The Arts Interview: Helen Carey

The Arts Interview: Helen Carey
From Zambia, originally, I grew up in the Cavan/Monaghan region.

From Zambia, originally, I grew up in the Cavan/Monaghan region.

My parents instilled great values in me about how to respect other people which I still try to observe today. My history teacher, also, had a great influence on my early life. He was a good raconteur as well as a fine teacher. Over the years I have met many artists whose commitment to their work taught me what it means to have the courage of your convictions in real life. The tenacity of my younger brother who conquers adversity every day of his life, though, has had the most influence on my life.

Educated, firstly, in the Loreto Convent Navan, I then went on to study at University College Dublin.

Later, I graduated from the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT), in Dun Laoghaire, with a couple of other courses, here and there, along the way. Although, I have directed many projects, galleries and arts centres, Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA) is certainly up there with the most impressive galleries that I have seen. So it was a real privilege to be appointed its Director/Curator, in January 2012.

So far, it is a great job and really satisfying.

One of the hardest things about it, though, has been the need to restrict the number of exhibitions that we can put on. This is invariably for reasons of time and budget. Seeing exhibitions that we have worked hard on, come to an end, is also a bit sad. I hope to bring the benefit of my cumulative experience of working in France and England to bear on the work that I do here. In addition, working with colleagues from all of the other exhibitions and projects, in which I have partaken in Ireland, has been of huge benefit.

It is good to have as wide a range of options and possibilities as possible in this job.

I am very committed to Public Domain Arts provision. Previously, I worked as Director of the Centre Culturel Irlandais, in Paris, Galway Arts Centre and have been Public Arts Project Manager for the landmark millennium project in Bristol’s City Centre. I have, also, spent time working with literature professionals and authors so while I am not just all about Visual Arts, at the moment, I am really immersed in that sector. Because I spend most of my time working in the Arts and some of that spills over into late nights and the weekends, keeping up with group activities can be quite hard. However, I am very much involved in French language organisations, like Alliance Francaise and I keep meaning to volunteer at animal shelters.

The arts are one of the best ways of appreciating the life of a city, and how its structures thrive.

People should be at ease with their city, with all its shops, businesses, cafés, restaurants, roads, bridges, flora and fauna, educational establishments, and civic structures. Artistic life embellishes urban life and makes its character more readable. Indeed, LCGA is increasingly involved in off-site projects as well as temporary projects that connect with other activities. For example, we are currently working with Softday Arts Collective with a view to renewing urban beekeeping in Limerick. This has a sound artistic element to it, as well as having a practical, and environmentally positive role.

Limerick people have a vibrant approach to cultural life.

The biggest challenge, however, is to provide as wide a range of artistic experiences as possible in times of restricted budgets when there are correspondingly high expectations in the cultural sphere. Also, when people are very busy with other things and when leisure time is scarce, it is difficult to attract people to events that you think are a ‘must see’. That said, LCGA occupies a soft spot for most Limerick people, which is why our attendance rates are up to 70,000 people per year. My overarching objective in all this is to engage both artists and audiences into seeing LCGA as their own gallery.

Recently, I have developed a real interest in exploring how we might connect with Africa.

Africa holds the key to a healthy world. Indeed, there are alternative systems at play, there, which we can learn from and so I want to see Limerick increasingly partner with African arts projects. For example, LCGA and the Department of Foreign Affairs have collaborated in a residency in Addis Ababa for Limerick painter Ramon Kassam. Indeed, my own recent trip to Ethiopia helped to progress such African collaborations even further. I was always enthusiastic about travelling to new cultures and hope to spend some time in the Middle East at some stage.

This month, LCGA is showing an exhibition by Dennis McNulty curated by Mary Conlon.

This is a wonderfully observed meditation on materials and our environment, beautifully and poetically made tangible by the artist. We, also, have Ewa Partum, who is a highly significant Polish conceptual artist, whose work as an activist, in former Iron Curtain Poland, is both inspiring and dramatic. In September, we have Elaine Byrne who examines the built structures in which we live. Her work asks pertinent questions about how we live today. Also in September, we show works by Jamal Penjwethy from Iraq and Lida Abdul from Afghanistan, as a meditation on War, how it affects civilians and how life continues after all the drama is over. This is part of our commemoration of the centenary of World War One. Here, we feel that we are paying homage to those who fell in all wars while thinking about critical decisions being made today!

PROTOTYPES, an exhibition by artist Dennis McNulty (curated by Mary Conlon), opens at Limerick City Gallery of Art on July 17, at 6pm, and runs until September 19. Installations and Provocations, an exhibition by artist Ewa Partum, will run from July 17 to September 14. For more information please see:

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