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.

http://vimeo.com/39416736

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

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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