Cork artists’ group suffer funding cut

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

By Colette Sheridan

CELEBRATING 25 years, the Backwater Artists Group (BAG) in Cork has plenty to shout about. It is one of the largest artists’ studio groups in Ireland. But a technical glitch in the application for funding has resulted in zero money from the Arts Council this year.

The 29 studios are located in the Wandesford Quay complex in Cork. The complex is owned by Cork City Council and is managed by Wandesford Quay Ltd, which is made up of representatives from BAG, Cork Printmakers and Cork City Council.

Last year, the BAG received Arts Council funding of €24,000, a drop of €5,000 on the previous year. Co-administrator of BAG, Elaine Coakley, says the funding has steadily come down since 2007.

“In the good times, the highest amount we got was €46,000. We got €3,000 from Cork City Council this year.”

Coakley, a landscape artist as well as an administrator, will, from April 1, be on her own in the job she has been sharing with Kathleen Hurley. Hurley is being made redundant because of the funding situation.

For the past five years, the group has been funded through Visual Artists Ireland (VAI), which manages the grant for the Arts Council. The VAI is the representative body for visual artists in Ireland, providing practical support to artists.

Coakley says that the VAI received Backwater’s application form, but not the essential support material, although they had uploaded it. “The application was deemed ineligible without the support material,” says Coakley.

“All funding has been allocated and they say there is nothing they can do.”

The support material consisted of five photographs of the BAG building, a list of the artists in it, and information from each artist about the exhibitions and residencies that they had in the past year.

“We went to the VAI, but were directed to the Arts Council, but they directed us back to the VAI,” says Hurley. When contacted by the Irish Examiner, neither the Arts Council nor the VAI would comment on the matter.

Founded in 1990 by graduates of the Crawford College of Art and Design, there are 36 artists using the studios, some of which are shared. The artists pay a membership of €130 per month.

“We have a waiting list,” says Coakley. “There are other studios in Cork, such as the Sample Studios on Sullivan’s Quay. We have security of tenure because we have a 99-year lease, signed in May, 1999.”

Well-known artists who have had residencies or projects at the BAG include Conor Harrington, who made the headlines recently when he sold a painting for €100,000.

The 25-year celebrations will include an exhibition of current members’ work, at the CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery, and other events.

For the group’s 20th anniversary celebrations, Michael D Higgins, prior to becoming president, wrote an essay for the BAG catalogue.

In it, he wrote: “Artists working in close proximity to each other enables, not just the successes to be shared, the skills to be revealed, but also the dark periods to be transcended.”

The Backwater group are indeed experiencing some dark times at the moment, but are adamant that the shows will go on.

Colette Sheridan


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