Askeaton Contemporary is an initiative by the artist/curator Michele Horrigan. Running since 2006 Askeaton contemporary commissions new work and exhibitions in the small town of Askeaton over a two week period each year. This also includes a residency program entitled Welcome to the Neighbourhood for national and international artists. More recently they have published (and sold out) a number of art books connected with their projects. As the town does not have a designated ‘art’ space or gallery, the whole town from bank to hairdresser, from park to medieval ruin becomes the potential location for this temporary exhibition.
The success of this creative initiate is based on a number of factors. One of the most important considerations is Horrigan’s connection to the town of Askeaton, where she grew up and still spends most of her time when she is not travelling on residencies or exhibiting as an artist. Having lived abroad to develop her art practice, her knowledge on participatory practices in the arts and her own embeddedness in the local community gives Askeaton contemporary a distinctive perspective on how to ‘define public space’ and to articulate questions around audience and cultural participation. The privileging of everyday life and an aesthetic steeped in vernacular culture which is evident in many contemporary art practices is also an important factor in considering Askeaton Contemporary. Horrigan’s curatorial practice is in constant dialogue between the mobility and diversity of international artists into the town and a reflection on the self taught creative practices of the locals. This is seen most clearly in the exhibition of Sean Barron’s Walking Sticks, Smoking Pipes and Fishing Priests. A publication with the same title delves deep into Barron’s motivations functions as a rich resource on vernacular creative practices in rural Ireland.
Funding for this annual event is a mixture of recognised national funders such as the Irish Arts Council and those more specifically local funders such as the local Credit Union and store, Supervalu or the Insulation and Packaging Company based in Askeaton. Horrigan makes a point of acknowledging the initial commitment and support of the Askeaton Civic Trust when she was making her first funding application. She believes it was their support with their proven track record of events which made her first funding application successful.
What is evident in talking to Horrigan about the origins and ongoing success of Askeaton Contemporary is her own realisation of what was dynamic and specific about her own local town and her ability to collaborate within her community. Another factor is the way in which Horrigan has developed a flexible network across cultural disciplines. Significantly Horrigan felt the repeated emphasis on presenting and discussing her research and art practice was subsequently beneficial. These skills are evident here in an ability to open an ongoing dialogue on art and culture with diverse groups, international artists, the local community and national funders.