DWF Venue #6: The LAB, Foley Street (Sheena Barrett)

(Interview with Sheena Barrett, arts officer and curator @ The LAB)

What and where is the LAB?The Lab

The LAB is Dublin City Council’s Arts Office, a dynamic hub of activity housing a gallery, rehearsal and incubation space for a range of art forms.  It’s on Foley Street just off Talbot Street. It’s very near Busaras and Connolly Station, in the heart of a really historic part of the city once known as ‘the Monto’, a cultural pocket with neighbours including Oonagh Young Gallery, Dance House, Talbot Gallery & Studios and creative pop up spaces Units 3 & 4.

What happens there?

The Arts Office is based here and we run a range of programmes, provide advice, funding and support to artists and communities across the city. The building itself is full of flexible spaces that take on different energies depending on who is in them. Last week we had an international symposium on performance with speakers from New York and Sweden occasionally interrupted by singing children at their contemporary dance class in the room next door.  Meanwhile, downstairs, we had some actors doing a read through next door to opera rehearsals. There’s also an MA from iadt for artists, curators and critics.  So while the gallery is showing work that’s at a stage ready to invite in the public, artists across all art forms are busy honing their craft upstairs.

In the LAB Gallery, we support emerging artists, often providing them with their first solo show.  We also focus on fresh ways to develop engaged audiences for the visual arts; we have a programme of events, talks and workshops with every show.

What is your role and how did you get there?

I’m an arts officer and curator with Dublin City Council. I studied History of Art and French and subsequently Arts Administration & Culture Policy at UCD. I previously worked as Project Manager for Breaking Ground, Ballymun Regeneration’s art commissioning programme. I have also worked at the National Museum of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland, Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, Artworking Consulting and at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. I joined Dublin City Council’s Arts Office 8 years ago just after the LAB was built.  At the LAB I curate the gallery’s exhibition and events programme.

Kids Lab

(Image – looking for rainbows – visit from local montessori group to our last exhibition)

What makes The LAB special?

What makes the LAB special is our relationship with artists and audiences. We work really hard to support artists through the process of making work but we don’t think it stops once the show opens. We want to get people talking about art, but also about the issue the art raises. We actively encourage artists to work with people from other disciplines, like architects or engineers – or nine-year-olds. We love when artists are interested in the world around them and we can introduce to them to other interesting people and they have those moments of understanding, or share ideas and knowledge.

OBeirne Drury Lab

(Image of artist Aisling O’Beirne meeting Professor Luke Drury at Dunsink Observatory to prepare for her forthcoming show in September)

There have been lots of highs. A recent one was For The Birds a one-off event created by James Ó hAodha for Tonight, You Can Call Me Trish, curated by two young curators who won our emerging curator award, RGKSKSRG. As part of the exhibition, James was commissioned to devise an encounter with a specific community of interest. His work For the Birds consisted of a series of idiosyncratic exhibition tours, which took place in the gallery on the final day of Trish. It was pretty special.http://vimeo.com/91276197

I also love quieter moments, like people’s responses to our current solo exhibition Ultra, by Barbara Knezevic and I really enjoyed the talk she gave on the opening night.  I find artistic processes very interesting, and I sometimes find those conversations become even more interesting when they are discussed with others, like when Geraldine O’Reilly will be talking to poet John F. Deane (DWF: Wed 21st May @6pm). It allows for the unexpected, and the audiences tend to be very involved in sharing their own interests and responses.

Can you talk about The LAB’s setting, and how it interacts with its neighbours?

The LAB is on Foley Street. It’s a really urban space, surrounded by new office and apartment blocks. It’s also a really historic part of the city with families who’ve lived here for generations who remember when this street had tenements, sewing factories and the infamous Monto. It is an area deeply imbedded in the history of the Lockout in 1913, the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.

Door - Costello

(images courtesy Terry Fagan, North Inner City Folklore Project Foley Street in the 70s)

I think the historic nature of the place can really add great potency to politically charged exhibitions. You really feel the weight of history.

