Triskel Christchurch marks first year in business

As the Cork city arts space celebrates its birthday, director Tony Sheehan discusses its future with Colette Sheridan

THE first anniversary of the redevelopment of Triskel Christchurch is being celebrated this month with an exhibition by Italian artist, Angelo Garoglio.

The show features sculptures and drawings that respond to the architecture and artistic possibilities of the neo-classical Georgian building, which links to the Tobin Street premises. The exhibition is part of the cycle started last year by sculptor, Vivienne Roche, whose work focused on the light that suffuses the magnificent building.

Triskel Christchurch is “a completely new arts centre,” says its artistic director, Tony Sheehan. He credits its vibrancy to partnerships with Corcadorca, which runs the Theatre Development Centre, and the presence of the Black Mariah Gallery, Plugd Records and the café.

“The coming together of all this energy has resulted in what is now a super arts centre,” says Sheehan. Between April and December of 2011, 71,000 people used services in the building; 228 events took place.

“There’s no comparison to previous years. According to some of the long-termers here, Triskel Christchurch is outperforming Triskel at its height. The reinvention came at a very critical time. We had come through the European Capital of Culture. There were many economically challenging changes happening in the city and country. It’s a credit to Cork City Council, the Arts Council, and the people we work with that they all supported our vision for an expanding Triskel. One of the things I’m most satisfied about is that we’re playing a very relevant role again in the cultural life of the city. We provide cinema to people, as well as some of the highest quality music in the country on a weekly basis,” he says.

Sheehan says Triskel Christchurch has “bolstered the visual arts. Over the years, we have played a role in promoting the work of younger artists, particularly artists whose work wouldn’t necessarily be commercial. When Cork’s prestigious galleries, the Fenton Gallery and the Vangard Gallery, closed, we decided that we needed to shake up our approach to the visual arts. That’s when I started talking to Ian McInerney, of the Black Mariah Gallery, who had been quietly building up a strong reputation as a curator, bringing exciting and interesting artists to Cork without public funding. He was also giving breaks to emerging Irish artists.”

McInerney is celebrating the Black Mariah’s fifth anniversary. A sculptor, he started the gallery on Washington Street, above the former premises of Plugd Records. “We’re in Triskel now for two years, having started with them at the ESB sub station in Caroline Street (during the refurbishment of Triskel Christchurch). We have a roll-on yearly contract. It’s an unusual relationship in the sense that we’re the main visual arts contractors for Triskel Christchurch. We have full autonomy over our programme,” he says. Among the Black Mariah’s forthcoming exhibitions is a site-specific commission for the gallery by Dutch artist, Marc Bijl (Apr 14-Jun 2). What interests the Black Mariah is “a non-hierarchical balance that includes a range of artists from straight out-of-college to emerging artists. When I started Black Mariah in 2007, I was in my third year at art school in Limerick. I knew so many people who had come out of art school and didn’t know what to do. I was keen to be fully engaged by the time I left college. I began by exhibiting the work of friends. Over the years, the Black Mariah developed, starting as an independent gallery. At Triskel Christchurch, we’re trying to push cutting-edge work, but I want the Black Mariah to be a mainstream gallery ... We’re about being self-sufficient. We’re caught between being a commercial gallery of sorts, even though we don’t sell, and an artist-led public space. We have moulded our own model in the city. Beyond the Glucksman Gallery and the Crawford Art Gallery, we’re the only contemporary edgy gallery regularly turning over shows.” Future plans include a collaboration with the Static Gallery in Liverpool for the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Sheehan says the public can enjoy different approaches to visual art between the Black Mariah and the church building. “I’m going to be showing the work of Patricia Looby as part of our plan to reconnect with a whole generation of artists that would have exhibited at Triskel in the 1980s and 1990s. I’m also going to be showing the work of artists that don’t get seen very often, such as the American artist, Paul Gregg, in June.”

Triskel Christchurch’s funding was cut this year by 6%. It receives €221,500 from the Arts Council and €24,000 from Cork City Council. “We’re working hard to earn our own revenue. We’re a not-for-profit organisation but we aim to try and break even,” Sheehan says.

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