Living Space: For the Arts in Mallow

The town of Mallow, and villages in the surrounding area are rich in history, architecture and literature. From Doneraile’s place in the annals of the written word in Ireland, to Mallow Castle, to the town itself helping set part of the stage for Irish cinematic classic The Wind That Shakes The Barley. But by and large in recent decades, the area’s artistic and creative communities have been buoyed almost entirely by dedicated individuals, working in local community spaces. It is in this spirit that Cork County Council Arts Office presents us with Living Space, a series of day-long arts programmes in the town centre throughout July and August. Leah Hearne, festival producer for Quarter in Cork City and one of the all-dayers’ co-ordinators, speaks of placing a focus on the arts in the town. “I guess Mallow’s proximity to Cork City, while also a strength, has provided challenges for arts activity there. Even though it is one of the County’s largest towns it hasn’t had the benefit of dedicated cultural spaces such as are available in Skibbereen or Cobh. That’s all due to change in the next couple of years with the development of the former Town Hall by Cork County Council, which will provide new and much needed exhibition and theatre space. The Living Space Project is connected to this development, as it’s very much concerned with developing ownership and involvement in the arts in the community in Mallow. So that’s what we are trying to do with this project, to give the residents of Mallow an opportunity to enjoy art and be entertained at home in Mallow, and I hope that will have a knock-on effect in terms of seeing Mallow as a place where they can put on activities, shop, work, socialise and so on.”

Mallow is an area that has massive artistic potential, in terms of location and aforementioned dedicated individuals, as well as groups like CDYS and Mallow Arts Collective. What have been the upsides of working with people in the arts in and around Mallow? “There has been a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and good will. Every group I contacted seemed really grateful for the opportunity to perform at home in Mallow. Once word got out, I had people contacting me as well wanting to get involved. That energy and willingness to contribute is fantastic to see. I think with enough of those people who have that enthusiasm and the capacity to give of their time there is tremendous potential for good things to happen.”

Each day of the Living Space events presents different themes, activities and events. It makes for a vast variety of arts and culture the likes of which have seldom been seen in the town in years. Leah goes into the details on the lineup.“There weren’t really clear themes in mind when we started out programming the days, we wanted a variety of activities that would interest small kids, teenagers and adults. Once everything settled into place though, themes did start to emerge. The first day, Saturday July 16th, is a party really, and everyone is invited. With a variety of music, aerial acrobatics, theatre, circus and puppet shows, and every age group being catered for, there really is something for everyone. It’s all about getting everyone out enjoying themselves as they traverse the town to take it all in.”

“Saturday July 23rd, is a little more laid back with a different kind of engagement. Hydra Quintet present an evening concert of classical music in St. James’ Church from 5pm while Mallow Arts Collective have your afternoon entertainment sorted with a showcase of local musicians in a number of spots throughout the town. Hydra Quintet will also facilitate a children’s music workshop about their love of Mozart at 2pm. Renowned, award-winning artist Michael Fortune will be in Mallow Library at 3.30pm to discuss his socially engaged work exploring folklore through the medium of photography and film.”

“Saturday August 6th is all about discovering the town. Artist Jock Nichol will be facilitating a day of outdoor painting, helping artists of all abilities develop their own response to the environment. Beginning at Thomas Davis Plaza at 3pm, The Living Space Trail, a specially curated walking experience of Mallow is being developed, blending history, folklore, and art while guiding participants to performances from Claire O’Brien, Caoilian Sherlock and Dowry (the solo music project of Ena Brennan). Send your stories about the town to livingspacemallow@gmail.com

Then wrapping up the series of events is a picnic in Mallow Castle grounds on Sunday August 14th, a day I see as being about conversations. Entertainment and activities will be provided by Blarney Brass Band, Centre Stage School and Splattervan.”

Mallow town centre’s makeup, including a long main street and new developments including Market Square and the Plaza, will make for a unique setting. Were there any challenges or issues, particularly with planning the events? “No, I wouldn’t say so. As the events were created with and for the town, the town’s space and layout could not have posed a challenge as they were one of the starting points from which everything grew. One of my first days on the job in June was walking around the town with Ian McDonagh and Arran Towers of Tallest Smallest, sussing out the potential spots for Circus Outside the Box’s aerial show. It was my first time in Mallow in a few years and the first time I was really looking, just noticing the potential and the possibilities. For me, coming in to this project as an outsider, someone who has never lived or worked in Mallow, was something I was initially wary of but it quickly proved advantageous to be unaware and without preconceptions. I found that while meeting the traders on the street, they appreciated my outside perspective.”

After this series comes a look at the viability and sustainability of arts in the North Cork town, ahead of the redevelopment of the old Town Hall into a fully-functional arts centre. It’s something that’s generating much-needed buzz locally, especially after a long period of economic uncertainty has resulted in a series of business closures. “The Town Hall development is really very exciting, I would love to see it being used as a place for national and international and to stay and carry out artistic residencies. It would be fantastic to see North Cork follow in the footsteps of West Cork becoming a lively and vibrant hub for creativity and tourism. With the Town Hall development, the beautiful castles and Mallow being so accessible by train I think there is great potential there.”

Living Space happens in Mallow town every Saturday throughout the next four weeks. Check The Living Space Project on Facebook for more info.

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