About The Contact Studios
Article written by Carl Doran for the Visual Artists Ireland Newsheet
Contact Studios is an artist-run space on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Mental Hospital in Limerick. We have 14 spaces, a darkroom and a communal work area.
The Studios were founded by members of the Real Art Project (RAP) and the Mid-West Health Board (now H.S.E.) in 1997, with the intention of providing spaces for graduates of Limerick Art School (LSAD). At that time, members gave recreational art classes at day-centres around the city, collective payment in kind for the spaces. Any members of RAP were eligible to apply for a space.
Needing a space on graduation in ’98, I joined RAP and became a studio member, going on to join the RAP Committee and serving as the Studio Liaison Officer. With no administration of its own, and a general lack of activity the studios were in danger of disappearing. This was the low point, but I’m happy to say we now have had full capacity for many years, with people constantly on the waiting list.
Around 2001, Seán Lynch as Studio Coordinator was particularly influential in redrawing a new contract with the H.S.E., which is still the blueprint for our current agreement. Members collectively give 520 hrs per year to Le Chéile, a local Mental Health group operating a drop-in centre, recreational art&craft classes and a cafe. We continue to have an excellent working relationship with the staff and clients based around good communication, and mutual understanding.
For many years now, we have run ourselves by a voluntary Committee of 5-6 members, and to an extent the direction/aims of the group change in accordance with the makeup of this. However, there are some immutables in our role, which are:
-to interface with our benefactors (Le Chéile/H.S.E.), and ensure classes and time are given in a good spirited, professional manner
-to process studio applications/allocate spaces
-to ensure spaces are utilised properly
-to run annual events (C;inside, Culture Night etc.).
Many of our rules have come about through experiences good and bad in the past. An important distinction between our system and a simple pay for space scheme, is the insistence that members are responsible for regular and responsible usage of their space. Failure to do so and/or failure or inability to meet the class requirements can lead to a request to leave.
In line with our development we have attracted greater attention and a good relationship with the local Arts Officer(Sheila Deegan), who’s helped us with regular funding (as well as our members). We have also worked with Mike Fitzpatrick (Lim. City Gallery), various Directors of the Belltable, NF and various other galleries.
A key partner over the years has been Limerick Printmakers Studio and Gallery. Melissa O’Brien, Kari Fry, and Claire Boland were contemporaries of mine in LSAD, and set the organisation up from scratch. In 2004, Melissa and I coordinated ‘Headlines’, an open submission exhibition based on local newspaper headlines, and curated by Jenny Haughton. Our intention was to present art relevant to the local populace, in public spaces, while also publicising the groups and membership. The show gained some notoriety due to its subject matter, but was largely a success.
This encouraged us to collaborate yearly from then, and for four years we have coordinated ‘C;inside’, annual open days and events on May Bank Holidays with other Limerick based interested professional Arts groups (latterly Kate Wrixon has been excellent in this role).
We also offer a 3 month bursary to a graduate artist from LSAD Painting over the last 3 years, a department which has contributed many great members over the years.
We have never sought Arts Council Revenue funding, which has been a strength in my opinion given our own sustainability. As a model, I definitely think Contact Studios can be replicated, and in the current straits, perhaps the barter system is the most beneficial, practical and cost-effective. It allows artists to contribute to society while retaining autonomy and avoiding imposed niches.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank all those members past and present who have made a positive contribution to Contact Studios!