Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Kate McElroy: Finding a place for art.

My name is Gavin Buckley. I work as part of the Front of House team at Uillinn West Cork Art Centre. I work with a wonderful group of people at Uillinn and one of those people is Kate McElroy. Recently I got to speak to Kate for a podcast centred around her art practice which you can listen to here. This blog, however, is a deeper look into Kates more recent work as Uillinn’s Public Engagement Assistant.


In her Public Engagement Assistant role, Kate has covered a lot of ground. The job can entail anything from engaging with the public through social media to giving tours around the Art Centre during exhibitions. More recently however Kate's focus has been working with primary and secondary schools around West Cork and providing them with a variety of art packages with the aim of keeping the connection to our arts programme and supporting their art interest by working remotely

To achieve this, Kate collaborated with local artists to create a 'project package' which were sent out to primary schools. These packages typically contained information on a featured artist and an introduction to a project idea. Artists materials were also provided as part of the packages so that the students can try out some of the ideas at home. Before the lockdown, Kate would visit the schools in person to discuss the project ideas but these days she does this through Zoom meetings. Attending online will be Kate, the students, their teacher, and sometimes the featured local artist. From there, everybody can discuss what they saw and give their own outlooks on the subject. I asked Kate how these calls are received by the students.

''They are very open to it. They often come up with fascinating ideas that I wouldn't have thought of before. Their capacity for creativity is brilliant.''

Kate assembling project packages

Once the students have discussed ideas, they are then encouraged to create their own art, usually with some sort of theme or prompt to guide them. For example one of the projects Kate assembled was called 'Postcards of Place'. For this project, packages were sent to three first-year groups from secondary schools in Dunmanway, Schull and Clonakilty. The materials provided were watercolour pencils and watercolour sheets. After the creative discussion, the students were tasked with making a postcard about their area using the watercolour materials. The text on the back of the postcard would have information about the place on the postcard as well as some information about the local artist that inspired the project. 

‘Sensing Place’ a project done in collaboration with three primary schools; St. Joseph’s NS, Clonakilty, Our Lady of Mercy NS Bantry and Scoil Mhuire NS, Schull

‘Sensing Place’ took its starting point from three artists in residence. Pascal Ungerer covers painting. Mary O' Sullivan covers performance and installation. Then Kate herself covers a multi-media approach. Kate then made separate videos featuring the individual artist in their own studio discussing the ins and out of why and how they make their art. Those videos are then sent to the participants to get them familiar with the artists and what they're all about. Kate would then have set up a Zoom meeting to discuss the content of the videos. The idea of Sensing Place is to find somewhere within the participants 5km radius that's important to them and create art about that place. It could be a river, or a building, or a bedroom, or anything in between. Whatever they feel comfortable with. With three artists to take inspiration from, you can imagine the creative spark created within the participants would be strong while at the same time, the art coming back can remain eclectic, open and personal. Some of this work is going up on the Uillinn galleries website until 14 March which you can check out here  https://www.uillinngalleries.com/sensing-place. Having the participants' work eventually end up on the walls of the Art Centre or featured online (as the Centre remains temporarily closed) goes to show Kates commitment to having art be for everybody. Kate has said as much herself. 

''We want people to feel comfortable and know that the Art Centre is always a place for them. Many people grow up thinking art can’t be followed as a profession or that it is exclusive. These projects hopefully show that art is for everybody.''

Some results of the Sensing Place project

Kate is continuing her work with her upcoming project 'Marks of Place' with Transition Year students at Skibbereen Community School. This project features artist Siobhan McDonald. Siobhan's work typically deals with the environment and Kate has said that Siobhan's work ''has a beautiful, atmospheric quality to it.'' Although Marks of Place is still in the processing stage, the idea is to have participants ''look at their place with new eyes'' and then make a landscape piece using unusual materials. Things that they can 'make marks' with essentially. Again, the participants have taken this prompt and have run with it. Kate has said that the participants have come back with ideas for materials such as grass, make-up, flower petals, even tooth-paste. The results of this project should be up on the Uilinn website late this month (March 2021). Some of the students Kate has worked with on this project have commented on their involvement. 

''I really enjoyed doing this project - I particularly liked how it gave me the freedom to experiment with all different kinds of materials and do something a bit different from the kind of artwork that I usually make '

Another student said:

‘A lot of the time when I am doing art I am very focused on detail and making sure everything is perfect. Here I tried to try out new things that I wouldn’t have thought of before, without putting too much thought into detail… I used banana skin for the trunk and Nutella for branches. I used coriander as leaves and toothpaste as clouds.

Examples from Marks of Place

It's clear to me that Kate's role in the Art Centre and the community as a whole is invaluable. She actively gets involved in the community and helps people become comfortable with art. She shows them that it is a worthwhile life to pursue, as she herself is a testament to. 

To keep up to date with Kates work and the West Cork Art Centre, please click on these links:

Exhibitions viewable at: https://www.uillinngalleries.com


Students work and information on projects  is regularly posted on our social media channels 



Kate artwork is viewable at: https://www.katemcelroy.com