Monday, 29 June 2020

Giving Back to Art

Everyone has been hit to some degree by the financial impact that Covid-19 has wrought. It is a worrying time where people have become concerned about job security and/or what limitations the future will bring. Newly appointed taoiseach Micheál Martin has his work cut out for him stabilizing a teetering economy. But that's a story that is yet to unfold. More recently and more positively, a €25 million package has been announced to support the Arts and Culture sector recover from the Covid-19 emergency. The funding will include bursaries and commissions to artists and arts organisations, and resources for museums and culture workers as they prepare for the reopening of society. A total of €20 million will be allocated to the Arts Council bringing its allocation this year to €100 million. Announcing the additional funding the Minister for Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan said that she was "very aware of the challenges that artists have faced and also of the hugely important role that they have played in sustaining all of us in recent months. Many challenges lie ahead but the Government is determined to ensure that we have a vibrant arts and culture sector into the future".

                              Josepha Madigan and Leo Varadkar making the announcement 

The National Campaign for the Arts, who had spearheaded a campaign for a €20 million increase in funding to the Arts Council for 2020, described the announcement as "a solid and authentic response to the Covid-19 crisis which has ravaged the nation's artists, arts workers and arts organisations."

The Director of the Arts Council Maureen Kennelly has said the approval of the package in additional supports for the arts is a 'landmark day' and a recognition by the government of the vital part that Irish culture plays in Irish life.

I reached out to some local artists for their thoughts. Visual artist Pascal Ungerer had this to say: "The recent 25 million euro funding that the Government has announced is a testament to how important lobbying Government institutions is and what a great job The National Campaign For The Arts and the Arts Council have done in that regard, and it is vital that artists support organisations like that. The Covid 19 lockdown has taught as all how important the arts are for everyone in Ireland in so many different ways, and I hope that the newly formed Government will continue to fund and support the arts to the extent that this sector needs and deserves in the challenging times ahead."

Sharon Whooley, visual artist and Filmmaker also contributed her consideration: "Support from government agencies such as the Arts Council of Ireland is crucial for artists to be able to work and live in this country.  The successful campaign by the National Campaign for the Arts and the Arts Council and the government's extra allocation of €20 million to the sector, acknowledges that Ireland is a society that values art, its artists, its tradition, heritage and culture and the primary role that artists have in the crafting of our society."

We've all turned to various forms of art during the lockdown. Be it by creating it or through experiencing it. To pass the time and help us cope we have turned to films, music, games, painting, writing and a whole host of other creative endeavours. We have always used this content in our spare time but now more than ever has it come to the forefront. The struggles of our present circumstances have become a central theme within this art. Musicians have been live streaming performances from their homes. Documentaries about other pandemics are trending. Even here at the West Cork Arts Centre, we have provided an online exhibition for artists to exhibit and viewers to experience their work safely.

Art has provided so much for us recently so to see the government give back to Art with this package is, in my opinion, encouraging news. The future of Art, the government, and the everyday lives of people seem intertwined as we continue the process of reopening the country. I hope we can all push through the struggles to come and come out better for it. Soon enough I'll be back in the Art Centre with a renewed appreciation for the world of art and even more so for the people that contribute to it.

For more information on the National Campaign for the Arts go to and follow #savethearts #paytheartist #nationalcampaignforthearts 

Monday, 22 June 2020

Creativity Locked Down

The motivation for creating art can be tricky to source. One minute the creative juices are flowing and your imagination is producing faster than you can keep up with. The next minute, you're staring at a blank canvas for an hour with nothing to show for the effort. Even at the best of times, keeping consistently creative is difficult. This made me curious as to how artists were approaching their work during the lockdown. Does being isolated stifle one's creativity or does it add focus? I reached out to several artists for their thoughts. 

William Bock, an artist who had the terrible misfortune of having his latest work go on exhibition at West Cork Arts Centre just as the lockdown began, had this to say about his change in plans: "I’ve found the opportunity to slow down and spend more time walking and engaging with the outdoor environment alone most rewarding. I recently set myself a daily photographic challenge using only my body and the landscape or plants I encountered on my walks, which I posted on social media afterwards. The daily challenge combined with having a public platform for the images was a new and improvisational process in my practice which I found inspiring during the restrictions of lockdown."