Door - Foley St 70s

A few years ago we had an exhibition of live performance curated by Amanda Coogan called Labour showing work by ten Irish female performance artists.  It was a very intense experience to be involved in and I think has to be one of my highlights.  The work had toured from London and Derry but in a sense the issues raised seemed so at home in this context. It was very poignant.


What makes you cranky?

Lot of things! Mostly what I listen to on the radio in the mornings. I think there are so many incredibly interesting people in this country and we don’t hear their stories enough. What I love about this work is the moments when people come together and experience really great projects, where artists took huge risks, might have failed, but still did it and put themselves out there. What makes me cranky is not being able to support more of it, take more chances, and find ways to shout about it a bit louder so more people can choose to get involved.

If The LAB wasn’t here what might be here in it’s place?

I wonder about that. Sometimes I wonder if one of the best things for the people who walk down this street is that it feels a bit safer, or there’s something curious to look at. It has always been an issue for me that the office blocks across the street keep their shutters down, even though people are working inside. Surely the streetscape deserves better. I think there’d still be a need a for place like this, but I love that it’s here. We’re just off the bustling thoroughfare of Talbot Street, tucked away in a place that’s quiet enough to look at the work, but alive enough to make you question how it fits in with the rest of our lives. That’s pretty special.

Clothes Lab

(image – installing Catherine Delaney exhibition, other-stuff, 2012)

Admission to The LAB Gallery is free Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm and Saturdays 10am to 5pm

The Lab, 1 Foley Street, Dublin 1Foley St map

DWF Venue #5: Smock Alley Theatre (Caoimhe Connolly)

smock-alley-stained-glass-windowWhat (and where) is Smock Alley?

Smock Alley Theatre is a renovated 17th century theatre on the banks of the River Liffey, on Essex Quay.​

What happens there? 

The Smock Alley Theatre of today plays host to a huge variety of events ranging from theatre, dance, music, literature + fine-art to weddings, award ceremonies, conferences, fashion shows, pop-up markets, gala dinners, college society balls, secret gigs, product launches and presentations, film shoots and festivals, right through to murder mystery tours and paranormal investigations.

Can you describe Smock Alley, for someone who’s never been there: what makes it different?

Well it’s a very impressive building with 2 highly atmospheric theatre venues and a quite stunning Banquet Hall which can be hired for private and public events. We pride ourselves on our friendly staff and try to make sure that everyone who comes through the doors feels welcome.

Has it always been a theatre or has it had other identities along the way? Can you talk about how it fits into the history of the city?

Smock Alley was the first Theatre Royal built in Dublin. John Ogilby opened it in 1662 as part of the Restoration of the British monarchy and King Charles II in 1660 along with London’s Drury Lane (1662) and Lincoln’s Inn Fields (1661). It was the first custom-built theatre in the city and still remains in substantially the same form, making it one of the most important sites in European theatre history. ​​

The old theatre closed in 1787. The building was then used as a whiskey store until Father Michael Blake bought it to set a church. When the bell tolled in 1811, 18 years before the Catholic Emancipation, it was the first Catholic bell to ring in Dublin in nearly 300 years. The facade still boasts ornate stained glass windows and the original ceiling plaster work remain in Smock Alley as a witness of this time. 

Smock Alley had been built on land re-claimed from the Liffey, it was unstable and the gallery collapsed twice; it was rebuilt in 1735. The old theatre closed in 1787, where its’ story continued with the ‘church chapters’ of the building’s history. It was a 7 years struggle to raise the funds for the excavation and restorations but doors were eventually re-opened in May 2012 making this month our 2nd birthday (or 352nd!). 

Smock alley theatre

Can you talk about its location (in the heart of Temple Bar, set back from but facing the river), its surroundings and the general atmosphere?  Temple Bar gets bad press sometimes, it’s associated with bars and crowds, with stags and hens, and then there is this extraordinary fusion of past and present, slightly off the beaten track but facing the quays … Do you think people are fully aware that it’s there? Do you think Dubliners have taken it to their hearts?

