Networking Networks – Alex Davis Reports on Visual Artist Supports in Local Communities

L Fingleton map
Lisa Fingelton, A creative sketch of an artist’s life in North Kerry


A common complaint received by VAI is that visual artists can feel isolated. Whether they live in cities, towns or villages, this experience is often accompanied by a lack of knowledge about whether other visual artists are working in the area. It can be particularly difficult for those not living in one of the larger cities to finding support or information about local opportunities. In direct response to this, VAI has devised a Local Area Group programme that engages with both existing artists’ networks and informal fledgling gatherings of artists, assisting them in broadening their engagement both locally and nationally.

VAI hosts events that introduce artists to each other with a view to setting up groups / networks. These events offer a mix of services, which include: networking, professional development, presentations by artists or other key experts, and details about ongoing progress in terms of local and national support. Visual Artist Ireland’s objective is to make the groups associated with the Local Area Groups programme self-sustaining, by encouraging self-organisation supported by the full knowledge that VAI will offer administrative and logistical supports when necessary.

Artists’ groups and networks around Ireland can also gather each year at our Get Together events, which offer an opportunity for wider discussion about the evolution and sustainability of groups, and for sharing and comparing ongoing issues occurring at a local level. This year’s Get Together, held at IMMA on 23 May, featured a VAI Local Area Groups event entitled Visual Artist’s Supports in Local Communities, held in the context of this year’s Common Room.

Since our first Get Together in 2012, held in Limerick College of Art & Design, VAI has presented the Common Room as a form of community market place / fair where the visual arts community – artists, organisations, experts etc – can meet, mingle and network. VAI has also run the Common Room as a stand-alone event across the country – supporting artist-led initiatives and community-based artist networks. This has assisted VAI in building its understanding of the local, regional and national concerns of artists.

Visual Artist’s Supports in Local Communities featured five artists talking about their experience of working collaboratively in remote / rural settings. Linda Shevlin, Aideen Barry, Christine O’Brien Shannahan, Lisa Fingleton and curator Hollie Kearns each spoke about their experience of working in collaborative art practices, creating contexts for artists to make work in the public realm and creating their own network of local partners and stakeholders.

Using hand drawn images Lisa Fingleton presented a ‘creative sketch’ of life as an artist / filmmaker based in North Kerry. Focusing on her involvement with the artist-led group Colourful Spirits and her recent mentoring workshops with artists – supported by the Kerry County Council Arts Office – Fingleton illustrated the ways in which she is building a sustainable practice through collaboration, community and creativity.

Christine O’Brien Shanahan, VAI’s advocate in the South East of Ireland and a member of local artist’s collective 20ten, presented findings from a recent networking event for artists in the Waterford area. Soma Contemporary gallery, where O’Brien Shanahan is currently artist-in-residence, hosted the event.

Aideen Barry, artist, advocate for artists’ rights and VAI representative in the West of Ireland, is keenly aware of the challenges facing artists living in rural areas. Barry lives and works in the West of Ireland and sustains a national and international practice. As an instigator of numerous visual art projects, collaborations, collectives and curatorial practices, Barry demonstrates that with dedication, determination and support, artists in rural areas can tap into international discourse.

Aideen Barry’s collaborations with Mayo County Council Public Arts Office have been particularly rewarding and most recently led to her selection to represent Ireland for the Changing Tracks Public Art Commission, a project which received €400,000 in support from the European Union Cultural Commission. This is a major project with artworks in Ireland, the UK and Catalonia, which is helping draw attention to the West of Ireland.

Linda Shevlin discussed her role as artist-in-residence in Roscommon Arts Centre and Roscommon Arts Office. As part of her residency, Shevlin initiated the Roscommon Visual Arts Forum as a platform for networking and a means of assisting with professional development for artists based in the county. Given that Roscommon has been without a dedicated arts officer for five years, Linda’s initiative has been vital for artists living or working in the county.

Hollie Kearns, an independent curator based in Callan, Co Kilkenny, has been engaged in creating and supporting contexts for artists to realise work in the public realm. Collaboration and inclusion are reflected in projects such as Workhouse Assembly, which was the final stage in transforming a semi-derelict wing of Callan Workhouse into a cultural hub with shared artistic, design, research and community facilities. Similarly, Nimble Spaces was a project developed as a long-term collaboration between artists, architects and adults with an intellectual disability.

Alex Davis, Advocacy Programme Manager, Visual Artists Ireland

Details of upcoming VAI Local Area Groups activities are regularly posted on the VAI website and in the e-bulletin. For further information, including how to join the VAI Local Area Groups programme, contact us / T: (0)1 672 9488


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