So William took to the outdoors and found a new way to challenge himself creatively. But what about artists who chose to create from home? Artist Catherine Weld contributed her thoughts: "My studio is at home so I wasn't affected there. My experience of the lockdown has probably been quite untypical in that my work hours immediately doubled so I've been out to part-time work as an 'essential' worker throughout. On the other hand, both the shows I had lined up for this year have been postponed which was disappointing. But actually, I feel this has been really beneficial to my actual work as it's created a sense of space and time without the pressure of exhibiting. Online opportunities have also increased, and have had some good knock-on effects. But then I've had to cancel my studio courses and lost quite a bit of money there... so it's a good old mixture of pros and cons."

The balance of creating while juggling the changes we've all faced to our circumstances has its ups and downs it seems. Uillinn's own Claire Lambert reflected as much: "Usually I would have to work to support myself so the lockdown actually gave me a unique experience of having more time to go into my studio."

Many of the artists I spoke to acknowledge the negatives of creating during the lockdown but chose to not let that overshadow the positives. More focus, more time, less pressure, new challenges. It's encouraging to hear of this positive perspective during these adverse times. I think we've all turned to some form of art to help us through the lockdown and I was glad to learn that the people working in the professional arts sector are doing whatever they can to hone in on their focus and motivation to enable them to keep doing what they do best.

All of the artists mentioned in this blog currently have work on display in our Online Members and Friends 2020 exhibition so feel free to check them out:

Images: William Bock, Walking Series, I am european 2019

Catherine Weld, Fragile Island 2

Claire Lambert, Priests Leap

Monday, 15 June 2020

Sounds of Hope and Happiness

During the most stringent part of the lockdown, the world outside went quiet. I live in Skibbereen town and the normal noise of the hustle and bustle of everyday life became muted and reserved. The only sound I heard consistently each passing day was the singing of birds. Each morning, their voices rose with the sun. It was an encouraging sound that reminded me that the world hasn't stopped spinning just yet. In their music, there was hope. Far from Skibbereen and over to Italy, the citizens of the city of Florence were waking up to yet another day in lockdown. Italy has been hit hard by Covid-19 so you can imagine many days are grim and mournful. Yet on this one day last March, Florence arose to the sound of music outside. Rolling and reverberating through the empty streets came the beautiful lyrics of 'Nessun Dorma'. The sound was coming from Tenor Maurizio Marchini, who on that morning had decided to use his talent to sing from his home balcony and break through the silence with a song of hopeful beauty. Articles about this soon spread across the internet, fostering inspiration and generating smiles for thousands of people across the globe. Just some of those people were Arts for Health artists Tess Leak and Sharon Whooley. 

Tess and Sharon are no strangers to inspiring hope and happiness in others. They were already hard at work setting up their ‘Museum of Song’ postal project. Planned to take place over six weeks, Tess and Sharon sent packages full of poetry and song to participants in Dunmanway, Schull and Skibbereen Community Hospitals.  With each package, the artists presented a theme for consideration and an invitation for participants to respond. These themes included songs about Spring, mountains, rivers and many other inspiring themes. Tess and Sharon would then research relevant songs and poetry within these themes and then present them back to the participants. For example, on the third week of their project, the residents of Skibbereen Community Hospital expressed their fondness for the song 'The Rose of Mooncoin' which steered Tess and Sharon into making the theme of week three all about flowers. They set upon assembling a package for the participants that included a postcard called ‘The Language of Flowers’ which showed the different meanings behind them such as Daisy for ‘Attachment’, Yellow Rose for ‘Contentment’ and Nettle for ‘Defiance.’ They also included the words to the song ‘Red is the Rose’ for participants to learn if they wished. You can imagine the delight of the people receiving these packages and the creativity and conversation it would invoke in the hospital.

Further into the project is where Tess and Sharon used their inspiration from the Italian balcony opera singer. They decided to incorporate an aspect of outdoor live music. Tess and Sharon enlisted the talents of West Cork based opera singer Camilla Griehsel to deliver a series of performances for the residents and the staff too, outside the Community Hospitals in West Cork. Camilla is an incredible singer, who had teamed up with the Arts for Health team many times before to perform for residents all over West Cork. Beginning in her home village of Schull and continuing across West Cork to Bantry, Skibbereen, Dunmanway and Castletownbere, Camilla performed specially chosen songs gathered by Tess.

