Project Space Belfast

Fieldtrip: Cultural production in rural environments and small towns of the border region. 20-22November 2009

The political conflict and armed struggle in Northern Ireland from the early 1970’s to mid 1990’s pre-occupied politics and personal life and seemed to allow little space for cultural-political alternatives. The society, especially the ‘working’ class, was and still is to a lesser degree- divided along religious beliefs (protestant/catholic) and national orientation (loyalist/republican). This sectarianism created segregated communities; a duplicity of infrastructures and public services; and a dual education system.
As the South of Ireland gained economic power in the late 1990’s (Celtic Tiger Economy), a cease fire by the IRA in 1994 marked the beginning of peace negotiations in the North.
Northern Ireland’s political transition was and is aided by international investment and private consumerism. After decades of ‘direct rule’ from London, political decision making was handed over to a regional government. Power sharing, the dismantling of watchtowers and army bases are part of a peace dividend, which largely brought a form of ‘normalization’ both to the political and private sphere. In this post-conflict situation, social- religious divisions however still persist.
The political conflict and its social effects had an impact not only on the two larger cities –Belfast/Londonderry- but also on towns (Portadown/Armagh) and small villages. ‘Direct rule’ immobilized regional independence and sectarianism has instrumentalized ‘culture’ to forge a loyalist/republican identity.
Many cultural activities and outreach projects now re-address the theme of identity, reconciliation and a ‘re-imaging’ of personal, social, national belonging.
Since the peace process, border regions- like Co. Leitrim and Co. Armagh- receive  EU Peace funding for improvements of the (rural) infrastructure and cross border cultural projects and community outreach programmes. All of the institutions the fieldtrip will visit do or did receive EU Peace funding.

Rural/ regional towns
Ireland has only a few urban centres but it is still dominated by small villages and towns, and remains largely an agrarian landscape. In recent years, public/private investment, regeneration projects and a nearly uncontrolled building boom changed the rural environment rapidly both North and South. Parts of the rural- especially in the South- appear to be an extended sub-urban, without any civic centre, community cohesion or social infrastructure.

Site visits
The fieldtrip will visit two cultural institutions in the Republic of Ireland and one in Northern Ireland:
The Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co Leitrim
Founded in 1995 in a remote location, it was the first pioneering garden and education centre for the promotion of organic gardening and sustainable living. From growing food to cooking to green building, it offers a wide range of alternative courses and knowledge base. Through its outreach programme, the centre coordinates and supports 13 community and 9 school gardens on both sides of the border.

Belleek, community garden
Belleek community garden

Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim
This arts centre, its projects and activities almost seem too big for this small town, attracting a wide rural audience. The creative projects often refer to environmental and ecological issues and aim to connect and include local audiences and artists. The centre provides ‘opportunities through residencies, workshops, commissions, training and exhibitions and explores new ideas and processes within a range of community, educational and environmental contexts.

Millennium Court Arts Centre (MCAC), Portadown, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland
MCAC is a ‘multipurpose’ arts centre, like many Lottery funded new art developments, but with a distinguished and widely recognised curatorial programme and impact. It is located in a town with a history of sectarianism, violence and division- often triggered in the past through ‘loyalist marches’ (Drumkree conflict).

Millennium Court, Portadown: talk Anne-Marie Dillon
Presentations and Forum
Because of the time constrains, only three sites/institutions will be visited. PS² has invited locally-based artists, curators, art officers and activists to join the fieldtrip. They will present their work and viewpoints related to the subject in two forums at Leitrim Sculpture Centre and at the Millennium Court. Students from the School of Architecture, Sheffield, who already visited these sites (and many more) on their live project in October, will talk about their research material.

RHYZOM partners on the fieldtrip:

aaa , Paris                                           Constantin Petcou
                        Louis Coulange                                  

public works, London                       Andreas Lang

Cultural Agencies – Istanbul             Ece Sarıyüz

Agency, Sheffield     Doina Petrescu

PS², Belfast                                        
Sarah Browne                         
Craig Sands
Fiona Woods
Ruth Morrow
Dominic Stevens
Bryonie Reid
Peter Mutschler

RHYZOM meeting

Sean O’Reilly                           curator Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Manorhamilton
Megan Johnston                     curator Millennium Court, Portadown
Christine Mackey                    artist
Stefan Amato                           student- School of Architecture, Sheffield
Nick Evans                               student- School of Architecture, Sheffield
Emma Wilson                         arts officer, Craigavon Borough Council
Anne-Marie Dillon                   artist, activist
Gareth Kennedy                      artist
Iain Davidson                          arts officer, Co.Down
Philip Napier                            artist, lecturer
Catherine Roberts                  artist/PS²



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