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An Urgent Enquiry

April 8, 2020
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Artist Mark Clare reflects on a residency in Wexford in 2019 which focused on climate change

L-R The Urgent Enquiry Team Eileen Hutton, Liz Burns, Kelly Hickey, Mark Clare, Joanna Hopkins, Denise Reddy, Megan Moriarty, Caroline Cowley, Ruairí O Cuív, Fiona McDonald. Photo: Brian Cregan

I am interested in the potential of science, philosophy and aesthetics to enrich my thinking on climate change and global policies. I want to make art work that keeps our attention focused on what’s going on in our environment.

In May 2019 I got the opportunity to participate in An Urgent Enquiry, a three-month art and biodiversity residency in Wexford. More background information is available here.

While there I had the opportunity to explore the effects of climate change and habitat loss on local biodiversity through interactions with environmental specialists, scientists and local communities.

I met the Climate Action Regional Office, curators at the Natural History Museum, local Biodiversity Officers and Conservation Rangers and worked closely with Liz Burns, Wexford Arts Officer. The staff in different Wexford County Council departments were essential in making connections and engaging the community.

To get to know the locals and introduce them to the work, I organised a number of free public workshops for adults and children, working with specialists in a variety of fields to deliver them. These included a wild food walk in the grounds of Tintern Abbey, a seaweed forage on Baginbun Beach and The Little Things Matter, a workshop on the important role of Phytoplankton (microscopic sea plants) on our ecosystems.

I am interested in the potential of art to open up dialogue and highlight new possibilities and alternative perspectives; allowing us to ask questions of ourselves, our place within our community and the broader environment.

At the end of the project I collaborated with local ceramic artist Mairead Stafford. We wanted to engage as many local residents as possible in a conversation about Osmia aurulenta, an endangered species of solitary bee found along the East coast that nests in snail shells. Solitary bees pollinate more flowers than any other group.

Participants made their individual ceramic ‘shell’ artworks which were later fired in Mairead’s kiln. Everyone donated one ‘shell’ to our on-going project The Unavoidable Interconnectedness of Everything. Our ambition is to expand the project nationally to make a million shells and produce a large-scale public artwork to represent the threat climate change poses to our local biodiversity. One million species are currently endangered.

The other artist’s participating in An Urgent Enquiry were Fiona McDonald, Dublin and Mary Conroy and Jonna Hopkins in Fingal. We met up on a number of occasions to discuss the development of the project as a whole. I found these meetings invaluable, hearing how they were getting on and in which direction their research was going, bouncing ideas around and getting feedback on my own research.

An Urgent Enquiry offered me an opportunity to embed myself in a community and work alongside other professionals, on a topic of significant personal interest.

Now, more than ever, new visions and narratives are needed in order to harness the power of scientific knowledge to intervene constructively in the course of our collective future.

An Urgent Enquiry is a partnership project between Wexford, Fingal and Dublin City Councils and funded under the Arts Council’s Invitation to Collaboration Scheme, 2018 and 2019. 

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25-25 Arts and Culture in Local Development

July 27, 2015
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25-25 Arts and Culture in Local Development

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A conference that marked 25 years of Arts Council and Local Authority partnership took place in the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick on 25 and 26 November 2010. Panel discussions on salient themes; such as the Creative Economy, Area Development and Cultural Planning, were chaired by Olivia O’Leary. Contributions included case studies of Irish Chamber Orchestra, Film Offaly, Derry City of Culture 2013 as well as theoretical and academic responses. Sustainability for arts and cultural development over the next 25 years was a recurrent theme throughout the event.

A special recording of RTE’s Sunday Miscellany took place in the The Irish World Academy during the conference. It featured readings by Kay Sheehy, the first arts officer, visual artist Amanda Coogan, Hugh Murray, Chairman of EVA. Music performances included solo performance by Micheal O’Suilleabhain, 12-year-old prodigy, Andreas Varady playing jazz guitar and the Limerick County Youth Choir. This recording was aired on RTE Radio1 on Sunday 12th December at 9.15am. A podcast of the programme is available here: Sunday Miscellany RTE Radio 1

The conference is featured on Platform Ireland website arts channel, Irelands first audio-visual weekly Local Authority arts news service. The feature has interviews with some of the key contributors in the 25:25 Conference, which looked at the role of the arts and culture in achieving local economic and social development objectives.

Opening addresses were provided by Frank Dawson, Chairman of the City and County Managers Association, Community, Social and Economic Development Committee, Mary Cloake, Director of the Arts Council and Lucina Russell, Chairperson of the Association of Local Authority Arts Officers (2010-2011). Each address reinforced the importance of the relationship between the Arts Council and the Local Authority in embedding the Arts Officer and arts service within the local authority.