'We had a beautiful session with Camilla and Tess on Friday.' described the Director of Nursing at Schull Community Hospital, Roisín Walsh. 'The residents were thrilled with the occasion. They emerged into the sunlight uncertain and very quiet you could hear a pin drop. When the music started and Camilla sang that first beautiful haunting song I looked at their faces and they were so focused on her there was a sense of a new beginning almost. When she began singing all the voices began to join in and so it went. They did not want the afternoon to end. A very emotional experience for those of us who were fortunate to have been in attendance.'

The work of the Arts for Health team has brought the importance of music closer to home for me. It is comforting to see people come together to create something that gives hope and inspiration to others. The Arts for Health team has been doing this type of work long before the lockdown began and will hopefully continue to do so into a future made brighter by their contribution to it. 

To read more about the ‘Museum of Song’ project, please visit:

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Guest Blogger for Cruinniú na nÓg 2020

Good things I’ve been able to do during lockdown by Sophie, age 10. 

During lockdown I have been baking, watching movies and spending time with my family. I have been baking cupcakes, waffles, pancakes and more. 

Before lockdown I didn’t have much time to watch movies with my family. One good thing is that we have more time to spend together. I have been doing some different art activities like marbling and sewing, which I wouldn’t usually get to do.

I usually have ballet and gymnastics on once a week but I can’t do it now. I really miss doing them but I am doing ballet classes on Zoom. I was meant to have a ballet show but it was cancelled so I danced for my family instead.

I really miss being able to visit my family because they live outside of Co. Cork. We do Zoom calls with our family when we can and we sometimes do quizzes and games. I also miss my friends but I am writing letters and video calling them too, which I wouldn’t have done before.

Doing school at home is way different to normal school. We get a bit of work to do every day and some activities that we don’t usually get to do like making a ring out of Pringles, which was good fun. We try and get outside every day for activities like cycling, running and going on my scooter. Since the travel restriction was lifted we have been able to go to the beach, which was the first time I got in the car for more than two months!

Cruinniú na nÓg 2020 is a collaboration between the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Creative Ireland Programme, local authorities and RTÉ, and is part of the Government’s #InThisTogether campaign which is supporting everyone to stay connected, stay active and look after our physical and mental wellbeing.  In light of the public health restrictions currently in force, the Creative Ireland Programme and its partners have developed a number of creative, cultural and engaging “calls to action” which children, young people – indeed entire families – can create in their own homes and gardens on Saturday 13 June.

Check out our Social Media for more information on the day.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Presenting the Members and Friends Exhibition 2020

My name is Gavin Buckley. I’ve been working as part of the Front of House staff at Uillinn for just over a year now. I’ve seen an eclectic range of beautiful works in my time since. When I first arrived at the centre, the 2019 Members and Friends Exhibition was just being set up. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction as I was presented with the opportunity to see over a hundred pieces from dozens of artists. Artists from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. It was a pleasure to walk into work, and have such an explosion of creativity as the backdrop to my day.

Fast forward to today and sadly the Centre is standing empty. As we all know, Covid-19 has spread worldwide and even small towns like Skibbereen have come to a near standstill, with the doors remaining closed at Uillinn. So, what were we to do about the 2020 Members and Friends Exhibition that many of us were eagerly awaiting? Thankfully, a solution was near ready-made through our online presence. We were able to contact all of our current Members and Friends to ask them for photographs of the pieces they had been working on for this year's show. Our staff emails soon beamed with a colourful collection of our member's fantastic creations. 
Dee Pieters, whose wonderful seascape oil paintings are featured in the exhibition, took positives when it came to creativity during the lockdown: "Although being in lockdown could potentially stifle one's creativity, I made sure to maintain good discipline and focus when it came to my work. I was lucky to have it".

Dee Pieters, Cliff Edge

Our next task was presenting the collection to you, the viewer. Social media was an option but not an ideal one as we didn’t want all of this wonderful work scattered in amongst messy social media feeds. We needed a dedicated website. Not the simplest of tasks. Yet up steps Louise Forsyth, Uillinn’s very own Atlas when it comes to bearing burdens. With the aid of Dermot Browne to help get it off the ground- an artist and arts worker based in Cork, who volunteered his time to help - Louise put some serious work into making the dedicated website reflect both the feel and quality of the exhibition and a platform for artists to sell work. And so here we are with an online 2020 Members and Friends Exhibition for your viewing pleasure.

