Knowledge Centre Blog

Thoughts on commencement of the Fundraising Fellowship, Dublin programme by Clíodhna Shaffrey, Director, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios

Business to Arts Picture Conor McCabe Photography

It sometimes occurs to me, working at TBG+S that I am in the habit of looking at things from the inside out.  I see things from our perspective. I think about the context in which we are – Temple Bar, the cultural quarter (with its myriad challenges); a studio complex (a vital workspace for visual artists); a gallery in the city, showing innovative contemporary art. I see us as part of Dublin City, connected to the other galleries here and venues for art elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

I frequently consider our existence, our 33-year history and our particular place in the world.  What kind of exhibitions do we make, how is our programme shaped, who is offered studios, how does this get decided?  These things exercise us because they give us a sense of self and help define what we stand for.  This self-obsession is fundamentally pragmatic; it makes us articulate coherence around our work and plan. It is essential for funding applications, for marketing and branding, for programming, for selection, containment, exclusion.  Yes exclusion.  There are limits to our frame.

But a frame is not a wall, writes Vona Groarke, it cannot be. The point of the frame is that is not-wall. It is the un-wall.[i]

My concern is not that I think this way, from the inside out, I expect that it’s quite natural.  It is that I rarely put myself in the position of a person looking at us from the outside in. This might have to do with how I physically experience the TBG+S building.   I generally enter the Gallery through a small door, off the interior Atrium space.  Opposite are large windows, giving views to the street.  Busy with passerby’s who walk in a rhythm they seem to have collectively fallen into. Most do not come into the Gallery. Maybe, most do not even notice the Gallery.  You can forget the existence of invisible thresholds or barriers, when you are inside. Inside the building, I meet the studio artists.

There are conversations and exchanges of views and sometimes I might get to go inside their studio and see work in process. This can be magical.  It’s unlikely, however, the public outside are even aware there are studios here. There is little to make this explicitly clear.  When we open our doors on Culture Night, or have groups in from colleges, or visiting tours, they are always surprised at how big the building is, how wonderful the studio complex is inside.

The world operates in silos today.  There are communities of interest and we have our loyal audiences and our followers.  We are committed to them.  Yet, we want to be porous, open and inclusive. The two are not mutually exclusive.  As well as studio provision and the gallery programme, we run numerous public engagement events – artists’ talks, performance events, screenings, etc.  It can feel busy, as if we are having an impact.  I wonder though.  We spin on six-pence.  In spite of the perceived solidness of the organisation and its clear mission, in spite of the improved funding environment, we are fragile in parts.  If someone took away our walls (and those big windows), to glimpse inside, they would witness, amongst all the artistic activity, precarity, and unsustainable dependency on volunteerism and internships.

This afternoon, I looked up our Vision statement again ‘to be a leading European centre for contemporary art and artists which expands and popularises the role of contemporary art in the public consciousness.’

Our ethos is artist-focused. Taking care of studio artists, making innovative exhibitions, matters.  It matters to be ambitious.  To be part of the Fundraising Fellowship, Dublin programme puts us on a new path.  It lets us think harder about visibility and connection. It makes us think about distinctive aspects of our work and programmes which can be attractive for partnerships with corporations and individuals. The aim is for excellence in our exhibition and studio programmes; to nurture audiences and to strengthen our administrative capacities.  We can extend our frame, if not literally our walls. We can make a step towards our vision – to think about contemporary art and public consciousness.  We can sometimes think from the outside in.

Clíodhna Shaffrey
Temple Bar Gallery + Studios

[1] Vona Groarke, Four Walls Full, pp.19, Gallery Press, 2016

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