A keynote address by Australian cultural analyst Jon Hawkes focused on the theme of culture as one of the pillars of sustainability in public planning. He talked about the new paradigms there have been in public planning over the past decade, the shift from the ‘economic’ paradigm to one that is more about sustainability, equity engagement and well- being, referencing the principles of Agenda 21. He differentiated between the arts and the broader church of culture describing them as a ‘culturally intense sector’.

The event was formally opened by Michael D Higgins TD, the first Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht (1993- 1997), who mischievously described the early days when Arts Officers were first appointed to the local authority system, which traditionally had little or no provision for the arts. He acknowledged the role of the arts officer in enabling citizens to engage in quality arts experiences at a local level. He lamented the removal of the ‘Arts’ from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport portfolio. He spoke with sadness about the failure to move culture in from the periphery of European concerns. He stated ‘we are living through a period where culture is seen as soft, where economics is hard and where it is most macho to be in the new technology end of the economic Europe. There probably never was a time then when we needed more the capacity to be reflective, to consciously articulate philosophical options’.

Chaired by journalist and broadcaster Olivia O’Leary, a series of lively panel discussions took place with senior contributors from Ireland and the UK exploring the role the role of the arts and culture in local development. Three distinctive case studies on Local Arts and Area Development – The Irish Chamber Orchestra Music Director of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, John Kelly who compounded his point about creating opportunities to engage with the arts by playing O’Carolans Concerto on violin, Aideen Mc Ginley mapped out the transformation of the Derry in advance of winning the bid to become inaugural UK City of Culture 2013, while Marcella Corcoran Kennedy set the rationale for establishing Film Offaly.

The potential of integrated Cultural Planning to enhance the city was investigated by Dick Gleeson, Planner in Dublin City Council. Jill Miller, Director of Cultural Services, Glasgow spoke about her challenges in managing 141 cultural venues. She emphasized the importance of setting milestones for organizations and the valuable contribution that arts advocates can make. In responding to this, Marian Fitzgibbon, Head of Humanities in AIT reflected on her role as broker in the mid 80s, encouraging County Managers to recruit an arts officer. In 1985, Clare Co Council took the lead, appointing Kay Sheehy.

Today there are 34 arts officers in City and County Councils countrywide.Looking towards the next 25 years, Emer Coleman, Greater London Authority highlighted the potential of social media for arts development in local authorities. Academic Clive Gray cautioned against aligning the value of arts participation against Cultural Tourism and number of bed nights. Professor Finbarr Bradley presented an Ireland in the Innovation Age. He emphasized the importance of embracing Irelands uniqueness as a sustainable competitive advantage. Bradley describes intangible resources that nurture innovation, motivation, memory and tradition.

The panel discussions were punctuated by artist’s interventions, entitled ’5 x 5’, where 5 artists were commissioned to create short pieces in response to the theme of Local Arts. Participating artists were Rionach Ni Neill; Andrew Duggan; John Byrne and Laura Fitzgerald. The fifth commission was a commemorative DVD, by Samhain Productions, which poignantly captured the extent of local arts development.

Andrew Duggan presented a new screening of 9.8 Metres per Second, a powerful film shot in one of 70 unsold houses on an estate in Co Carlow, featuring dancer Cindy Cummins. The houses lie empty, uninhabited. Yet there is an eerie sense of ghost town abandonment mixed the future possibility of dilapidation. John Byrnes irreverent autobiographical monologue with projected backdrops referenced previous works such as ‘The Border Worrier’. Byrnes recollection of a conversation with a farmer (his cousin) about his performance and installation artist had resonance for the delegates in terms of the lack of understanding about contemporary arts practice.

Dancer Rionach Ni Neill transformed the conference space, with Seandálaíocht; a multi-media solo performance that explored the paradox of a language spoken by only one person. It reminded the delegates of the potential of spaces for making/ presenting art.

Laura Fitzgerald acted as a visual narrator, creating a series of small-scale drawings in response to visual stimulus and performances, ideas and comments raised throughout the conference.

Each of the 5x 5 presentations acted as reflective tools to remind the delegates that nurturing the arts and artists must remain at the heart of what arts officers do

For further information about the conference go to W. Clare Library website

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Platform 31

July 20, 2015
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A nationwide artist development scheme by the 31 Local Authority Arts Offices, in collaboration with the Arts Council. Applications open November 9th 2020. More information at

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