Though Longford has had a vibrant visual arts scene for quite some time, the last year or so has seen an impressive proliferation in the number of collectives and exhibitions aimed at bringing the works of local artists to the public’s attention. Here are some of the more diverse and innovative projects operating under this remit:
One of the most recent artistic projects to emerge in the area is Engage Longford, which is run by local artists as a vehicle for procuring a permanent exhibition space, while in the meantime also arranging exhibitions in temporary galleries to display works not only by artists from the locality, but from all around the country. Engage Longford held its debut show on Culture Night 2013, and received an overwhelming response, with a large crowd turning out to view the exhibits.
“The group was established to provide a platform to promote Longford as a hub for visual art,” explains Engage Longford committee member and artist, Gary Robinson. “Its fundamental objective is to procure a permanent space in order to provide exhibition opportunities for graduate and emerging artists within the county.
“An important element of our idea is to include as many as possible in the arts in Longford, to try and remove the barriers that people may feel exist.
“At first we plan to develop a programme of exhibitions that will have a local community aspect to it, in that we will host exhibitions by local photography, painting and PLC art course students,” he continues. “These exhibitions are programmed and we hope that the community will take the opportunity to come and see the work that is being done by local artists.
“We have an open call ready to go out to artists from all over the country, and based on the responses we get from this, a selection panel will programme a series of exhibitions over the course of 2014 and 2015.
“Out-Take Films was formed with the aim of developing a culture of film-making in all ages in Longford,” explains the group’s chairperson, Seamus Clarke. “The means to make a film are more accessible now than it’s ever been before. Twenty years ago, making even the most modest of films was a two- or even a three-man job, but now technology has flattened to the point where even the capturing capacity on a phone is amazing. However, the art of film-making is still something one has to learn.”
The group is a vehicle which allows budding film-makers to collaborate and provide assistance for each other. It also provides an opportunity for members to enhance their skills in all areas of film production.
“Late last year we ran a scriptwriting course, which was very well received,” Seamus says. “With the help of the Arts Office in Longford, we were able to bring in a professional scriptwriter by the name of the Laurence Henson, who is well-respected and often lectures on the subject, and the response was great. We had people travelling from as far as Sligo just to attend the course.”
Other such courses are in the works at present, including a six-week digital film-making course, which Out-Take intends to host this spring.
“The idea of the training programme is to see if we can engage people who are interested in shooting film with their cameras, but who have never collaborated with other film-makers or developed their skills, and who are interested in making the jump to making short fiction, documentaries or television programmes.”
Though still early in its gestation period, the proposed Longford Lights festival, pencilled in for next winter, looks set to be one of the most unique artistic events the county town has ever hosted.
“Longford Lights is an idea I’ve had for a year or two now, which is a visual art festival which is themed on the use of light,” says organiser, Shane Crossan. “The idea is to invite artists to use public spaces, to create a performance or an installation or other piece of art, using projectors, electric lights, candles, and so on.”
Shane is the driving force behind the idea at present, but is reluctant to take credit, and certainly doesn’t want to be seen as the festival’s curator.
“I think ‘project champion’ is a nicer term,” he laughs. “In the past few years, curators seem to have become portrayed as being more important than the artists, and I don’t want that to happen!”
While no firm date is set for Longford Lights at the time of writing, the aim is to hold it when the nights are long and the main festivals are long finished.
“We’re looking at doing the pilot version in November 2014. I’m trying to prioritise local artists and try and engage schools, but I also want to invite some national artists, too. The great thing is the public nature of it and that will be free.”
Exhibitions at the Atrium Gallery in association with Longford County Arts Office
“The Arts Office and the Atrium Gallery at the Backstage Theatre have gotten together to develop a joint programme of exhibitions to help provide support for the emerging visual arts scene in the county,” Longford County Arts Officer Fergus Kennedy reveals. “At the moment it’s mainly for local artists, but we’ve also exhibited artists from Galway, Leitrim and Mayo.
“In the first half of the year we hope to organise a series of innovative exhibitions. The first is a mother-daughter exhibition, involving Frances Kelleher and her daughter Orla, both accomplished landscape and still-life artists working in watercolours, acrylics and oils. Their show will run at the Atrium Gallery in March.
“We also want to organise an exhibition where we have five visual artists working in various media contributing works, and then invite five local contemporary writers working in poetry and prose to create pieces of literature in response to the artworks they’ve seen.
“There are also plans for an emerging artists’ exhibition, where four emerging artists will be able to highlight their work, and in the second half of the year, there will be internal exhibitions in secondary schools, with the highlights going on to be exhibited at the Atrium. There will be awards and prize-giving and guided tours of that exhibition, where the works will be interpreted for visitors.
Fergus concluded by saying that, “These exhibitions will be funded by the Arts Office and organised jointly with the Atrium Gallery.”