So, the exhibition is up and yes, even though viewing it online might not have the same impact as experiencing the art in the galleries with your present senses, there are some benefits to it being online. For one, the exhibition is available to people who normally wouldn’t be able to experience it. For example, people that live far away or are otherwise unable to travel to the Centre. The collection can also be organised into different categories or viewed all on one page, depending on your preference. You can now purchase a piece from the comfort and privacy of your own home, dipping in and out at your leisure.

Even though all of our circumstances are wildly different compared to this time last year, we at West Cork Arts Centre are delighted to be able to break through the current gloom with some small sense of normalcy. In my opinion, art helps us hone in on answers to the puzzling emotional questions we have about our own lives. In that way, and considering current circumstances, art has become as necessary as ever. In our isolation, we have turned to TV, books, games, music, and whatever else it is that helps us get through the day. The art that is presented through Uillinn is a part of that too. Because of that, I feel privileged to be a part of West Cork Arts Centre because I admire its ability to contribute to brightening people’s days during these grim times.

Ann Davoren, Director of the West Cork Arts Centre, had this to say about the comfort that art can bring us: "As we look ahead to more hopeful days, we also find grounding in the belief that art can speak to us in moments like these, offer solace or joy, and bring us together, even if physically apart". 

Soon enough our front doors will open as well as many others. I'm looking forward to being back in the centre with a reinvigorated appreciation for people. The people I work with, the artists that present at the centre, and the visitors taking time out of their day to see what's on display. It’s the combination of those people that were the highlight of my time before Covid-19, and I know will continue to be so once this is all over.

To view the 2020 Members and Friends Exhibition, please visit:

Monday, 25 May 2020

Saying Goodbye

In February I arrived in Skibbereen, hometown of West Cork Arts Centre. To finalize my Master’s degree, I seized the chance of gaining more experience in Art and Education through a work placement at this established institution. Right from the beginning I experienced a warm and welcoming atmosphere and was deeply impressed by the liveliness of this place. I felt that I could learn a lot from this placement that would help me when I would start my job at a museum back in Germany. 

Three months later I can say that I actually did learn a lot but not in a way I had imagined at the beginning. Next to the knowledge of making pom poms and other handy skills I acquired, for example, during my work with artists Ana Ospina, Michael Stephens and Allice Halliday in preparation for the St. Patrick’s Parade, it is probably my knowledge on public outreach and the online world that has increased the most. 

Half way through my placement the public closure of Uillinn, home of West Cork Arts Centre, was announced and I had to go back to Germany. Working remotely from then on, everything took place online, including the educational programme where I had the chance to  contribute directly. Right after the closure, the online programme Uillinn Connect was established in order to maintain public engagement throughout the pandemic. Most of this educational work is dependent on social media platforms such as instagram and facebook where the Art Centre already had a wide audience even before the closure. What was new is that workshops, activities and such were not only announced online, but actually took place there. 

For me, having always been quite skeptical of a heavy use of social media, this new way of working was a real challenge at first. Not only did I have to create social media accounts to better understand how instagram and facebook work, I also had to throw my own scepticism overboard. In the end, all of this was easier than I had imagined. What I realized was that social media has potential to enable many people, especially in rural areas, to access art. Without this option, they might never have the chance to get in contact with the arts. Especially in the current pandemic society, it represents a space for artistic debate and educational opportunity, ensuring the human right to access culture, especially given that cultural institutions have remained closed to the public for such a long period of time. Uillinn Connect is a proactive invitation to children, currently without access to the arts in person, to engage in arts via online - not only during Covid-19, inviting the question, should this programme continue in a post-pandemic society, when Uillinn is reopened.

After adjusting my mindset a little, there was still the challenge of never actually having used Instagram before, and the last time I had a facebook account must be about 10 years ago, which is a long time in the online world. Luckily there were people around me who are real experts on this field: Justine Foster, Programme Manager of West Cork Arts Centre, Louise Forsyth, Communications Assistant and Kate McElroy, Public Engagement Assistant are the heart of Uillinn Connect and have been responsible for the Art Centre’s great online presence even before the pandemic. It was probably thanks to their hard internet work that I even found West Cork Arts Centre in the small town of Skibbereen, which led me to do a stay abroad there. Now, during these challenging times, they have gone lengths to transform WCAC, the former real life hub, into this great temporary online platform. “We have all learned a lot”, Louise says during one of the weekly Public Engagement meetings, and of course, we all agree. In an online meeting with Kate, who is quite used to creating social media posts for WCAC, she tells me that her posts have changed since the pandemic: “They are more lively. The posts are now essential to connecting with people rather than just documenting what is happening at Uillinn. I also wonder if we have a wider reach now, since people who did not have the chance to visit the Arts Centre in person are now able to use its online offers.”

