Friday, April 14, 2006

A Thought or Two...from Dr. Slavka Sverakova

A thought or two...
Whatever the OBG did or did not do, it was not open to ACNI to treat this art organisation and its staff without respect and concern. The moral structure of ACNI's decision to withdraw funding with immediate effect during an exhibition, and consequent loss of jobs and of a principal venue, is deeply controversial. Even criminal punishment treats offenders as members bound and protected by the values of open society. ACNI undermined its own legitimacy at least in three ways in this case: first, by withdrawing its own responsibility for the closure of a principal venue; second, by placing the OBG staff without any protective notice not only out of jobs but without a right to appeal; third, by handling the OBG differently from other arts organisations, e.g. claiming an exemptions no 43 and 22 from the FoI Act.
The media, the public and the politicians have not yet paid proper attention to the case, despite the help offered by the civilised outrage, which decidedly is not, what ACNI earlier labelled "a small campaign".
Is ACNI sacrosanct? I doubt it. Arts Council was invented only in 1945 - visual arts ( and all arts) have a somewhat longer history.
People retort to a possible replacement by "would you want the councils to disburse the money?" On the past performances - no. However, the state subsidy could be distributed by a real enabler or two, maybe, housed partly in the British Council for the foreign agenda, and Department of Development/Economy for the home front. The two would bring significant expertise from their respective practices. The art professionals would need to establish some sort of network, like a "parliament of artists" or a "temporary assembly" for an open debate of the issues for which those two respected bodies have not full expertise. I stress the term "full", because as members of the public they have also a say in which direction the NI culture ought to travel. The internet facilitates a debate cheaply and efficiently, and, moreover makes it accessible. It could be complemented by face-to-face symposia, and other meetings.
What do you think about any of this?
Slavka Sverakova

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Useful websites to find and contact local MPs or Councillors:

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Statement of concern from Dennis McNulty

I strongly disagree with the withdrawal of funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery. I feel that this decision will have a very serious negative impact, not only on the Visual Arts in Northern Ireland, but on the Arts in the Republic of Ireland too.

Yours Sincerely,

Dennis McNulty

Questions from Dr. Slavka Sverakova to Anne Loughran, proxy to D. Hanson

Dear Anne Loughran,

I have read your response (7th April 2006) as a proxy for the Minister D Hanson. It raises immediately two questions, your answering them may contribute to the kind of public discussion needed to assist a removal of unnecessary secrecy, cost and muddled thinking.

1. What is the cost of disbursement of your funds by ACNI, please?

2. If you know how ACNI made its decision to withdraw funding with immediate effect from its client, please, share it, on this blog, with the professionals who are concerned about it.


Dr Slavka Sverakova

Letter of Concern to Minister Hanson and Arts Council of Northern Ireland from Concerned Artists and University Lecturers

Dear Minister

We, a group of concerned artists, many of whom are University lecturers, are writing to register our great concern at the recent and sudden removal of funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery, which resulted in its closure and the immediate loss of the staff jobs.

The Ormeau Baths Gallery has a national and international identity and reputation. Its dedicated staff team diligently built up this profile. Ormeau Baths Gallery was more than just bricks and mortar; it was the embodiment of the vision and dedication of its staff team, led by former director Hugh Mulholland. The demise of the Ormeau Baths Gallery under his directorship will leave a huge vacuum in the visual arts sector.

Despite the obvious ramifications of the closure of Ormeau Baths Gallery within the broader arts sector, we are concerned here with outlining the massive educational implications on art students, who are the next generation of art practitioners. As many of us are lecturers teaching Fine Art students, we are particularly concerned about the negative educational impact that the Ormeau Baths Gallery will have on students and their future prospects as practitioners based in the North of Ireland.

The Ormeau Baths Gallery was the only resource of its calibre on the student'’s doorstep. It gave students an opportunity to see first hand important art works by internationally renowned artists. The range of artwork shown in the Ormeau Baths Gallery covered a variety of disciplines and gave students the necessary overview of the key developments and debates in contemporary art practice at the highest level. As such it was a vital educational tool at all undergraduate and post graduate levels.

The invaluable opportunity that the Ormeau Baths Gallery presented to students to see such work, without any cost to themselves, was of key importance to their education. It enabled students to engage directly with the work of leaders in the field of fine and applied art. It demonstrated to students that their practice could be located in the North of Ireland without being parochial. The Ormeau Baths Gallery served to locate Irish art practice within a broader international context. This unique major resource has been lost to students.

The Ormeau Baths Gallery was open and accessible to students at all times. An example of the gallery'’s generous flexibility in its facilitation of art students education was the way in which Ormeau Baths Gallery staff would regularly open the gallery on Mondays (when it is normally closed to the public) to accommodate groups of students.

The former Director, Hugh Mulholland had an open door policy toward students. He would often set aside time to meet with students to enable them to conduct research. For example, students would frequently record interviews with Hugh Mulholland as a component of their professional practice.

The Gallery also hosted student placements and implemented a scheme for student volunteers, which afforded students invaluable experience in the professional arts sector. Ormeau Baths Gallery was one of the few organisations of its calibre that would facilitate students in various supportive ways.

