Friday, 1 March 2019

Organisational Development: Visit to Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Dublin

In the space of five decades, Dublin has experienced a significant wave of artist-led initiatives and studios – beginning in the 1960s with Project Arts Centre (a then three-week festival, now turned multidisciplinary venue) and later, in the 1980s, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. The city has a diverse and dynamic artist-led narrative – one which is seemingly evermore important in 2019, when there is, today, a deficit in studio space, or even space to create. As a fleeting visitor to Dublin, I can only reflect upon the conversations which I had and observations that I made during my stay.

Temple Bar Gallery + Studios from Temple Bar, 2019.

Temple Bar Gallery + Studios

Trekking down Temple Bar, past the crowded pubs advertising live folk music nights, I approach Temple Bar Gallery + Studios (TBG+S). The custom-designed structure sits boldly amongst a bustling row of shorter, squat, red-brick buildings. Its white-rendered walls and top-heavy appearance spark comparisons with the likes of the Bauhaus and a Cubist aesthetic. In reading through TBG+S's history, I learn of its transition from a disused shirt factory into a purpose-built gallery and studio-complex. It's difficult to determine how much of its original DIY ethic is still in place: still, it's worth remembering that TBG+S has been running since 1983 and has been fortunate in the consistency and determination of its members. Currently, it is housed in this building under a “Cultural Use Agreement” and maintains a fair rent clause with Temple Bar Properties.

Inside, I meet with Róisín Bohan, Learning and Public Engagement Curator. It's a part-time role at TBG+S – remarkable when reflecting upon the work involved – and so Róisín also works at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in a similar role. Despite its name, RHA is an artist-led organisation with charitable status. At TBG+S, I'm shown through the Gallery – where Efference Copy Mechanism by Ronan McCrea is currently installed – to the Atrium. The Atrium is used as a place for studio artists to present, test, and experiment. Currently showing is a collection of posters created by two TBG+S founders Robert Armstrong and Joe Hanly at The Print Studio, housed in TBG+S in the 1980s, which brings colour and abstract figures to the cool, concrete walls of the Atrium's interior. These prints, used to promote other artists' shows, have never been presented as a body of work until now: Róisín tells me that the exhibition came about after an informal conversation between Robert, Joe and TBG+S Director, Cliodhna Shaffrey.

Robert Armstrong/ Joe Hanly, The Print Studio Posters, Atrium, 2019

Climbing up the stairwell, a central, oval chamber enables light to travel down from the top-floor skylights. It's another space which has been used by artists to experiment – there's even been a full-length oak-tree suspended through it. Each floor is home to studios – of which there are 30 in total. Some are in permanent use – nine of the original TBG+S artists remain onsite – while others are opened up for, residencies, exchanges, the graduate studio residency, and a public education space. We reach the roof-top: it's a miniature glasshouse, rich with fresh greenery – a welcome change in an urban-setting. Peering down on the street below, it's interesting to think about how much Temple Bar has changed around this building in the last 30 years or so.

Over coffee, we chat about Dublin's cityscape and its social and political shifts. There's a major studio crisis going on across the city, with a substantial loss of studios in recent years says Róisín. This is due to foreign investors sitting on land, land value increasing and buildings being demolished to make way for multinational businesses in the technology and hospitality sector. Dublin has become a hub for tech companies – which on one hand, have boosted the economy but on the other, driven up prices and reduced the amount of space available – more so for housing. It's a narrative which is happening in numerous cities, not just Dublin: this lack of space, combined with technology, has also led to a shift in artistic practices. We speak briefly about Digital Media culture: is rife in the arts, with artists using studios less and consequently maintaining more private – even isolated – working methods.

Temple Bar Gallery + Studios Top-floor, 2019.

Back at TBG+S, Cliodhna and her team are trying to shift this narrative. It is undoubtedly a difficult decision to make, but Temple Bar Studios is changing its format. Currently, TBG+S is has a studio programme geared towards those at varying career-levels; a one-year project studio, a three-year membership studio, and they have just announced a new six-year studio residency. While the Gallery and Studios are separate, Róisín states that Cliodhna spends time ensuring that there is a strong community of artists with access to professional development opportunities. Previously, they've ran masterclasses and studio visits for Temple Bar Studio artists.

While elements of a public programme have been in place for years, a formal Learning and Public Engagement Programme has only recently come about. Still in its infancy, the programme opens up TBG+S and promotes it as a “city resource.” At present, most of their audiences come from an artistic community, but it's early days. Under the umbrella title, Making Connectionsare a number of activities: there is, on average, three events per show – Breakfast Club, Late View and Family Connections. A recurrent theme in my conversations with artist-led spaces is the value of quality over quantity in audience attendance. While the majority of public funding bodies both in the UK and Ireland require large numbers, it is sometimes the smaller groups of concentrated audiences which provide the most fruitful outcomes. Róisín reflects on how, at a recent Breakfast Club, there was a sense of sharing and connectivity across disciplines.

Ronan McCrea, Efference Copy Mechanism, Installation View, 2019

TBG+S is looking to increase attendance at its family workshops, and to, in the future, branch outwards to other regions in the city. In a bid to expand its audiences, TBG+S has initiated a Summer School and a Winter School: the former sees the Gallery transformed into a workshop and participatory installation space, while the latter is more talks and workshop-based. Róisín reflects on how, at the last Summer School, it enabled attendees to place their own mark on the Gallery and to “take ownership” over the space and the work presented within. One of the most important aspects of her role, says Róisín, is the personal level of connection that she builds through Making Connections events.

We end by chatting about the support that TBG+S receives: alongside funding from the Arts Council of Ireland and Dublin City Council, private sponsors, and an income from subsidised studio rent, it has set up initiatives to raise additional income. Currently, TBG+S has a Supporters' Club, where members have access to critiques. A new additional platform, the Commissioning Circle, has recently been introduced. The scheme invites individuals to donate a one-time payment to support the development of TBG+S five annual shows, each of which support Irish and international artists to produce and exhibit new work.

With thanks to Róisín Bohan and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios.

This activity has been funded by Arts Council England as part of AirSpace Gallery's Organisational Development period.

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