In 1997 Burning the Demons Embracing the Future marked a new departure in community organising and the beginning of a fifteen-year journey towards social, economic and cultural change. That year the Rialto Youth Project leadership convened a planning weekend at Invern, Galway. The Network Drugs Team also participated along with local artist Chris Maguire. The Burning the Demons, Embracing the Future event was a big moment for the youth project and its origins can be traced back to that planning weekend at which Charlie O’Neill proposed the notion of a photo realist project with a number of phases.
Coordinated by Chris Maguire from the outset, young people were given cameras and sent out to take pictures of what it’s like to live in Rialto. Using St. Andrew’s as a base, the resulting photographs were laid out and with facilitation by Charlie O’Neill, the 10 most representative images were chosen. A further session at Charlie’s studio at Public Communications Centre (PCC) honed it down to a defining, composit image.
In the next phase of the process, Chris Maguire worked with the local young people engaged with the project to make a mural based on the image. When the mural was finished in September it was mounted on the building in St. Andrew’s. Its appearance there changed the process from a youth project to a community development project. Middle class residents responded negatively to the mural as a defining image of Rialto. In response, Niall O’Baoill produced an explanatory leaflet on the project which was distributed to every household in Rialto.
It was only at that later phase of the project that the proposal to burn the mural and the symbolism of that idea came into focus. Breakfast meetings were organised to inform the community about the project and the idea of a public, parade event around burning the mural. In response a group of local women presented 75 pounds collected to support the project. It was evolving into more of a parade event.
The Burning the Demons, Embracing the Future event became a very significant moment. While the process had started in late September, by October young people had not yet fully bought in: they were gathering wood for the Halloween bonfire. A group of men, including youth worker Paul O’Shaughnessy and volunteer John Bissett volunteered to be on site with screw guns to stack the pallets for the fire sculpture. A pyrotechnics man known locally as Seamus The Firestarter directed how the bonfire was to be built. Youth workers realised that the Rialto Majorettes and other groups were coming to join the parade. The site at St. Andrew’s became a frenetic scene of construction.