We’re building our reputation as a great place to spend an evening. The most common reaction of first time visitors is one of shock as they either had no idea ​​we were here or that they didn’t realise how amazing the building is.​ It really is a hidden gem. Although we’re in Temple Bar, we’re in the ‘old city’ area, which is much quieter, so we don’t have issues with marauding hens and stags​.

Can you describe your relationship with the streets outside the walls, your neighbours etc? 

We are very lucky to be situated in such a supportive community, we have excellent relationships with those in our vicinity Dublin City Council, The Gaiety School of Acting, Queen of Tarts, Tamp + Stitch, The Bakery and local businesses round these parts. We also run a series of literary talks with our neighbours The Gutter Bookshop.

What’s your role and how did you get there? 

I am currently the marketing manager. I was originally hired to project-manage the build and development but I loved the building so much I couldn’t leave. ​

What do you love about your job?

The high ceilings, the pace, the volume of people you meet each day, week, year. So much culture, so little time.

What’s your favourite recent event?

We had TEDX Talks here in April talking on the subject of creativity. The energy was electric.

Have you had any disasters?

*Sigh* An old building sometimes has leaky roofs…and walls. But nothing compared to the several gallery collapses in the early years of the original theatre. Due to nature of the land it was built on; marshy and reclaimed from the Liffey, the upper galeries collapsed during a performance, on more than one occasion. ​Quite a number of people died as a result of these collapses. Thankfully these days patrons don’t need to put their lives at risk to come and see a show.

If Smock Alley wasn’t a theatre, or if it hadn’t been rescued and restored, what do you think it would it be?

​Perhaps an absolutely enormous Costa Coffee or maybe some kind of McDonalds mothership… ​

What do you imagine will be here in the future?

After 352 years, I hope and ​suspect we won’t be going anywhere for a while.

Smock Alley Theatre  6/7 Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8    smock alley map

DWF Venue #4: The Irish Writers’ Centre (Valerie Bistany, Director)

What (and where) is the Irish Writers’ Centre?

Front door IWC

The Irish Writers’ Centre is an organisation that supports writers at all stages of their development. We also promote writing in general and Irish writing in particular. We are a national resource centre for Irish literature and welcome all those interested in Irish literature to our beautiful Georgian building at 19 Parnell Square, on the north side of the square facing the Gardens of Remembrance.  We are flanked by the Dublin Writers Museum on one side and the Hugh Lane Gallery on the other.

What happens there? IWC Giro

Lots!  We run a diverse programme of creative writing workshops, seminars, lectures, readings, and other events, such as a lovely one last Friday in our Dublin City Writings lunchtime series called City Bike Tales as part of the Giro D’Italia events; audience members were invited to share cycling-themed stories and poems in an Open Mic setting, hosted by Alan Clarke, who had illustrated his selected poems beautifully.  The atmosphere was fantastic, made all the more special because each reader had taken the trouble to write a bespoke (no pun intended!) piece and delivered it with passion and aplomb.

Our year-round creative writing courses are led by established writers across a range of genres, forms and styles and many of our students have gone on to publish and lead successful careers as writers –  we’re pleased that many come back to the IWC as facilitators and so the cycle (!) continues.

IWC HallWe are open to all literary enquiries and our building is a creative space for writers’ groups, publishers’ meetings, book launches and other literary endeavours at subsidised rates or for no cost. We also rent out our rooms during the day to keep the wolf from the door. Our members can avail of rooms during the week to simply come and write, or to hang out with a cuppa and read a book from our library.  Sometimes, members of the public drop in simply to view our wonderful contemporary Irish art collection belonging to Frank Buckley which is on permanent display at the IWC.

