Crawford: 'Diversity doesn’t just mean tolerating difference; it means you value it' 

The Supported Studio of the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork provides invaluable support for artists with disabilities 
Crawford: 'Diversity doesn’t just mean tolerating difference; it means you value it' 

Images from the Crawford Supported Studio. Pictures: Denis Minihane

In the library of the Crawford Art Gallery, five artists whose work has recently been acquired by the gallery for the national collection are sitting with their work. In April, the Crawford spent €400,000 of Department of Arts funding on purchasing work by 38 artists, and these artists were among their number.

As so many artists are, they’re talking about the impacts of Covid lockdowns on their lives, productivity and work: Angela Burchill, who usually makes distinctive portraits, turned to nature for inspiration, she says.

Rosaleen Moore worked from memory and photographs to complete a series on New York, where she visited and exhibited right before the Covid crisis began in spring 2020.

This particular group of artists – Moore and Burchill, as well as Íde ní Shuilleabháin, John Keating and Tom O’Sullivan – has a lot in common. As members of the Crawford Supported Studio, they usually work alongside each other. All have learning disabilities; some live in Cope Foundation residential care, while Burchill lives in L’Arche Cork.

Crawford Supported Studio is made up of 16 artists in total, also including Yvonne Condon, whose work was also purchased but who couldn’t attend the day’s meet-up. Pre-Covid, the group would meet twice per week, in the Crawford and in a space provided by MTU (formerly CIT).

The Covid-19 restrictions stopped these regular studio sessions, and facilitators Máiréad O’Callaghan and Karolina Clenet have been adopting different approaches to continuing to provide assistance: ordering materials online for artists to continue to make work at home, for example.

“I’m sure everyone’s been affected by Covid but it’s people with disabilities that have been most affected, most forgotten about and most left on their own,” facilitator O’Callaghan says. Services have slowly been coming back as restrictions have lifted. 

Facilitators Karolina Clenet (left) and Mairead O'Callaghan (right) with five artists from the Crawford supported studio (front) Íde Ní Shuilleabháin and John Keating and (standing from second left) Rosaleen Moore, Tom O'Sullivan and Angela Burchill. Picture: Denis Minihane
Facilitators Karolina Clenet (left) and Mairead O'Callaghan (right) with five artists from the Crawford supported studio (front) Íde Ní Shuilleabháin and John Keating and (standing from second left) Rosaleen Moore, Tom O'Sullivan and Angela Burchill. Picture: Denis Minihane

Coming amidst these challenges, the acquisition of artworks by the Crawford Art Gallery has been a “huge boost” for the group, she says. And not only for the group, but for the gallery-goers who will now encounter the work of these artists’ perspectives alongside the rest of the collection.

“Diversity and inclusion doesn’t just mean tolerating difference; it means you value it,” O’Callaghan says. “And the only way to really show you value it in the art world is by acquiring work. You bring a whole new audience along, validating what we already know, as facilitators and artists, is valid.”

 O’Callaghan, who facilitates sessions in MTU, has worked with the Supported Studio for three years, but the group has existed, in a different incarnation, for 13 years.

Photographer Hermann Marbe had begun working as a care assistant in the COPE Foundation and identified a need for artistic expression for residents he was working with.

He founded GASP, Glasheen Artist Studio Programme, in 2009. Tirelessly working for resources and recognition, Marbe operated a five-day-per-week supported studio where individual artists’ skills were fostered with a wide variety of community engagements, workshops and exhibitions. Marbe, who is much missed by the group, passed away in 2018.

“He was the heart and soul of the whole thing and it was impossible to slip into his shoes, but we just tried to continue as best we could,” O’Callaghan says.

Since Marbe’s death, for the past three years, with aid of the Crawford and MTU, the artists have had access to space and the support of O’Callaghan and Clenet for two days per week, but work has to be packed away after each session, not ideal for any artist.

“It would be nice for each artist to come in and have their own dedicated studio space, where they can leave their work and come back to it,” O’Callaghan says. “They don’t have that at the moment because the MTU studio is one that’s used in education for art therapy.” 

