Last weekend Kilkenny Arts Festival kicked off a new style programme with less emphasis on big name, headline acts and a more diverse selection of music events to try and bring in a wider audience as well as much needed box-office revenue.

In the first two days of this Festival, possibly the longest surviving Arts festival in Ireland, I saw a world class Finnish pianist, a popular RTE concert orchestra, who delighted with recognisable tunes and favourites like the Light Cavalry overture.

Paul Durcan entranced a 300+ audience with his poetry, Tony Oakey impressed with an aptly titled exhibition – Out of this World. While in the theatre area I saw a new work – Victor and Gord – at Cleere’s by new playwright Una McKevitt who was so impressive and had an impact like a young Conor McPherson had some years ago. An amazing play indeed and there was the novelty of Smile Off Your Face by a Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed where each individual audience member is tied and blindfolded in a wheelchair. A weird experience and I liked being laid down on a bed…but that would be telling too much!

With all that going on you’d think the story on the street would be a happy one. But no – the two talking points were “hidden” ticket charges and a €20 admission to a Festival Mass in St.Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday August 15th at 12.30pm.

Festival organisers were taken aback and the Arts Council promised to ring me back but they didn’t. Brendan Rice the Festival Marketing Director was taken aback but promised that any mass-goer who didn’t want to pay a charge would not be denied entry.

On this issue of ticket charges he was keen to point out that charges were at 2008 levels for this non-profit festival but had to admit that glitches did occur on the printed tickets. For example: the brochure quoted €15 for the play at Cleere’s and stated that a €1 charge would be made online for each ticket and a €1.50 charge for tickets booked in person at the festival box office but the actual ticket did not show this €1.50 addition. Further to that on the door at a venue the €1.50 charge also applied. At the venues I attended there was much disquiet about this. Across the road from Cleere’s at the Watergate Theatre there was no such charge at their box-office.

What most annoyed parents was the €1.50 charge on an €8 ticket to children’s events, a hefty 18.75% increase.

The Festival officers were taken aback as they have to bear the difficult task of at least breaking even in a difficult climate where cutbacks are everywhere and the arts community fears the worst. But I have to say that both the Chief Executive Damien Downes and marketing Director Brendan Rice sought me out to stress their passion for a Kilkenny Festival and their wish to be fair, transparent and equitable.