A new strand of our programme is the area of professional development for published writers.  Entitled Mindshift, it attempts to answer some of the needs expressed by authors.  In fact, to address the burning issue of money and how to find it, we are running our 3rd Mindshift event in the IWC entitled “The Business of Being a Writer” which focuses on all aspects financial.  We’ve invited Sarah Bannan of the Arts Council and Ray Yeates of Dublin City Council to speak about funding opportunities, Jane O’Hanlon of Poetry Ireland will unpack the Writers in Schools scheme, Mia Gallagher will share her experiences of being a Writer-in-Residence and tax expert Gaby Smyth will speak about the nitty gritty of managing all aspects of taxes and finance with the professional writer in mind.  It takes place this Saturday May 17th as part of the DWF and is really a must for any writer looking for the latest information on finances.

Who is the centre for?

The Centre is primarily for writers and the majority of our programmes are created with the writer in mind. However, we encourage those who are curious about writing.  For instance, a new initiative is the New Irish Communities Workshops aimed at those who are not native English speakers, but who want to write creatively in English.  We are also welcoming to readers, not only as audience members, but as inquisitive learners – earlier in the year we ran an excellent course led by Harry Clifton on Reading Modern Poetry which was very popular.

Anyone can drop in with a literary enquiry and we will endeavour to answer it.  Much information is already on our website and we send a comprehensive newsletter every Wednesday (to anyone who signs up) with sector information on events, competitions and opportunities, as well as our own news of course.

What is your role and how did you get there?

I’m the director of the IWC, (though CEO may be a more accurate description). My background is as a professional arts manager, producer & events coordinator having worked primarily in professional theatre and dance but also with young people in Ireland, England and the USA.  I’m also a creative facilitator and a mediator, and am particularly motivated in supporting artists’ creative processes. I have done much work in this area with artists directly, but also with arts organisations and their Boards in vision planning.

What is your favourite  of all the events the centre has hosted since you took over as Director?

2014 Novel Fair winners

I think the Novel Fair is certainly the most well-conceived and exciting IWC event that I’ve attended.  It is a brilliant opportunity for any aspiring novelist to meet a whole rake of publishers and agents at once, and to have those contacts forever.  The Novel Fair was launched in April and if anyone is thinking of entering, you have till October 24th to hand in your 10,000 words.  Have a go!

As they were my creation, I am very invested in the Mindshift series and am keen to reach out to published authors. But to answer the question directly, last Friday’s City Bike Tales was simply brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Have you had any disasters?

It is quite a leap to be a first-time director in a new, unfamiliar sector and certainly my learning curve was steep.  No overt disasters yet, but rather, with every set-back my ability to change and adapt to a new set of circumstances increases.  Change in the fast lane!

If you could host one literary extravaganza, a major event with no budget or space restrictions, what would it be?

I would love to put on an international event which connects writers with philosophers, scientists, children, musicians, choreographers, educators, politicians (yes even them), and to have debates around really simple questions, the kind that a child might ask, such as “why do we write?” or “”can we really write down what we think?” or “do all artists need to be able to write to create art?” or questions that may not be to do with writing at all.  It would be fantastic to see more discussions around issues that are important to us all as a race but that tend not to be debated in the arts sector, because we are generally too inward-looking.  I can understand why this is, and am certainly a culprit myself, but as a converger my natural tendency is to bring things together, and to aim for more joined-up thinking.

There are big plans to develop the north side of Parnell Square as a Cultural Quarter: can you talk about those plans and how the IWC might be involved?

As I understand it, the Colaiste Mhuire site to the west of the Hugh Lane Gallery and no. 20 next to us, is to be developed as the new Dublin City Library.  The library at present, is bursting at the seams in the ILAC Centre site so it is high time for a change.  Work is underway at the moment to raise funding for this new site with a huge footprint that will be able to accommodate all of the library’s archives, a StoryHouse, a 200-seater auditorium, an intercultural hub and design and music centres. The stated target opening date is Christmas 2017. http://parnellsquare.ie/

This is an exciting development which will enhance the cultural development of Parnell Square and bring more footfall in our direction.  There is a direct and complimentary correlation with the library (for readers) and the Irish Writers’ Centre (for writers) sitting side by side and working together in producing programmes that will benefit both constituent groupings. For example, we are already planning a programme that links writers with library book clubs.

