Reaching new heights for Culture Night

Batik artist Judy Reardon tells ELLIE O’BYRNE about what inspired her when programming this year’s county Culture Night, which runs Friday, September 21
Reaching new heights for Culture Night
Judy Reardon, Culture Night Coordinator for Cork County.  Picture Darragh Kane

TAKING on the challenge of coordinating Culture Night for the biggest county in Ireland has been a learning curve for Batik artist and former Scoil Mhuire art teacher Judy Reardon.

Judy, who grew up in Cork city and who now lives in North Cork, stepped into the role of County Cork Culture Night programme coordinator for the first time this May.

“It’s such a lovely challenge,” she says.

Culture Night, the country-wide evening of free cultural events, started 13 years ago in Dublin, but now attracts annual audiences of over 400,000 people. It’s a huge and diverse programme, with everything from concerts to creative writing workshops to open artists’ studios, and 2018 will see 40 County Cork towns and villages participating, Friday, September 21.

Judy, a Crawford College of Art and Design graduate, is the woman who has been in charge of pulling together the county-wide programme. Cork City has a separate coordinator.

A passion for the arts comes with the territory, she says. “I love to help to promote the struggling artist, musician, or crafter, and that’s what I found I was able to do with the programme.

“I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve connected with so many people in all the arts and crafts.”

A former sculptor, Judy retrained as an art teacher following a decade-long stint living in the States, where she worked in San Francisco and Hawaii. While teaching in Scoil Mhuire, she fell in love with Batik, the Indonesian wax and dye textile art, and eventually started describing herself as “a crafter, not an artist”.

She left her work as a teacher to open her own independent craft shop in Charleville in 2015.

Connecting with other craftspeople, Judy kept the shop until early 2018, but felt that it was becoming al-consuming.

“It did well in itself, but it got to the point where I had to commit to it fully or choose a different path,” she says. “I’m not sorry I made the choice I did.”

Diving right in at the deep end, Judy applied for the Culture Night role. Her love of design and textiles is evident in some of this year’s programme choices for Culture Night, not least one of the innovations she’s most proud of: a fashion show which will be held on floor 16 of County Hall.

Judy says the idea came to her intuitively: “We went up for a look at floor 16 and I immediately said, ‘this is the place to hold a fashion show.

“I suppose I do like to work creatively and have been able to bring some elements of that into this role,” she says. “But what’s interesting for me to learn about myself is that I’m actually a real organiser. Maybe you can see that in my work, too. Artists can sometimes be perceived as flaky, but I even notice in my batik that even though it’s a really free-flowing art form, I tend to be quite controlled in my approach.”

Judy lives with her fiancée and their five German wire-haired pointers in Ballyhea in North Cork. Eight years ago, she made the move because it’s where her fiancée is from, but she says country living has gotten under her skin and given her a new-found respect for the sense of community that Cork County has to offer:

“When I lived in the city I was a total city girl and I loved the bustle and the colour,” she says. “But moving to the country has totally changed, and I love it. When you go county-wide, everything is so spread out. Everything is far more tightly-packed and accessible within a city, but in the county, within the towns and villages there’s a great support system in place for people. Everyone has been working together as a community and there aren’t events clashing.”

Judy feels that events like Culture Night offer a fantastic opportunity for building on that sense of community.

“If you’re out living in the county, you may not know your neighbours too well, so this really gets people talking and gets communities together,” she says.

As well as over 100 events taking place all over the county, Judy has put together a programme for County Hall itself that includes vintage cars, a food fair, and talks on Cork composers Seán Ó Riada and Aloys Fleischmann, who also happens to have been her great-uncle.

It’s been an action-packed couple of months for Judy: is she going to be proud when the big night finally gets underway?

“Oh God, ask me when it’s all over,” she laughs. “Yes, of course I will. But on the night itself, I’ll be running between all the different events trying to keep everything under control. I was joking the other day that I need a new pair of runners for it.”

All Culture Night events are free but some are ticketed. Info: www.culturenight.ie

Batik artist Judy Reardon tells ELLIE O’BYRNE about what inspired her when programming this year’s county Culture Night, which runs on Friday

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