Autumn 2016 in Dublin: an arts/cultural primer

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Apart from all the events on in city centre, don’t forget Drawsoc, UCD’s award-winning visual arts society! Lots of events planned on campus for the first weeks of term…

Today we welcomed our new class of MAs in Arts Management and Cultural Policy here at UCD! We’ve another group of diverse and ambitious folks keen to get stuck into study, but also to explore all of the cultural delights of the city 🙂 As promised, here’s a roundup of some highlights in the cultural calendar during the next two months. For folks new to Dublin, you couldn’t land at a better time!

Culture Night (Friday, 16 September) – the city will be taken over this Friday with Culture Night, with a massive number arts and cultural events happening around the country (and in NI) as well. My tips: start early, bring your walking shoes, plan your itinerary in advance (queues can be long for the popular venues!), and enjoy the liveliest night of the year in town… it’s not an exaggeration to say that most of city centre is given over to culture vultures.

Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival (10-25 September) – it’s on, it’s sprawling, it’s hot, it’s crazy. Fringe has already kicked off the autumn arts glut with a smashing programme this year… top venues include the Spiegeltent (in Merrion Square for the first time this year!) You’ve 73 productions and 412 performances to choose from (and here are the recs from the Irish Times), but my money’s on RIOT from Thisisopopbaby (co-produced by MA alumna Jenny Jennings) and Paul Currie’s surreal Release the Baboons.

Dublin Theatre Festival (29 Sept. – 16 October 2016) – this is the big one: theatres across town will be stuffed to the gills with the offerings in this year’s festival, with top-notch international and domestic productions a-plenty, and very reasonable ticket prices. I’ve got my eye on Backstage in Biscuit Land and the new staging of a Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular.

Open House Dublin (14-16 October 2016) – for the architecture buffs amongst us, this annual mainstay offers 100+ tours of iconic Dublin buildings and little-seen interiors. A fab way to poke your nose in some astonishing and striking buildings sprinkled all over the greater Dublin area.

Project Arts Centre – Project 50 Season (from October) – the beloved Project Arts Centre (one of the country’s main multidisciplinary venues) is blowing out 50 candles on its cake this year, and to celebrate they’ve programmed a special season of work. Shows at Project are reliably excellent and provocative, under the steady hand of director Cian O’Brian (a graduate of our course, btw).

Ireland 2016 / Decade of Commemorations  – over the past year the events calendar has been stuffed with commemorative events of all shades and stripes; there’s still time to catch a number of fantastic arts events over the next few months:

  • Composing the Island: a century of music in Ireland, 1916-2016, National Concert Hall (7-25 September) – for the music buffs, catch any one of a series of 29 concerts — orchestral, choral, instrumental, song and chamber music — by Irish composers written between 1916 and 2016.
  • In the Shadow of the State – The Touching Contract, Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones, the Rotunda (23-25 September) – get booking NOW for this — one of the commissioned centenary works created by artists Browne and Jones, this is an immersive performance work staged in the Rotunda Hospital reflecting on women’s bodies and the state.
  • These Rooms – Anu Productions & CoisCéim Dance Theatre (27 Sept. – 16 Oct.) – another immersive live performance, from the renowned site specific theatre-makers Anu and the highly regarded CoisCéim, revisiting the Rising from the perspective of civilians on North King Street caught in the cross-hairs.
  • Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project (20-22 October) – Perhaps no figure better encapsulates the conflicts and contradictions of 1916 and its legacy than Roger Casement. Dancer Fearghus Ó Conchúir has been producing a stunning series of events reflecting on Casement’s human rights activism, revolutionary aspirations, his sexuality, trial and conflicted legacy – an unmissable final instalment.

Phew. I love Dublin in the autumn!

 

 

On now: The Museum of August Destiny

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Dragana Jurisic, Jessie, 2016

I’m very pleased to share details of an exhibition I’ve curated and just opened at Lismore Castle Arts, at St Carthage Hall, in Lismore Co. Waterford

The Museum of August Destiny (17 July – 4 September) features six artists born or working in Ireland and explores the resonance of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a century after it was written. The participating artists are Aideen Barry, Mark Clare, Amanda Coogan, Anthony Haughey, Dragana Jurisic and Sarah Pierce.

The exhibition proposes an alternative means of making 1916 again manifest, by creating a ‘capsule’ museum responding to the final line of the 1916 Proclamation:

In this supreme hour the Irish nation must by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worth of the august destiny to which it is called.

The Museum of August Destiny has commissioned each artist to respond to one of six ‘visions’ of Irish destiny set out in the Proclamation: (1) sovereignty and ‘unfettered control of Irish destinies’; (2) religious and civil liberty; (3) equal rights and opportunities for citizens; (4) the pursuit of happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts; (5) cherishing the children of the nation; and (6) oblivion of the differences ‘which have divided a minority from the majority in the past’.

