Sometimes we forget that input is as important as output, and that inspiration and energy can come from working in creative places and spaces set up exactly for that purpose. So I thought I’d give the wordspark writing prompts a break and concentrate for a little while on finding out more about some of the excellent writing and creativity centres that we have in Ireland.
This was inspired by a recent visit to Ardagh, County Longford. I was invited by Creative Ardagh to teach a 3-hour workshop for teens as part of the inaugural ‘Ardagh Fright Fest’. I received such a warm welcome from everyone involved, and the enthusiasm of the teens in my writing group was infectious – the centre was clearly a hub for the community, a safe space to create, and it made me want to find out more so I could share the news and let more people know about this great resource.
Here’s what I found out…
What the centre provides and who is it for…
Creative Ardagh aims to create a place in which people of all ages, from toddler to experienced adult, are encouraged to explore their creativity, be inspired by the beautiful setting, and create their own individual artwork. Its motto is “Be yourself, love yourself and your world, enjoy the process… and don’t forget to play!“
Activities include family events, group classes and drop-in art days, as well as writing workshops. They recently hosted their inaugural – and very successful – week long ‘Ardagh Fright Fest’ which included writing, photography, sculpture and art for all ages. In addition, curriculum-based school programmes are tailored to each class needs and they are accredited as a SFI centre with many Discover Primary Maths and Science approved programmes. They also offer the venue for events, exhibitions, meetings etc.
Back to the Roots: How it all started…
A family initiative, Creative Ardagh is run by two cousins, Ann and Annette, with strong links to the centre and its surrounding area. Annette was one of the last classes to start Junior Infants in the old school (now the centre), and her mother also taught in it, so the building had a special connection to the family.
“Since opening the centre, we discovered that our grandfather briefly taught in the building,” explains Ann. “So this makes us the third generation of educators to pass through the building.”
The centre had been sitting idle for a long time, so when a committee formed, focusing on reopening the centre, the cousins decided to work together to make it an Art Hub. However, opening was not without its challenges.
“We were very aware that events and classes had to be created to bring people to the centre because its location didn’t attract passing footfall,’ explains Annette.
They approached the Tidy Towns committee mid 2011 with a proposal and with their backing approached Longford County Council with their ideas. Repairs began, they became paying tenants of Longford County Council and opened for Heritage Week 2011. They are evolving and adding to their programmes since that date.
The brains & brawn behind the creativity…
“We are very much a team and instinctively know what needs to be done and where we need to be,’ explains Ann. ‘We often finish each others sentences and come up with the same ideas at the same time.’ Recently, they decided to define their roles more clearly with Annette taking on the Arts Manager role and Ann the Events Manager role. ‘But really these are titles to explain who we are and what we do for other people,’ says Annette, ‘as we continuously combine our skills, rather than being confined to a job description.’
Find out more & book your space…
You can check out their website www.creativeardagh.com or Facebook page or regular updates, www.facebook.com/creativeardagh as well as their twitter account @CreativeArdagh. You can also email creativeardagh at gmail dot com to find out more or to book a session.
Plans for the future…
“We have put huge effort, energy and time into Creative Ardagh in the past four years with little financial gain,” says Annette. “At times the struggle to keep going can seem too hard but just in time we get a boost as the right people come through the door to inspire us into action and continue creating.”
This is what happened with Ardagh Fright Fest… This was to be Year 5 of Ardagh School of Witchcraft and Wizardry , a family event loosely based on Harry Potter with ‘students’ sorted into houses based on local legends: Midir, Etain, Fuamnach and Aengus. “We practice our dark arts on black paper in the artroom and have banished many a ghost with our phantom fizzing potion,” says Ann.
This year, however, Longford Arts Officer, Fergus Kennedy suggested expanding theevent to become a week long festival including Gothic writing workshops for adults and teens (11 to 14), an art day camp for children, a teen art workshop, photography exhibitions by Co. Longford TY students assisted by Shelley Corcoran and a walk up Brí Leith with Brendan Farrell, home of Midir who had close links with the ancient festival of Samhain.
The success of this event and their Maths Week have inspired Ann and Annette to concentrate on events and school programmes throughout the year. Already part of the Cruthú Arts Festival and Aisling Arts Festival, they intend to grow Ardagh Fright Fest.
Advice for people wanting to set up something similar in their local area:
“Don’t wait for help to follow your dreams or you will continue to dream and not do. We had no finance behind us, we have no business loans and we received no help initially. We do everything on a shoestring. We are creating a little bit of paradise in a little village at the bottom of a hill in the heart of Ireland. We have found that as we continue to stubbornly prove our worth against all odds the right people come at the right time to help us.”
In the words of recent visitor, President Michael D. Higgins…
During his recent visit to Creative Ardagh, the President stated:
‘The community arts movement is thus rooted in the belief that art, in whatever form it comes, should be made accessible to everyone and brought back into the daily lives of citizens. Such a conception of the arts, grounded in a philosophy of inclusiveness, is one that I have aimed to put into practice throughout my public career, as an academic, a politician, a human rights activist and as a poet connected to public performance. It gives me great pleasure, today, to see that vision bloom through the multiplicity of initiatives undertaken by the Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre, offering as it does members of the local community, both young and old, the opportunity and the means to engage with the creative process, to learn new skills, or simply to meet and to talk.’
The full speech and photos can be seen here.