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 http://ncfa.ie/ 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: https://www.uillinngalleries.com/


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: https://artsforhealthwestcork.com/museum-of-song-postal-project/



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.  https://cruinniu.creativeireland.gov.ie/


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


https://www.facebook.com/uillinnwestcorkartscentre/

https://twitter.com/westcorkarts

https://www.instagram.com/uillinnwestcorkarts/

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: https://www.uillinngalleries.com/