Stepping into a new role in support of emerging artists

EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with the newly appointed Artistic Director of Churchfield-based Sample Studios, Aoibhie McCarthy
Stepping into a new role in support of emerging artists
Aoibhie McCarthy, new artistic director of Sample Studios.

LOCKDOWN gave individuals a unique chance to reflect on the value of the arts like they never had before. That’s according to the newly appointed Artistic Director of Churchfield-based Sample-Studios, Aoibhie McCarthy.

Many got through those bleak early weeks at the start of the pandemic by turning to a writer, an artist, a filmmaker or a theatre producer online.

“Creativity and creatives helped to keep many of us going, and that period of reflection was a silver lining really as it filtered through to the recent and very welcome increases in arts funding, particularly to support artists through bursaries, professional development and commissioning grants,” she said.

Aoibhie, originally from Bray and living in Cork for the past three years, is no stranger to the arts community on Leeside.

She’s currently splitting her time between her new role at Sample-Studios, and her work as Marketing and Development Manager of Cork International Film Festival, which she’s held since 2018.

“This year’s festival will run from November 4th-15, It’s the only major cultural festival taking place in the region this year so I wanted to be part of making sure Ireland’s largest film festival can be enjoyed by audiences in Cork this year,” she said.

“I’m straddling both roles for now,” she said, admitting that while life is hectic, she thrives on being busy.

“My work is part of my identity. I’m energised by other people’s creativity and if I see potential, I feel compelled to work hard to support that,” she said.

Aoibhie describes her new role at Sample Studios as her ‘dream job’.

“Visual arts is my first language, so I feel like I’m returning to what comes most naturally to me, supporting artists and creatives to do their best work,” she said.

Her CV is vastly impressive and after graduating with a BA in Art History, Architectural History and English Literature from Trinity, she worked in the National Gallery of Ireland, the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Gallery Number One, Dublin Contemporary and Whyte’s Auctioneers before securing the prestigious Shinnors Curatorial Scholarship, an M.A tracking PhD research scholarship by practice in the role of Education Curator of Limerick City Gallery of Art and eva International Biennale.

Aoibhie McCarthy with husband Sean Coughlan, on their wedding day.
Aoibhie McCarthy with husband Sean Coughlan, on their wedding day.

She led visual arts programming at Galway Fringe Festival and Make a Move Festival before undertaking project management roles as part of significant regional and national initiatives such as Limerick City of Culture 2014, The Year of Irish Design 2015 and the National Adult Learners’ Festival 2016.

In 2016, she was appointed Visual Arts and Outreach Manager of Garter Lane Arts Centre and Garter Lane Studios in Waterford, where she is currently on the board of Waterford Youth Arts.

That’s quite a lot packed into a career of just 10 years — but she says art is everything to her.

“Having said that, I detected at a young age that I lacked the innate ability or courage to make a career as an artist. I was a perfectionist and it was a case of all or nothing so I decided early on that I wanted to support other people’s creativity instead.”

That’s exactly what she’s doing now in Sample-Studios. The artist-led studio group has a membership of more than 50 arts practitioners from a variety of disciplines. Their ethos is to nurture a creative environment, providing shared facilities as well as affordable individual studio work spaces to support and promote emerging and established contemporary practitioners, mainly from Cork.

In other words Aoibhhie says her role is to take care of all the distractions that would otherwise prevent them from doing good work

Founded in 2011, they’ve been on the northside for the past three years and it’s a community they’re committed to, working to create awareness of the role that art and artists can play locally. They’ve also helped launch many a career through their highly regarded graduate residency programmes.

Funded by the Arts Council and Cork City Council, the group also have use of the Lord Mayor’s Pavillion in Fitzgerald Park for the next three years, which Aoibhie says provides them with a valuable way to also engage with city centre audiences through public exhibitions of members work and partnership exhibitions with other studios.

There’s no denying the art sector is facing challenging times, but Aoibhie is upbeat and says that resilience and innovation has always been part of their DNA.

“It’s our modus operandi. We’re resilient and thrive, despite such challenges. When I started my career it was at the height of the recession and everything I learned then is coming into play again. In lots of ways it prepared me for what’s come, even though the hope is that it won’t be so prolonged,” she said.

This time round, she also feels there’s a greater awareness about the role the corporate citizen can play in supporting the arts.

“It’s about finding ways that businesses can work with the arts, how we can promote and support each other, to work together to see value and creativity in what we do.”

Aoibhie lives in Douglas with her husband Sean Coughlan, of Sunday’s Well. Her dad’s from Kinsale, where her grandfather Denis McCarthy, was a former Town Clerk. She says living here is like ‘returning home,’ and jokes she’s now the golden child in her dad’s eyes as he feels one should ‘always aspire’ to live here.

Sample-Studios is gearing up to celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, with an exciting programme of public events in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the full programme for the 65th Cork International Film Festival will be announced in mid-October and Aoibhie promises there’s lots to look forward to.

“Watch this space!” she says.

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