Housed within museum cases on loan from the Pearse Museum at St. Enda’s, Rathfarnham, the six artworks present individual meditations (utilizing sounds/objects/images) on the realization or retreat from our ‘august destiny’. A seventh case will host rotating contributions from the residents of Lismore and its surrounds: making visible a range of political, personal, conceptual, utopian, critical, and condemnatory responses.

The essay accompanying the exhibition can be downloaded here.

Lismore Castle Arts
General opening: Monday – Sunday, 10.30 – 5.30
St Carthage Hall opening hours: Friday – Sunday, 1-6 pm
Running: 17 July-4 September
Admission to St Carthage Hall is free

A New Irish Ministry for the Arts (Or, Through a Hedge, Backwards)

beyonce-tears

upon hearing the cabinet reshuffle news

(*update 11/5/16: thanks to RTE Arena for having me on air yesterday to speak about this: piece begins at 4:00. Please consider signing the petition to reconfigure a new arts ministry started by John O’Brien)

Like many in this country, I’ve been patiently waiting for our warring political factions to hammer out some kind of resolution to the election impasse. Listening to the radio, getting my young kids ready for school in the morning rush, stopping for the occasional eyeroll as the merits of this-or-that coalition is debated… waiting.

Finally on Friday, the new Cabinet was announced. Some familiar faces, a few surprises, and then the biggest shock of all: the newly configured Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht. Cue my disbelief.

In what other European country would such a combination be acceptable, or even logical? Have the arts (and heritage, which seems to have fallen off a cliff) really fallen so low in government estimation?

Call me an optimist: in the triumph of hope over experience, I’ve perpetually believed that as the economy improved, our government might turn again to nurturing the cultural life that has actually sustained us during these last few, depressing years of recession. That it might recognise how, in spite of resources slashed and professional expertise often discredited, folks working in our cultural sector have continued doing what they love and believe in, often at great personal expense (both in terms of morale, and financially). Playwrights and novelists haven’t stopped writing; actors and musicians have persisted in performing; artists continue to create work that makes us think and challenges us to look at the world anew. Museum workers, even in their dwindling numbers, welcome school groups across the country; volunteers keep heritage sites open and welcome visitors with a cup of tea; our national collections and archives continue to paste over the cracks, and keep institutions functioning in the face of disappearing funding, threats to their independence and the hiring moratorium.

What about the near-incessant stream of 1916 centenary events? Who do the government think have been producing the talks, performances, exhibitions, public events that have attracted thousands over the past few months, with many more in planning? I’m of the personal view that the commemorations have been incredibly rich, dramatically expanding public narratives that were previously frozen by polarised political ideologies. We can be proud of our centenary year to date – but this is because of the creatives (artists, archivists, academics, etc) and the willing public who have made it so.

I’m flabbergasted, frankly. Some will say the cabinet reshuffle doesn’t matter: power has, and always will, essentially rest with the senior civil servants who actually run the Department of Arts & Whatever Else You’re Having. But I happen to think it does matter. Do we live in a society that believes in the integrity and value of our cultural life? Why haven’t we been given a government department and minister that signal a central (not peripheral) willingness to cultivate and protect our much-lauded reputation as a small, global, cultural powerhouse? All too often it feels that Ireland’s cultural richness has not emerged because of government support: it’s happened in spite of it.

What does this active disregard feel like on the ground? Let’s just look at one slice of this – Irish museums –as I happen to be finishing writing up the results of the Irish Museums Survey (to be published in the next month). Funded by the Irish Research Council and undertaken by the Irish Museums Association and UCD, it’s the first time in a decade any statistics have been collected on the museum sector (these aren’t officially collected, by the way). The more sophisticated analysis will come later, but here are just a few insights into what eight years of budget cuts have achieved (some from the survey, and others from my own experience):

  • In 2015, 300,000 visited the Natural History Museum of Ireland (ah, the Dead Zoo! Beloved of generations everywhere, and annually in the top ten most visited free attractions in Ireland). It had no dedicated education staff, and only 2 curators (one of whom is the Director).
  • 40% of the budget of the National Museum of Ireland system has been slashed since 2008. Let that figure sink in.
  • Thousands of tickets have already been pre-booked for the (free) exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at the National Gallery of Ireland, which opened 5 days ago. Yet a large proportion of the gallery has been closed since 2011: despite government declarations it would reopen in 2015, and then 2016, it’s now slated for spring 2017 (maybe?) Apart from the loss of public access to national collections, this also means we’ve had a talented museum director (as we are lucky to have in Sean Rainbird) compelled to manage a mostly-closed museum.
  • As part of the Museum Survey we asked 100+ museums across the country (small and large; urban and rural) what impact budget changes have made over the past five years. Here is just a small sample of the responses (more to come!):
    • Our heating was removed
    • Reception staff annual leave has to be covered by curatorial staff
    • A reduction in staff numbers from 28 to 5
    • Difficulty in paying electricity and public liability
    • A 70% drop in our programming budget
    • Unable to repair damaged roof and flood damage

Such accounts could be multiplied many times over, if extended to the visual, performing, and literary arts. And yet – on 28 March at the conclusion of RTE’s acclaimed broadcast Centenary, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to the centrality of Irish culture as inspiring the new State:

From that foundation, that cultural and literary awakening, Irish artists known and appreciated throughout the world have emerged, and continue to emerge. Tonight we celebrate not only our rich cultural heritage, but also its contemporary expression, our new imaginings, and the many creative ways in which we are telling our stories. For ours is a story still in the making.