One of these offers were the Daily Art Activities that were posted throughout April every day at 11 am on facebook, twitter and instagram. Working with Kate, I had the chance to create some of them.Uillinn Connect Daily Activities generally are designed in such a way that they can be carried out at home with as little material as possible and without previous technical knowledge. In addition, they contain a reference to an artistic work, which also represents the occasion of the respective activity. Many of the activities refer to the children’s exhibition Connecting or William Bock’s latest exhibition Land Walks, Land Talks, Land Marks and are designed to encourage children and their families to interact with nature and their surroundings, offering child-oriented examination of topics addressed in the various works used as an inspiration for the activities. The most difficult aspect was the right balance between creating an appealing instagram post and the delivery of educational content. One problem was also that once the posts went out, there was no chance to react to difficulties parents and children might have had when putting them into practice. Likes on Social Media give us some feedback, but do not tell us when things went wrong or really turned out great. A child’s laugh is nothing that can be substituted with an online thumbs-up. However, the fact that the archive of all the Daily Activities is now the most popular page on the West Cork Arts Centre’s website shows how much appreciated all the work was and still is. The Daily Activities turned into a huge resource for easily accessible art activities and will remain there even after the pandemic is over. 

A lot has changed over the past three months. The question regarding this new online presence, as Louise puts it, is: “Will we be able to keep it up, once we go back to normal?” That remains to be seen. Now that I broadened my horizon in this regard, I do think that there is positive potential in online education. It provides opportunities which are not possible without the world wide web connection, for example linking people from different countries - I myself am a perfect example for that. However, the online world can never be a substitute for real life experiences and I am very much looking forward to personally interacting with people through the arts and experiencing art with my body rather than looking at a screen. The challenge for the future is to combine the way things were before the pandemic with what we have learned since then. I believe for West Cork Arts Centre and all its engaged and passionate people, the turnout will be great. I hope I will have the chance to come back someday in the future to see this place where I have learned so much once again!

Monday, 18 May 2020

Rusty Frog Youth Theatre Zooms Ahead

They were only weeks away from staging their newest theatre production. Rusty Frog Youth Theatre had worked hard to get their play ready when, unfortunately, Taoiseach, Leo Varadka announced closure of all public institutions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, including West Cork Arts Centre, the home of RFYT. The past two months have been a difficult situation for so many cultural institutions worldwide. For Rusty Frog Youth Theatre it put a sudden halt to their recent work. However, instead of shutting things down entirely, the Rusty Frogs decided to transfer their weekly meetings to Zoom sessions. Theatre via video conference - this idea took me some time to get used to, as I have always imagined theatre as something that needs space for bodily experiences. I was intrigued to find out how this could possibly work. 
Rusty Frogs at West Cork Arts Centre
In order to transfer the drama meetings to an online format, facilitator Maxine Acton was supported by Rhona Dunnett, Research and Development Officer and the team at Youth Theatre Ireland, who were very familiar with RFYT, having been in regular contact with the Arts Centre based Youth Theatre, “Like a lot of people in the country, COVID-19 has really accelerated our ability to work on digital platforms and work with video conference apps like zoom!”, she says, “Youth Theatre Ireland is always active on social media but the focus is always on communications, on sharing and promoting the work that we’re doing. Moving to a situation where we are creating all our work online and hosting digital events is a new thing for us!” 

