Panchaea – Public Art: Carlow County Council

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 02.50.34Panchaea – In search of an Equal Utopia and a Willing Suspension of Disbelief, curated by Denis Roche.

This groundbreaking unique project, commisioned by Carlow County Council was brought about through Roche’s socially engaged practice. The seed of the idea was sown by Roche and we embarked on a journey together; recognising that in order to make it happen we needed to create strong local relationships, key partnership buy-in and community ownership from the outset.

Alongside Roche two outstanding and reputed artists, Brian Maguire and Emma Finucane, were commissioned to work with people within the community who experience enduring mental illness and are on a path to recovery. A Steering Committee was formed, made up of artists, curating artist, ourselves as commissioner, the HSE clinical team including consultant psychiatrists, community health workers, nurse managers, family support workers and most important service users themselves. From the outset of the project it was vital there were collective decision-making powers and that we all understood the process that would be undertaken; that we would work openly, collectively and collaboratively, allowing time to talk and critically reflect. There was absolutely no pressure on anyone to become involved and individuals could come in and out of the process at any stage. It is no surprise that high artistic outcomes were reached and the trust and flexibility afforded to the project allowed for this.

Important to the project was the invitation from VISUAL – Centre for Contemporary Art Carlow to bring the project into the centre thus providing another platform to showcase the project which had up until that point been running for (the previous) two years in the familiar environs of service users, i.e. St. Dympna’s Hospital Carlow, and Leighlinbridge Parish Centre. However, the project took on new life in the art centre, bringing new challenges for the institution and asking of it and us the audience of contemporary visual arts spaces to re-consider art in a different way, breaking down notions that the arts are only for the ‘educated in art’. The project continues and is now back ‘home’ in St. Dympna’s Hospital Carlow in the newly founded Dolmen Studios.

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