This year, as we celebrate this important centenary and reflect on what we have achieved, we are committing ourselves to continuing the journey of imagination, committing ourselves to sustain the artistic work that will form the next chapter of our story.

A month later, and we’ve been presented with the new Department of RDRAAG to carry this ‘national story’ forward. Perhaps no acronym has ever been more fitting.

 

Next Week: Visual & Material Culture of Famine Conference

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Just a wee note about a conference I’m co-organising next week (14-16 March), hosted by Maynooth University and organised/funded as part of the NWO-funded International Network of Irish Famine Studies (of which I’m a core member).

Registration is free! If you’ve an interest in Famine studies, visual/material culture, or historical memory, please feel free to register and come along.

We’ve a fantastic programme that includes seven panels of top-notch papers, five keynote speakers (including me, speaking on Evidencing Eviction: the Visibility of Irish Poverty, 1870-90 on Weds.), and a range of special events, including:

  • A reading by acclaimed Irish author and Aósdana member Evelyn Conlon, whose most recent novel, Not the Same Sky (2013) draws on the social and material history of the Earl Grey-assisted emigration scheme, reimagining the story of three young women from amongst 4,000 Irish girls sent to Australia between 1848-50.
  • A presentation by Moonfish Theatre Company, whose stage adaptation of Joseph O’Connor’s Famine novel Star of the Sea has been on a sell-out national tour.
  • A talk by screenwriter and playwright Hugh Travers, Maynooth University’s Screenwriter-in-Residence who has been commissioned to write a sitcom on the Famine for Channel 4.
  • A special tour by curator Donal Maguire of the National Gallery of Ireland’s forthcoming exhibition The Pathos of Distance, a collaboration with artist Sarah Pierce exploring the visual history of Irish emigration.

All details (including travel, accommodation, and full schedule) are on the conference website.

The Creative Museum: Extending Participation through Collaboration (23/24 October, Belfast)

Greetings! I’m back from my annual leave and will be updating the jobs page shortly have just refreshed job/internship listings.

The Spy at the Gate by Pauline Cummins, 2014 - part of These Immovable Walls: Performing Power at Dublin Castle, curated by Michelle Browne. Photo by Joseph Carr.

The Spy at the Gate by Pauline Cummins, 2014 – part of These Immovable Walls: Performing Power at Dublin Castle, curated by Michelle Browne. Photo by Joseph Carr.

I wanted to share details of a special Irish Museums Association event I’m co-organising with Dr Victoria Durrer of Queen’s University Belfast. It’s absolutely FREE for students and members of the IMA, and very low cost for other attendees:

23 -24 October – The Creative Museum: Extending Participation through Collaboration: Queen’s University Belfast

This two-day event will bring together artists and museum professionals to explore the opportunities, complexities and negotiations that take place when museums and artists in dance, visual arts, sound, and theatre collaborate to create unique visitor experiences. This event will present and examine – through a series of talks, practical examples and site visits – some of the approaches taken by museums in the Republic of Ireland (ROI), Northern Ireland (NI), and further afield, in creative collaborations with the broader arts sector. It will aim to discuss how organisations can enhance their relationship with the public and demonstrate their value and relevance in contemporary culture.

Speakers include:

Lar Joye, Assistant Keeper, National Museum of Ireland – Art and Industrial Division
Louise Lowe, Artistic Director, ANU Productions
Professor Pedro Rebelo, Director of Research, School of Creative Arts (incl. SARC), Queen’s University Belfast
Katie Green, Founder and Director, Made by Katie Green
Margaret Henry, Chief Executive, Audiences NI
Michelle Browne, Visual Artist and Curator
Hugh Maguire, Director, The Hunt Museum
Nigel Monaghan, Keeper, National Museum of Ireland – Natural History Division
Emily Mark-FitzGerald, Lecturer, School of Art History & Cultural Policy, University College Dublin

The second day of the event is dedicated to site visits and tours that will introduce participants to the cultural venues and offerings of Belfast — it will be open to explore! A full list of options will soon be available on the event website. The event coincides with the Belfast Festival, and we’ll have ticket options available.

Thanks to sponsorship from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, we’re able to offer this event for FREE for students & IMA members, including registration, and free transport from Dublin – Belfast (return). Attendees will be responsible for accommodation (1 night – many inexpensive hostel options available) and the networking dinner (optional).

Registration is open here: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/the-creative-museum-extending-participation-through-collaboration-tickets-17807925986

Our previous north-south event reached capacity, do register asap. Attendees are also encouraged to book accommodation soon, as it’s festival season in Belfast and can get very busy. Hope you can join us!