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Perpetually Emerging

Barriers facing visual artists in Northern Ireland in their career path- open forum for a New Arts Strategy

Siobhán Kelly, Jane Morrow, Ciara Hickey

Ends 06 September 2022

The professional pathways for artists in Northern Ireland are of long-standing interest for PS². As an artist-led organisation, we mostly work with artists and creatives at the start or mid-career. Especially through the 5-year-long Freelands Artist Programme, PS², together with the Programme curators, supports artists, learns and gains considerable insight and knowledge. Though each artist, their arts practice and aspirations are different, there are general requirements for organisations and funding bodies to review and adapt their policies to create a flourishing arts ecology in the region.
In recent years, several organisations in Belfast and Northern Ireland have also started (emerging) artists support programmes, for example: Flax- Emerging Artist Hub, DAS- Support Hub  or CCA- URGENCIES.

But are we doing enough?

PS² has teamed up with Siobhán Kelly who took the subject of artists’ career pathways in Northern Ireland as the subject of her MA Arts Management dissertation: Perpetually Emerging: A Qualitative Study of Visual Arts Managers’ Perspectives on the Barriers Facing Emerging Visual Artists in Northern Ireland. [2022].

Drawing together current academic literature and interviews with local arts managers, the report presents a preliminary overview of the arts ecology in Northern Ireland.

Siobhán will present her research into this topic to open the discussion in this forum, together with Ciara Hickey and Jane Morrow.
We hope to kickstart or assist a debate about a cohesive Visual Arts Strategy for Northern Ireland across organisations and funding bodies.

Siobhán Kelly writes

‘There are many barriers facing emerging artists’ career progression in Northern Ireland….

1]… precarious working conditions, both in terms of physical spaces such as studios and poorly paid project-based opportunities are two of the most pressing issues. This finding aligns with current literature on the living and working conditions of artists.

2] ….creative work of arts managers and visual artists is negatively impacted by the nature and structure of existing public grants for individuals and organisations. The interview participants’ suggestion that increasing public subsidies for individuals would improve the situation contradicts the work of Abbing (2011) who argues that increased funding for individual artists does not necessarily improve living or working conditions.

3]…the most important support structures for emerging artists in Northern Ireland as peer networks, artist-led spaces, and studio groups. As such, Northern Ireland’s visual art ecology has a very strong ‘home-made’ sphere, as identified by Holden (2015). However, the sector as a whole suffers from an underdeveloped ‘commercial sphere,’ as seen in the lack of diversity of organisations, a duplication of organisational activities among the existing organisations, the fact that many artists struggle to generate an income from sales of work here.'


Siobhán Kelly describes herself as a cultural practitioner. Her visual arts practice is grounded in personal reflection and encompasses moving image, performance, curation, and collaborative methods.
In 2016 Kelly graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin with a joint degree in Sculpture and Art History. In 2017 she moved to Belfast to join the board of directors at Catalyst Arts. In 2019 Kelly was awarded a North/South Postgraduate Scholarship from Universities Ireland. This year she completed her master’s in Arts Management at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Kelly has held memberships at Steam Box, Flax Art Studios and Vault Artist Studios, and participated in the MAC’s 2019 Curatorial Directions and CCA Derry Londonderry’s URGENCIES 2021. She is the recipient of the Support for the Individual Artist Programme from Arts Council of Northern Ireland 2018 and 2020.

Jane Morrow is an independent visual art curator, writer and PhD researcher with a specialism in artist development. She is interested in infrastructure for artists; working across network and production contexts, and through creating formal and informal developmental platforms for practitioners. Resourcing, nurturing and profiling others’ practices has been a longstanding facet of her approach. Jane’s practice-led PhD research focuses on the precarity of artists’ studios and workspaces; labour and practice, collaborative and co-operative models, and permanence and peripateticism. She also develops independent projects, such as initiating the Expanded Studio Project, co-founding the Angelica network, and establishing Avenue – an artists’ B&B.

Ciara Hickey is a curator based in Belfast. She is a co-Director of Household where she is currently working on two new projects, UPHOLD and Artists in Neighbourhoods. Ciara is also PS² Freelands Artist Programme Curator 2021-2023.
She worked at Hillsborough Castle as a producer where she commissioned new artwork for the Clore Learning Centre and initiated a series of co-created community programmes and public events. She was previously curator at Belfast Exposed Photography where she commissioned new work and delivered exhibitions with local and international artists. She initiated the Belfast Exposed Futures programme, designed to support early career artists develop and exhibit new work and brought this work to an international platform at Peckham 24 (London), Unseen (Amsterdam), CCI (Paris) and Landskrona Foto (Sweden). From 2008-2010 Ciara co-organised the art Space Delawab in her home, and has continued to pursue an interest in the domestic space as a site for contemporary art which was most recently explored in the group exhibition ‘House Taken Over’ (2019) curated with Nora Hickey M’Sichili.