The implications of the closure of Ormeau Baths Gallery extend beyond the students’ time in college. There is a healthy tradition of recent arts graduates staying and working in Belfast. Many have gone on to play important active roles in the local visual arts arena. Hugh Mulholland, as a graduate of the University of Ulster, dedicated himself to highlighting the work of local arts practitioners in an international context, both during his time at the Context Gallery, Derry and at Ormeau Baths Gallery. He is highly regarded internationally as an innovative gallery director and exhibition curator of outstanding vision.

The presence of such a high profile venue as the Ormeau Baths Gallery, which showcases the work of Irish artists on the same platform as international artists, was crucial in attracting a younger generation to stay and input into the visual arts sector here. This is not only relevant for the artists who show at the gallery, but it sends out an important message to students who may themselves eventually work in the professional sector. As it stood, the presence of Ormeau Baths Gallery in Belfast indicated that it is possible to make work locally whilst being part of an international cultural context.

The closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery sends out the message that Belfast is provincial and retrogressive in its arts provision. This directly impacts on the ability of educators to deliver a curriculum based on professional excellence in the field of fine and applied arts. It has dire implications in terms attracting and retaining students to Belfast.

With thanks


Mark Ainsworth
David Campbell
Oliver Comerford
Brian Connolly
Willie Doherty
Fergus Feehily
Sandra Johnston
Dr. Mia Lerm Hayes
Tony Hill
Fiona Larkin
Alastair MacLennan
Shirley MacWilliam
Mary McIntyre
Moira McIvor
Michael Moore
Fiona Mulholland
Darren Murray
Aisling O’ Beirn
Bill Penny
Janet Preston
Dr. Alison Rowley
Ralph Saunders
Alastair Wilson
Howard Wright

Letter of Concern from Peter Liversidge, Artist

I am writing to register my disappointment and disbelief at the Art Councils decision to revoke funding to Ormeau Baths Gallery.
I was fortunate enough to have a solo show at Ormeau Baths last April/May. I found the staff, venue and Director to be a fantastic support throughout the build up and installation of the show. The show was touring and through the experience of showing at several other venues throughout the UK. I felt that Ormeau Baths was very well respected not only in Ireland amongst the Artists I met but also internationally. Hugh Mulholland the Director works tirelessly in the promotion of others with his encouragement and support to many artists in Northern Ireland, Ireland and further a-field.
The representation of Northern Ireland at the Venice Biennale was a strong and well respected showing, to be closing the one venue in Northern Ireland that can support and follow up interest in Northern Irish and International Art seems to be short sighted in the extreme.

I do hope that the Arts Council of Ireland will review its decision

Peter Liversidge.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Email from Anne Loughran responding to email to D. Hanson re Campaign for OBG

Letter to Chris Bailey from Theo Simms, Canada, 28th February 2006

28th February 2006

Dear Chris,

I was completely shocked to hear about the closure of the Ormeau Baths Gallery today. The gallery played an enormous part in helping me along with many young artists to become familiar with professional presentation of contemporary visual art and helping me as an artist to gain access to major international curators and artists. I was fortunate to exhibit in groups exhibitions organised through Hugh Mulholland, which helped me to have increased visibility as an artist.

I stagger at the lack of foresight by the current Arts Council to suspend funding to the crown jewel of Northern Irelands Visual Cultural scene. This attempt to make a personal attack on such a culturally significant organisation speaks to the parochialism and undemocratic culture displayed by the council in the early nineties when a radically refreshing new vision and voice by emerging artists seemed to be hugely undermined, (until curators and artists from outside of Northern Ireland started to pay attention and promote some of these artists).

I hope that the Council and the Ormeau Baths can try to resolve some of the nproblems that both parties have already seemed to be addressing, and on behalf of the many talented and exciting Northern Irish artists (as promoted by Hugh Mulholland in the Venice Biennial last summer), plead that the funding be reinstated and allow the gallery to shine as it so importantly should.

Theo Sims
Winnipeg, Canada

Letter of Concern from Dr. Maeve Connolly to Arts Council N.I

To Whom it May Concern
I wish to protest at the sudden withdrawal of funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery. The loss of the Gallery is a very significant blow to the Belfast arts community and to the wider Irish and international arts world.

It is incumbent on the Arts Council to act in a professional manner and in the best interests of the visual arts. A decision like this should not have been taken without extensive and transparent consultation with the arts community.

I look forward to a swift response, explaining the Arts Council's position on this matter.

Dr. Maeve Connolly
School of Creative Arts
Institute of Art, Design and Technology
Kill Avenue
Dun Laoghaire
Co. Dublin

Letter of Concern to OBG from Alexa Wright, Artist, London

Dear Rachel,

I am shocked and sad to hear of the immanent closure of Ormeau Baths
Having exhibited there as part of the Perspectives 2002 exhibition I
Remember the gallery as a wonderful, welcoming and well organised space. I cannot imagine what could have prompted the situation that has led to a decision to close the gallery.

I cannot be there to demonstrate, but I will be with you in spirit,

best wishes,
Alexa Wright