson National Gallery in the Town Hall which displays her dad’s and other Gibraltarian artists’ works…”

The GEMA (sculptor Victor Quintanilla has an incredible display of his creative work there), Fine Arts and Mario Finlayson National art galleries have certainly not been forgotten with exhibitions and and story competitions involving schools being organised. The JMH Library has had limited activity with children whilst staff have been taking advantage of the lockdown to re-organise part of the room, keeping Davina and her team very busy during lockdown and beyond, with so much more still in the offing! “We’ve taken a couple of ideas from looking at what’s been done in the UK,” Davina reveals, “like our Frontline Portrait Exhibition, promoting those individuals who have been keeping us safe from the virus.”

A lot of virtual digital work has also been produced during the period, such as the spring digital art exhibition and ‘Visit Gibraltar’ virtual tours of the Upper Galleries – and there’s more to come during National Week…

“We’ve also had live drama performances with a very limited audience in the Charles Hunt Room with just two actors and everyone present keeping to the Covid rules and social distancing,” Davina says. The list of activities and work being done by Davina and her team is almost endless with more exhibitions, a treasure hunt and even a, ‘Creatives’ competition involving  Lego brick building, which is apparently quite popular on the Rock, and not forgetting the 47th International Arts Exhibition planned for November and prizes to be won!

Checking out the wider entertainment package GCS is very much involved in, has meant more head scratching by those working from the corner offices next to the cafeteria at JMH… It must have been heavy going thinking of ways to fill in the gaps left by, GibTalks, Calentita, Summer Nights, the Miss Gibraltar Pageant, the GMF, MUGA events or the Beer Festival. And no Jazz music at Grand Parade, no Drama Festival, no National Day celebrations at Casemates, no Fair Week, no Literary Festival, perhaps no Christmas fun week at John Mackintosh Square and Festival of  Lights, no traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations also at Casemates, no Three Kings’ Cavalcade and more ‘no’s as far as we can predict. (Keeping fingers crossed that things could change, and not all of the above will be lost!)

However, as advertised, the September Blessing of the Seas Boat Procession around the Rock will go ahead. “And apart from all that Davina has informed you about, we are preparing certain events that will run well into the autumn and further on,” GCS CEO, Seamus Byrne reveals.

Abiding by Public Health rules and working hard GCS is doing their best to fill in those gaps. “We’ll have choirs and other musical events allowing the use of venues like Ince’s Hall, the JMH Theatre, the Alameda Open Air Theatre and even St Michael’s Cave. Audience capacity at any events being organised will be staggered starting with one third attendance being allowed and slowly building as weeks and months go by as the virus situation improves.”

There are also plans for recording entertainment segments to keep beachgoers reminded of what the 10th of September – National Day – is all about. There’ll be lots going on during National Week leading up to the 10th. The week will include GBC Television in full swing with cultural TV archives and other GBC television library programmes alongside its normal programming, the political aspect of the day on the day, the Rock Concert and the traditional, pretty colours shooting up into the sky later, with lots online too.

“Oh yes, we’ll have TV screens on all our beaches to help celebrate the day. And for New Year’s Eve we’ll be recording a show earlier on in December at John Mackintosh Hall Theatre which will be shown on GBC on the night and will include the fireworks display live at midnight. In January we’ll also be holding a cultural exchange between Gibraltar and the Lloyd’s of London Art Group exhibiting over 100 works at the Gustavo Bacarisas Gallery in Casemates.”

Dates and venues of all the exhibitions and events are displayed on posters at JMH and other places and will appear in the media as we get closer to the dates. “The GCS has indeed been very busy during lockdown and the work is ongoing. We’re continuing with our street art projects with the next one coming up on the GAMPA building on Hospital Hill.” Seamus says it’s time for reflection at GCS and asserts there’s more to culture than just events, and the GCS will soon be involved in the running of the Mayor’s Parlour amongst other projects.

So to say the Gibraltar Cultural Services staff have been very busy during our unfortunate period since March 2020, would be a grand understatement. Reading through the above might prove exhausting because of all that’s gone on and has still yet to come, always bearing in mind – as we’re not out of the woods yet – the importance of sticking to COVID-19 rules and keeping safe. Hence much appreciation must go towards the work undertaken (which continues) by the GCS. Clearly their workload has been full to the brim…with their busy agenda overflowing well into 2021!

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