The new director of the Co Cork arts centre brings continental experience to the role, writes Ellie O’Byrne.
January is the time for “New Year, new you,” but Miguel Amado may have even more reasons than most to have ambitious plans for what 2020 will bring.
The Portuguese visual arts curator, having served as director of Cork Printmakers for 15 months, is due to take up a new position as director of Cobh’s Sirius Arts Centre at the end of January, all within a year and a half of moving to Ireland. It was a move that came about, he explains, because his partner was offered a job at UCC.
“When my partner moved to Cork, I had been working in England and she had been working in Barcelona and our son was about to start primary school,” Amado says.
“So I decided I’d move to Ireland, without really having a job lined up.”
As former senior curator at Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art in England, Amado is approaching his tenure at Sirius with a strong ethos and ambitions to further the work of outgoing director Miranda Driscoll.
“I believe we have to be both radically local, supporting the local community of artists and public to really fight against this global idea of the art world, and simultaneously strongly and truly cosmopolitan,” says Amado, who has also curated the visual arts programme for 2020 at the Triskel in Cork.
Originally from Portugal’s second city of Porto,Amado curated the Portuguese pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Artist Joana Vasconcelos’ Trafaria Praiaconsisted of a Lisbon river ferry, decorated on the outside with traditional blue and white tiles, in which visitors could take a tour of the Venice lagoon, a nod to the commonalities of seafaring nations.
Cobh’s own rich maritime history as Queenstown, one of the British empire’s important ports in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but also as the scene of the mass exodus of 2.5 million Irish people who fled hunger and deprivation between 1848 and 1850, means the Sirius centre is uniquely positioned to develop the local-yet-cosmopolitan connections he wants to forge, Amado says.
“Being a foreigner in Ireland, my knowledge of the social history is not deep, but I’m more interested in social history than in art history. I’m very interested in developing aprogramme that speaks to history and delves into a sense of place.”
In Middlesborough, Amado developed the idea of the “useful museum”, which is, he explains, a restoration of the role of museums and galleries in community life.
“The civic mission was at the core when museums emerged in the 19th century,” he says.
Being “more political”, and working with local community groups and artists from marginalised backgrounds, who are not part of the mainstream, are cornerstones of making Sirius a useful centre, he says.
“Sirius needs to be a vibrant place that’s open to everyone and speaks about topics that are relevant today.”
There are challenges ahead. As a visual arts curator, Amado doesn’t have much experience of programming multi-disciplinary venues like Sirius, whose musical programme has been impressive in recent years.
But even here, he’s keen to get stuck in:
“Artists in Ireland are, in my view, still operating very much within their niche. I want to show theatre in the gallery, visual art in the theatre, to challenge niches and having a broader way of working.”
Amado’s outsider’s view of Ireland’s arts scene mirrors much of what domestic artists and curators already say.
In Ireland, Amado says, “the resources are really scarce, from public funding and from private philanthropy. Particularly when Ireland tries to position itself up against the main cultural forces of the world, one of which is the UK, right next door.
So what does the new arrival have up his sleeve for 2020? So far, apart from mentioning that Sirius will host artists from Peru and Brazil, he’s playing his cards close to his chest.
“It all sounds very abstract but if we speak to each other in two months, I can give a clearer idea of the practitioners I will work with and what the public can expect,” he says.
For info on the programme at Siriusin Cobh, see siriusartscentre.ie.