What do you love most about your job?

The freedom it offers to have an idea and then to make it happen – this is the creative part of a largely administrative role and it is a great thrill to see ideas made manifest. It is also scary and nerve-wracking because one can never be sure if it will work.  So an event or programme idea that receives genuine praise and is deemed to have been of value is a fantastic incentive and motivates me to keep my ear to the ground but to be brave in risk-taking. For instance, I’m really excited about our upcoming Experimental Fiction festival entitled Circa Words 2014 which is taking place over Bloomsday Weekend.  We’ve invited online magazines and journals to the Centre where we will share, chat, debate, read and workshop– and lots more besides.

Does anything about it make you cranky?

My greatest frustration is to do with my impatience at the pace of change.  If I had a magic wand I would wave it now and speed the world on. It takes time for any organisation to evolve and develop.  My own vision of an ideal IWC is constantly changing as I learn more, as we try different things, as we succeed, fail and try again. I am blessed with a fantastic team of people who are committed, enthusiastic and ambitious for the future of the Centre, and without whom none of the work could ever happen.

What makes me cranky?  Computers, phones and flaky projectors.

If it wasn’t what it is, what do you think the Centre would  be?

That’s an interesting question. I imagine that it could either be Chapter Two (a new version of Chapter One restaurant downstairs) or it could be derelict like next door, the old Ierne ballroom.  Two intriguing polar images.

What do you imagine will be here in the future?

The Luas coming to Parnell Square alone will change things for the better. If the Cultural Quarter takes off, then there is every chance that there could be a strong influx of new traffic to Parnell Square. It will rejuvenate existing businesses, attract new ones to the area and the Irish Writers’ Centre plans to be at the heart of the good news. The northside could do with a lift and this is the perfect opportunity.

The Irish Writers’ Centre: www.writerscentre.ie

19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1 IWC map





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Interview with Mary O’Donnell

MaryODonnell001IMG_7457Mary O’Donnell’s new novel WHERE THEY LIE (New Island) will be launched on 15th May, 2014

Is there more than one meaning in the title, Where They Lie

I suspect there is. I found the novel difficult to name for quite a long time, but one day my daughter and I did a brain-storm at the kitchen table, tossing titles around on bits of paper for quite some time before settling on this one. It seemed right. It refers to a place in which the bodies of the two men may lie, and also to a place in which truth is hard-won.

What drew you to the subject of the Disappeared?

I came to it from two directions. First of all I realised that I hadn’t quite finished with the title Continue reading

DWF Venue #3: Axis Arts & Community Resource Centre, Ballymun

Interview with Mark O’Brien (Arts Centre Director)

axis_logo_208What (and where) is Axis?

Axis is an Arts and Community Resource centre, situated on the main street of Ballymun

What happens there?

Axis houses a 211 seat theatre, dance studio, music rehearsal and recording studios, art studio, gallery, café, conference centre, crèche and is home to a range of community tenants. Axis’ programme ranges from our own award winning theatre productions that have toured both nationally and internationally, to visiting productions in theatre, dance, comedy and music, to arts development projects that see people from all areas of both the local and surrounding communities exploring their creativity. Axis is also involved in local Continue reading

DWF venue #2: Whelan’s (Wexford Street)

Interview with Dave Allen, Music Manager 


Hozier @Whelan’s

What (and where) is Whelan’s?  What happens there?

Whelan’s is a pub/live music venue celebrating 25 years of putting on the best of local and international musical talent up close and personal. We are open seven days a week and have concerts on in both venues most nights.

What is your role and how did you get there?

