Can you recall your first artistic experience?
Plasticine, colouring-in books, costume-designing for Bunty cut-out dolls and mud and stone dam-building on the stream with stilt-making (tin cans and baling twine) and go-cart making all part of the general ‘artistic’ picture from about 4 years onwards.
I was a country child with access to the local Limavady Library and was steeped in fairy tales so my first artistic endeavour was a plasticine fairy. I used to hide them in bird nests with secret messages around the farm. Very fey.
What motivates you to continue with your artistic activities now?
ART still feels a lot like playing and I am never happier than when I’m up to my ears in clay, wood, metal, paper, wax with paints and glue and tools scattered around me.
I love the study of all the rules and alchemy involved in working with clay, metal, water, chemicals and fire.
I love the ritual of planning everything in my head for ages and then plunging straight in.
I love that moment when everything that I am working on becomes the most important all-absorbing thing in the world. I should add that my approach to writing does not differ hugely from this.
I love seeing that look in someone’s face which tells me that they also ‘get it’.
“Every child is born an artist – the problem is trying to remain it.” Pablo Picasso.
How would you describe the work that you are doing now?
I received an Individual Artist’s grant from the Arts’ Council last year and after insulating and painting the garden shed I no longer need to travel far to my studio and now have my own kiln at the bottom of the garden. My daughter is in her second year in Sculpture in the U.S.A. and my son is working and studying and busy being a dad and as both have now left home I now have the space and time to devote to my own work and am busy carrying out experiments with oxides, clays, glazes and firings to try and get better at my craft.
There are two strands to my work (both as a sculptor and as a poet)
The first strand is the production of ‘studio’ (personal) work which finds its way into exhibitions, galleries and anthologies.
My studio work sells through the Art House Gallery in Dunfanaghy and is beginning to make its way into more group exhibitions (i.e.; the Glebe Gallery’s 2013 Summer Show)
The second is public and community projects.
I am currently working as an artist and facilitator with King Street Arts to create a public art work in the Folktown area of Belfast City Centre. I have worked with the local community in the area in the past year. The art work is part of the Department of Social Development’s ‘Belfast: Streets Ahead’ programme in Bank Square. My role is to help create the final concept for the art work in collaboration with the local community, stakeholders, King Street Arts and DSD.
Are there any barriers which stifle your ability to pursue your career in the arts?
Money, money, money. It was an amazing boost and affirmation of my work to get the Art’s Council grant for equipment and to have my studio so close that I can work all night if I need to – but I would give anything to just put my head down and not worry about household bills etc which require one to take time away from work to make money to survive. However I feel very lucky and most of the time I feel that nothing is insurmountable.
You are a community artist – how did your activities in local communities come about?
My activities in local community arts began in 2000 when my children were both at primary school and -as a single parent – I needed work that fitted around their lives. I had graduated from the Animation M.F.A. Program in New York University and after a period as a visiting lecturer at the University of Ulster, I began to run animation workshops as a freelance community artist with a range of community groups and venues such as Down County Museum, Northern Visions, Crescent Arts Centre (night classes) Sandy Row Community Centre, the Old Museum Arts Centre, Ballynafeigh Women’s Group (cross-border project initiated by Bryson House) and in association with Cinemagic in Clotworthy House. I did this for six years and then decided to help my brother set up an organic stall in St George’s Market.
During that period I wrote the criteria which would persuade the traders and City Hall to invite craft people in to share the Farmers’ Market space and in time this become the Saturday Market which now embraces food, craft antiques etc and then as the Chair of the Saturday Market I lobbied weekly and collected signatures from my stall to petition City Hall to consider opening St George’s Market on Sundays. The rest, as they say, is history.
After working in St George’s Market (2006 -2011) I became a volunteer in the local community of Folktown to help the steering committee push their regeneration plans forward, using my experience as an artist to put a focus on the arts and culture as a catalyst for change and my experience as a market trader to put a focus on markets as an instrument for urban regeneration.. Volunteering helped me gain an insight into the local community and its dynamics. 2013 saw Folktown join with the rest of Belfast by accommodating a series of events in Culture Night.
We ran the Windmill Factory in the Berry Street Presbyterian Church Cafe.
Folktown gained the licence from Belfast City Council in 2013 to set up a weekly market whose profits as Folktown CIC will go back into the local community. The market will be launched in 2015 and will accommodate food and craft entrepreneurs. It will be a Thursday market which will run into late night shopping and Late Night Art territory. All very exciting –with a lot of hard work and funding applications ahead!!
Have you any experience with Community Arts Partnership – if so could you say a little about them?
As a poet, I attend the Seamus Heaney’s Writing Group (I’m an M.A.graduate from the Queen’s Creative Writing Programme – circa: 2007) and the Shalom Writing Group (based in the Belfast Central Library) This would be the studio strand of my writing and involves learning about my craft and regularly submitting my writing to magazines and poetry competitions .
The second strand of my writing is facilitating poetry workshops throughout the year.
My work with CAP has been mainly in association with the Poetry In Motion Schools’ Programme (co-ordinated by Chelley McLear) and for the past three years I have facilitated poetry sessions in Primary and Secondary level schools in Belfast. I have also been a contributor to and a facilitator of the CAP Poetry in Motion Community programme as far afield as Carnlough on a regular basis.
Each year Poetry in Motion Schools programme culminates in a tremendous launch – with representatives from all the schools participating – in the Waterfront Hall and CAP provides each school and young poet that contributes with a printed copy of that year’s anthology and a CD recording of their poetic voices. There is a very positive energy generated in these schools during the workshops and one often feels that it should quite simply be part of the curriculum for ALL schools in Northern Ireland.
Story-telling is such a massive part of our culture and this programme provides a safe nurturing space for children to share their voices. On a bigger scale – Poetry is also part of what attracts visitors to these shores. You may have noticed – I am a big advocate and fan.
I am one of a roster of poets who run regular poetry workshops for community writing groups throughout Northern Ireland as part of the Poetry in Motion Community programme which CAP puts together annually.
I have future workshops up in the North-West and close to my old stamping grounds (in both clay-making and poetry) which are planned in association with the Keady Clachan (Facebook) – a community organisation running regular music sessions and workshops in music and art skills for the over 50s on Ringsend Road outside Limavady. These have just received funding so we’re all at the joyous consultation stage.