Last year, one of Longford’s alleyways began to take on new life when ground was broken on the most recent addition to the town’s public art collection. Aonach – a colourful public art installation started to take shape as the components of a series of a-symmetrical metal structure were levered into place.
Aonach – a collaboration between leading Longford arts organisation, Engage, and Longford County Council – not only brightens the streetscape as a standalone art piece, but also breathes new energy into the area by providing a framework for a covered craft fair and outdoor exhibition area.
Spokesperson for Engage Rosie O’Hara also designed and project managed the piece, said “It is street art but with a third, functional dimension, to work with the site. We didn’t just want to parachute a piece of art into the community, we also wanted it to be functional and useful.”
Aonach, which refers to ancient Irish assemblies where laws were passed and now has the more common association with a fair or market, is not the only initiative in Garvey’s Yard that Engage is responsible for, in partnership with Longford County Council.
The installation is adjacent to the Garvey’s Yard Artist Studios, located in properties leased by Engage from the council in 2018. Following an extensive renovation programme, the studios were opened in 2019 and now provide opportunities for artists to work and develop their practice in Longford.
The studios facilitate artists working across a number of disciplines and are already a valuable asset to the local arts and cultural infrastructure, adding to the growing creative vibrancy of Longford.
Garvey’s Yard will undergo a further facelift later this year when a mural connecting it with Main Street completes the area’s artistic overhaul, along with the remaining vacant units coming to life as vibrant artists studios.
While the Garvey’s Yard project is one of many that Engage plans for Longford over the coming years, it is part of a bigger picture the organisation envisages for the town: to transform the perception of Longford, through public art projects, into a dynamic place to live, work and do business.
‘’Art ignites change, and through collaborative work with Cruthu Arts Festival and other community organisations, we curated a legacy of street art pieces that have engaged the public, as well as opening opportunities for further development of the local arts scene, inspiring others to emulate the work we started,” says Rosie O’Hara.
“It’s great to see artists we introduced and mentored continue to develop projects in the area.”
Engage has also played an instrumental part in the social development of Longford with its contribution to the Longford Urbact group. It has helped form policy and an action plan for the redevelopment and regeneration of Longford town centre.
The project focuses on improving the public realm and quality of life for those who live, work and spend time in Longford, and is part of a wider initiative involving participants from eight European regions.
The Urb security project – of which Garvey’s Yard, Aonach, is part – is included in this drive, which seeks to create an enhanced sense of pride of place, security and a new sense of identity to areas that currently have a high level of anti-social behaviour and poor public perception.
Engage has come a long way since it was founded in 2013. It was launched on Culture Night that year as an artist-led, voluntary initiative to promote visual art in Longford.
The group was hugely influential in the acquisition and conversion of Providers premise on main street as a dedicated arts space. The scale of the Providers space allowed great scope for exhibiting a broad range of work including installations, sculpture, film, soundscapes and painting.
Additionally, it demonstrated the potential and need for a permanent exhibition space in the town which is now the only county town in Ireland without a dedicated visual arts facility. Links were established with educational institutes by hosting educational events, school visits, artist talks, workshops and projects with transition year and Fetac students.
During that time, Engage lobbied for more permanent exhibition and workspace for artists, and continues to do so.
The building was purchased by Longford County Council in 2017 with the gallery element forming part of the blueprint for a proposed new digital, innovation and creative hub at the site. Despite an unexpected and ongoing global pandemic, this ambitious project continues to be in development.
“We are very grateful to Longford County Council for all the support they have given us in the past, and continue to give,” says Rosie.
“What we have done so far would have been very difficult to achieve without that help.”
According to Longford County Council Arts Officer Fergus Kennedy: “Through projects such as the sculpture and studios at Garvey’s Yard we hope to help reverse the decline in the area by encouraging a greater through-put of people, as well as creating a renewed sense of community.
We are very excited about our collaborations with Engage and we look forward to further projects that emerge from that partnership.”
Others involved in the Garvey’s Yard Aonach project include former studio artist Nick Barker, Cunningham Design & Planning, Fitzgerald’s Custom Fabrication, Frank McKiernan Construction, Sherry Fitzgerald Quinn, Francis Clyne Groundworks, and Longford Tidy Towns. It is supported and funded by Longford County Council Regeneration Department though the Urb security initiative.