Music Manager. I have been here for a lot of the 25 years. I originally started as a sound engineer but from about ’92 I started booking the bands. I oversee the day-to-day running Continue reading

DWF Venue #1: The Gutter Bookshop (Bob Johnston)

This is the first in an irregular series of interviews relating to Dublin Writers’ Festival Venues in 2014 

gutter sign

What (and where) is The Gutter Bookshop?  What happens there? 

The Gutter Bookshop is an independent bookshop in Temple Bar, Dublin – close to Christchurch Cathedral and the Smock Alley Theatre where a large number of the Dublin Writers Festival events take place. We teamed up with festival in 2012 as official booksellers which involves running around Dublin with big piles of books for the duration of the festival – it’s one of my favourite weeks of the year – tiring but lots of fun! Events are key to making the Gutter Bookshop a vibrant and lively bookshop. Oh, and we’ve just Continue reading

Interview with Nuala Ní Chonchúir

CLOSET COVER 91KBNuala Ní Chonchúir has a new novel: The Closet of Savage Mementos. There’s an early buzz about this novel and her next, Miss Emily, already signed with Penguin in the US.  Nuala took time out from preparations for her launch to answer a few questions put to her by Lia Mills.

Why are you a writer?

I think it’s a combination of things that melded together and Continue reading

Upcoming events: Stinging Fly & Irish Writers’ Centre

There will be a reading from the latest issue of The Stinging Fly on Thursday March 27th in the Irish Writers’ Centre at 7pm.

The Fly is  also running a special subscription offer until St Patrick’s Day: a  one-year subscriptions – both Irish and international – for €20.

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, they’ll be giving out free books in Washington D.C. and New York. You’ll find details here.

And on March 20th at 7pm the Writers Centre will host a lecture by Professor Tony Curtis: ‘My Life With Dylan Thomas’.  Booking and other details here

The new brochure of courses run by the Centre is being finalised and will be out soon.

(Lia MIlls)

The Stinging Fly

SF 27

The latest issue of the Stinging Fly – Issue 27 – has arrived, with fiction guest-edited by Nuala Ní Chonchúir. There’s a substantial section devoted to flash fiction.  In her intro Nuala Ní Chonchúir talks about the terminology: ‘flash’ fiction versus ‘short-short’ fiction, and the impossibility of pinning down a definition of the form.  It is hard to tell the difference between a brilliantly achieved piece in this elusive form and a prose poem, say.  I used to like the idea of ‘sudden’ fiction, but it seems to have come and gone – well, rather suddenly. The term would have been apt for this collection: submissions were received within a 24 hour window on International Flash Fiction Day in June last year.  Then again not quite so apt because of all the time that’s passed since, time that’s needed to select and process, distill and shape.  Hmmm.  You see the problem.

There’s nothing at all sudden about the Stinging Fly itself, which has been around for an extraordinary 16 years. After this issue Declan Meade will hand over the role of editor, not leaving but morphing: he’ll still be the editor of the Stinging Fly Press and overall publisher.  Thomas Morris, who has been his assistant for three years will edit the magazine from now on. Morris has posted an editorial statement on the website, a guide to what he looks for in a story, well worth a visit.


In his (final) editorial, Declan Meade talks about the proliferation of good literary magazines online and in print as a good thing for writers and readers and a challenge to the Fly, to ‘keep us on our toes’. He doesn’t say anything about the sixteen years of faith and sheer hard slog that he’s put in to tending the sometimes fragile, sometimes fitful flame of contemporary Irish writing, keeping it burning until it achieved its current healthy blaze. He doesn’t mention the debt we owe him, for creating an outlet for short stories when there wasn’t one,  a magazine that held a bar that any writer could aim for, and raised it, then raised it again.

The Fly’s strong record in poetry often gets overlooked – but poetry has always had its outlets.  The literary short story didn’t, until Declan Meade came along and gave it one.  At the risk of sounding like a groupie, that’s worth saying.

(Lia Mills)