This challenging situation presented itself with both opportunity and drawbacks, as Maxine Acton describes: “We were going to stage a radio play (as though being recorded in front of a live audience)  and we thought we could easily move this to the online setting but as only half our members were able to take part in the sessions this was not possible.” Additionally, issues of internet connectivity had to be overcome. However, the group soon found ways to adapt to the circumstances. “It seemed to me that the members joining in wanted to see other young people from outside their family and do something fun so I tried to adapt some games for Zoom. Charades worked reasonably well and required some acting skills but our biggest success in terms of fun has been a version of Articulate.” In addition to these games, the group engaged themselves in creative writing tasks or short story readings for a small audience of friends and family members. One workshop focused on their now postponed stage play, called “40 questions in 4 minutes”. Here, the participants were assigned the task of creating a sock puppet of their character in our radio play. With a slight shift of focus and the support of their facilitators, the Rusty Frogs have found ways to successfully cope with the technical and social challenges that present themselves along the way, so they might stay connected.
Online Sock Puppet Taks
Youth Theatre Ireland acted fast to find ways to support the creative activities of the 56 affiliated theatres across the nation, including skibbereen based RFYT. Also using Zoom, they created a platform for facilitators to meet, share their ideas and get new inspiration. Every Tuesday at 12noon, #youththeatretuesdays, 30 to 50 youth theatre leaders come together this way, learning from each other's experiences. Additionally, youth theatres can book “YT Clinics” with Youth Theatre Ireland's staff to work through issues that arise from this new way of working. “We hope that youth theatres like Rusty Frog in Skibbereen still feel like part of a national community and know they have a support network behind them as they try to adapt to digital work. It's been great having Maxine involved!”, says Rhona Dunnett.

For RFYT and all the other youth theatres across Ireland, the already mentioned challenges of bad internet connection or the fact that simply not everyone has the technological prerequisites to join in on the sessions, clearly limits the possibilities of online theatre. However the transfer to Zoom provides the participants of RFYT with a chance of gaining new theatrical experiences. As Rhona Dunnett points out, “They’re learning about new ways to tell stories and build characters and learning lots of new technical skills. Some young people are thriving as their technical know-how is becoming essential to keeping youth theatre activities going!”

The online sessions also provide a social distraction from everyday life in lockdown and offer an essential platform to creatively express and connect with peers. Rhona Dunnett points out: “The young people who are engaging in youth theatre workshops and projects are voicing their own isolation experiences. Through the arts, they are making sense of their own lives right now or distracting themselves from their own reality.” 

Still, as interesting and instructive as the Zoom sessions are, everyone is looking forward to the time when the threat of the pandemic is finally over and social contact is possible once again. Maxine Acton explains the challenges not only as a facilitator but as a performance artist, “I find it nearly impossible to imagine the next 6-12 months without live theatre. For me, the essence of both going to live theatre and performing in live theatre is the sharing of an experience, breathing the same air and feeling the energy in the space. Theatre online is a different form and a very different experience. Ultimately it becomes like a film with the audience at a distance and it can be done well but it is not the same and missing the most important ingredient, the shared energy. I miss going to the theatre very much and I really miss the artists I was working with.” 

It appears that this new format is more of a means to keep things going until theatre can take place in real life again. Zoom sessions will never really replace traditional theatre, since social contact is one of major aspects. “We all miss the shared space and dynamics and energy of live performance, not forgetting the cuppa tae (and biscuits brought each week by one of our members Padraig) and chats that were a weekly part of RFYT, adapting is difficult, but the members are definitely persistent and are finding new ways to bridge the void,” says Grainne O Brien, Art Project Assistant at WCAC who supports Maxine each week at the sessions. Perfectly explained by Emer, RFYT member 3 years, why they miss coming together, “The ability to move around. As someone who, generally, is more cautious and withdrawn, youth theatre was often the place where I got to burn most of my energy, where I was expected to, instead of having to sit still. Now that youth theatre has joined the menagerie of activities that includes sitting down constantly, I find myself missing the ability to jump and stomp and walk fast and swing my arms.” 

Despite the challenges Rusty Frog Youth Theatre is keeping a positive attitude. They are working to stay connected and creative together, and looking forward to continuing where they left off, as soon as the situation allows. In the end, participants and facilitators alike will have learned a lot throughout this unusual time and we as an audience can all look forward to new theatre productions which will definitely benefit from the experiences RFYT has made until then!

Check out their social media for news


Monday, 11 May 2020

Art Club Remotely

On Wednesdays and Thursdays each week, children meet in the workspace at West Cork Art Centre filling the place with noise, excitement and creativity. It is Art Club time. Professional practicing visual artists Tomasz Madajczak (Thursday Art Club) and Mark Beatty, and Marie Cullen and her husband Pól Colmáin, (Wednesday Art Club) of Working Artists Studios facilitating this unique approach towards arts for children aged between 6 and 12 years. The weekly Art Club workshops invite the children to experiment with ideas, discover self expression and learn new skills. 