Clenet, who facilitates the group while they are in the Crawford, began volunteering with Marbe in 2014. She’s clear that she wants to continue his vision and philosophy. While permanent studio space and a return to a five-day week for the artists are on the wish-list, she’s also keen to see the group return to the level of community engagement that Marbe had built.

“He always said that art throughout the city, and moving around, brings a lot of opportunities,” she says. “When the group was working five days a week, they were exhibiting a lot in galleries, cafés and restaurants. I have a feeling they were more established as artists of Cork. After this long break from Covid, I feel like they disappeared from view somehow.

“But their names are coming back now because of the Crawford acquisitions. The next step is to re-establish them as artists of Cork, rather than as people with disabilities somewhere in the studio of a day care centre.”

The artists and the artworks

Rosaleen Moore with some of her art. Picture Denis Minihane
Rosaleen Moore with some of her art. Picture Denis Minihane

Rosaleen Moore: Three of the four highly coloured cityscapes by Moore which have been purchased by the Crawford are part of a series she painted inspired by a trip to New York City in February 2020, where she represented the Crawford Supported Studio artists as creative ambassador and exhibited her work at the School of Visual Arts Gallery.

“Did you ever watch Home Alone? The best thing about New York was that I knew all the places from that film,” Moore says. “We went to Central Park, Brooklyn, and Broadway.” A fourth painting is of Nano Nagle Place in Cork. Moore paints in acrylics on high-quality watercolour paper and is a frequent contributor to collaborative workshops with schools and groups.

John Keating. Picture Denis Minihane.
John Keating. Picture Denis Minihane.

John Keating: John Keating’s trio of distinctive and detailed acetate prints, Girl on Dog, Shopping Trolley and Girl in Shopping Trolley, are the result of a series of supported printmaking sessions he participated in at Cork Printmakers. Keating does not communicate verbally.

Other materials and techniques used by Keating in his art include dry point etching, ink, water colour paints, charcoal, and even using coffee and juice as inks.

Íde Ní Shuilleabháin. Picture Denis Minihane.
Íde Ní Shuilleabháin. Picture Denis Minihane.

Íde ní Shuilleabháin: Bold, bright depictions of household objects, tools and simple machinery are the focus of Bishopstown artist Íde ní Shuilleabháin’s pieces. “I use markers and paint and pastels,” ní Shuilleabháin says. “One is a sewing machine, and I like it.” A long-term member of GASP, ní Shuilleabháin has depicted a vintage camera belonging to her dearly missed friend Hermann Marbe in one of the paintings acquired by the Crawford.

Ní Shuilleabháin has recently been awarded a training grant from Arts & Disability Ireland to work on printmaking skills at Cork Printmakers.

Angela Burchill. Picture Denis Minihane.
Angela Burchill. Picture Denis Minihane.

Angela Burchill: Burchill comes from Bandon and has participated in numerous exhibitions in the decade she was artist-in-residence at Mayfield Arts, but the purchase and inclusion of nine of her portraits in the national collection is particularly important to her. I’m really proud of it,” she says. “I’ve sold some of my work, and I was over the moon with that.” 

Burchill’s portraits, in pencils on wooden board, often feature fellow members of Crawford Supported Studios.

“I like to get a picture and copy the picture and bond with the colours,” she says. “I love bright colours. When the virus came I didn’t do pictures of people any more, but I did ducks and fish and frogs: things in nature.” 

Tom O'Sullivan.Picture Denis Minihane 
Tom O'Sullivan.Picture Denis Minihane 

Tom O’Sullivan:  Six textured panels by Tom O’Sullivan reflect his ongoing exploration of colour and texture.

“I draw pictures from big huge art books,” O’Sullivan says. “These are board and acrylic paint. There’s charcoal on them too.” 

O’Sullivan has recently worked with fellow Crawford acquisition fund artist Tom Clement, the result of an Arts and Disability Ireland Connect Mentoring Award.  He exhibited the artworks made during this mentorship in the café of the Triskel Arts Centre.

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