One day, in January 2012, Mary Nally caught a boat to an island called Inis Oírr. It’s a three-kilometre-wide rock off Ireland’s west coast with a population of 252.
You might know it as ‘Craggy Island’, the fictional setting for TV comedy Father Ted.
Mary was looking for a place where creative-minded people could disconnect from technology and find inspiration through tangible experiences.
Inis Oírr felt like the perfect spot. Within months, that vision manifested as Drop Everything, a small cultural biennial that encompasses food, art, design, music, architecture and fashion – all through the prism of ‘being present’.
“I love that people are forced to be offline because the phone and internet connections are just so unreliable there,” she says.
“It snaps you back into reality and its ‘restrictiveness’ gives a refreshing sense of freedom. Your relationship to nature is so much more up close and personal, because if the swell in the sea is just that bit big or if a fog comes down one morning, you’re going nowhere.”
Drop Everything is a different kind of festival. The line-up isn’t revealed beforehand and the schedule is paced so you can engage with things fully, eliminating the ‘fear of missing out’.
It also relies on word-of-mouth and operates on a pay-what-you-can basis. The festival partly exists to accelerate creativity and so far that’s led to a fashion label, the signing of a band and a transatlantic art collaboration.
But another goal is that people will adopt a way of thinking into their ‘mainland life’: to be a little more considered and a little less overwhelmed.
“I’m interested in changing people’s perceptions of how they engage with an event, so it’s not just buy a ticket, get entertained, expect something,” says Mary.
“Drop Everything is actually about what you give, not about what you get. It’s about you deciding that you’re having a good time, as opposed to being provided with one, and I think that’s why people take to it.”
Mary describes herself as “a one-woman agency” – working as an event producer and creative consultant across industries.
She’s originally from Galway and studied art in Dublin for two years before starting her first festival.
By the end of 2011, Mary divided her time between the US and Europe, curating shows and events, before deciding to simplify things.
In person, Mary is a petite woman with bundles of charm and an infectious enthusiasm for living in the moment.
She’s the sort of person who throws parties where guests are asked to check in their phones just so they aren’t trying to experience the dancefloor at a remove.
Today, though, we’re sitting in a bustling London hotel surrounded by people working on laptops – pretty much the opposite environment of what Drop Everything tries to cultivate.
“I think people instil on themselves a whole load of unnecessary stress that’s caused by technology and just by the way the world is right now,” she says.
“If you’re running late, you have to send a text. The minute you get an email, you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I have to reply this minute.’ But actually you don’t have to. Fuck it, you know?”
Though Drop Everything has gone from strength to strength, the growth of the festival isn’t a priority for Mary.
People keep telling her she should do it every year, she explains, but that would defeat the purpose.
“If I did that, I’d be buying into this fast-paced lifestyle. Instead it’s about slowing it down a bit, even if it’s just one element of my life.”
How can I de-stress my creativity?
See the value in giving
“I think when you give without expectation, it creates a pretty unique atmosphere. At Drop Everything, basically everyone that comes puts something in. They’ve either contributed with cash or skills or their art – and many collaborations and friendships have formed out of that.”
Delete the apps on your phone
“I find the likes of Facebook have become just so hectic – like an annoying noise that I’ve become quite allergic to, which is great! It’s about discipline.
“I could say, ‘Give yourself scheduled times to check it’ but at the end of the day, if you actually want to get the most out of your creativity then you’ll just get to that point of actually not giving a fuck about Snapchats or whatever and you’ll focus on the things you want to create and do instead.”
Embrace your lack of control
“When things go wrong, it can actually be good. Uncertainty forces you to be flexible. On an island like Inis Oírr, for instance, you’re very aware of how much power the weather has over what you’re doing.
“Having that lack of control is a forced exercise in patience that I think is really important to experience. It grounds you.”
“In the past I’ve found myself trying to over-experience things. Once, at a festival, I was afraid that if I saw the end of one gig I was going to miss another one with capacity restrictions, which just stressed me out because I was trying to be everywhere at once.
“Then I caught myself and thought, ‘This is so fucking stupid’ and decided to forget about one altogether. I had an amazing time, because I could get into it properly. After that I thought, ‘That’s the way you’re supposed to operate.’”
Find out more about Drop Everything.