Cobh is Sirius about the arts

RUNNING an arts centre in these difficult economic times is a challenge, and it’s more challenging in a regional location.

Cobh is Sirius about the arts

But Miranda Driscoll, the recently appointed artistic director of the Sirius Arts Centre, in Cobh, plans to use her background in “community engagement” to attract audiences.

Driscoll co- founded and ran The Joinery, a multi-disciplinary space in Dublin, for seven years, but closed it for lack of consistent funding. “It was difficult to keep it going. I had gone as far as I wanted to with The Joinery, which was a grassroots organisation. I was looking around for other opportunities. The Sirius is a place I’d been keeping an eye on over the last few years. When the opportunity came, I went for it. It was perfect timing for me.”

Driscoll, whose artistic background is photography, has taken over from Peggy Sue Amison, who left after 13 years to pursue her own art projects. “I think what Peggy Sue did was very interesting. Even though the Sirius is outside of Cork city, she built up a very interesting artist-in-residence programme that has an international reputation. She also did a lot of exhibitions of contemporary photography, which had a national and international reputation. That’s not easy to do when you’re in a small town.”

The Sirius Arts Centre, formerly the Royal Cork Yacht Club, was established in 1988 as a multidisciplinary, non-profit centre for the arts. It is funded by the Arts Council and Cork County Council. For example, in the recent round of Arts Council grants, the Sirius was awarded €85,000.

Driscoll says the centre has a couple of audiences. “It has a good reputation within the community, so while you want to appeal to that, you’re also trying to reach a wider audience. Getting people to come from Cork city to Cobh is a challenge. But there’s good footfall at the music events. A lot of them happen in the gallery, so you’re mixing audiences by bringing people into gigs, where they’ll also see whatever exhibition is on.” Talks and performances associated with exhibitions are another draw.

The Sirius is in a good location in the town. “A lot of people have to walk past it to get to the train station. If there’s a local artist exhibiting, we get a good-sized audience. It can be harder to get people to see the work of artists from further afield.”

Tourism is strong in Cobh. “We’re located in the harbour, which is a big hub. A lot of cruise liners come in, and when passengers pile off, the Sirius is one of the first buildings they come across. Summer is a really busy time for the town.”

Driscoll doesn’t miss being away from Dublin. She is looking forward to making her mark on the Sirius, which has been fully programmed for 2015 by Amison.

Driscoll says she and her curatorial team “have some great ideas” for 2016, some of which will commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising. But these have yet to be fully teased out.

“I’d like to develop dialogue and education. Outreach is a very important part of an arts centre. I’d like to build on that and connect a bit further with schools in the area and also to collaborate with some third-level organisations. We’ve already had students from the Crawford College here.”

The Sirius Arts Centre has its own accommodation, an apartment on the water for the artist-in-residence scheme. The first artist-in-residence for 2015 is Sun Ju Lee, a Korean based in London who does printmaking, drawing and digital printing.

In February, there will be a group show, focusing on perceptions of contemporary rural Ireland. The featured artists will be Helen Devitt, Adrian Duncan, Kenneth O’Halloran and Jill Quigley.

There will also be readings by local and national writers, as part of this exhibition.

  • Upcoming concerts at Sirius, in Cobh, include Karen Underwood (Saturday); John Spillane (January 23); and Join me in the Pines/David Geraghty (March 27). 

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