Art Clubs has been delivered at West Cork Arts Centre for more than 15 years, with generations of children experiencing the unique interaction of an out of school experience in working with professional practicing artists, who generously share their own practices, giving children an insight into their working processes and vice versa, the artists are inspired by their encounters with the children’s imaginations.

“I really like art, because you get to make lots of friends in art class and you can just be creative and it really doesn't matter what you do, as long as you be artistic.” This response from one of the children participating in Art Club underlines the importance of social interaction during class  and shows how the children cherish the experimental and highly creative activities offered to them during this time of the week. For them, it is a fear free setting to an adventurous exploration of visual art.

Of course, artists and children need some time to acquaint themselves with one another and build a trusting relationship in order to obtain this great atmosphere. In an interview for the Uillinn Podcast series created by Gavin Buckley, Marie Cullen describes the challenges they were facing when they first started Art Club, for example overcoming language barriers. With the participants being of a multinational background, they soon realized that demonstration rather than explanation is the best way to elicit creative responses.  Through collaborative artwork, the children learn to find joy in sharing their experiences thus strengthening their bond to one another, but also the artist facilitators. These open and inviting methods offer children who are new to the group, an easy way to get involved and soon find themselves amongst friends.

When the Covid-19 pandemic led to the temporary closure of Uillinn, it also put a sudden halt on Art Club sessions. But the artists engaged their own imaginations to come up with some creative ideas to connect and communicate with the participating children, despite spatial distance, which was only possible because of their already strong social bond to each of the children.

Tomasz Madajczak, keeping a positive attitude, sees the enhanced opportunities this unforeseen situation brings along: “In the given situation everything seems to be unpredictable. The slow down of the busy time creates very valuable space for creative minds to reflect on life and the processes which they are involved in. Art Club is a unique opportunity for children to experience aspects of artistic processes which are introduced by practicing artists. These processes are influenced by the current situation, artists are asked to review their ways of working and engage in safer digital media based interaction with the public. The new situation creates a great potential to discover new ways of working, while reflecting on the previous experience. The combination of them both can stimulate new ways of working and creating.” 

In “Sound of an Unknown Place”, Tomasz invited the children from Thursday Art Club to make an artwork at home inspired by the sights and sounds around them. In a video he made especially for them the children were invited to watch, consider and respond in their own way, emailing back to Tomasz their work for Tomasz to bring it together as a collaborative piece. In this way, the feeling of community and sharing is still kept alive, even if the group cannot come together in real life. 

Keen to come away from the increasing use of digital technologies for young primary school aged children, staying at home, Marie and Pól invented their own way to reach out to their Wednesday Art Club through a postal project, called “Play on Words, Play Onwards”. The artists prepared a special envelope for each child containing a unique poem written especially each child by the artists; a selection of art materials; and a letter from Pól and Marie inviting the children to make a visual response to the poem. The children have since begun to return their artwork in the stamped, addressed, envelope provided to Pól and Marie, who will then compile a limited edition book to send back to each of the children. Some of the imaginative responses by the children have already been posted via West Cork Art Centre’s social media as part of All Ireland Poetry Day. Although the big reveal will be the hand made collaborative book, here is preview of the wonderful interaction between artists and child:

Artwork created by Adelaine in Response to her Poem
I am a little seabird, Puffin is my name,
It is our brightly-coloured beak
to which we owe our fame.

We spend all Winter far at sea,
eating fishy things
and when it’s time to lay our eggs,
we come ashore in Spring.

We dig a burrow for our nest
- or steal one from a rabbit!
And rear our chickies safe inside:
a very sensible habit.

We’re short and stocky, our chests are white,
our backs are soft, black down,
our faces, many people think
make us look like clowns.

My beak is huge and very bright:
orange, blue and yellow,
but despite my “smile”, my black-rimmed eyes
make me look a sad, wee fellow.

But, though my beak looks funny,
it has a handy trick
which I use whenever I’ve
to bring food to my chicks:

whenever I go fishing
for sand-eels for my young,
I can keep on fishing
while I’m holding ten under my tongue!

Once again, a beautiful inspiration of how the arts can bring people together even under the most difficult times and circumstances. Art can open our eyes to creative solutions and meaningful interactions, not only for the youngest among us. A little bit of colour, sound and poetry can make all the difference in a seemingly endless daily routine.