Following previous articles about the recent launch of Offaly's Campaign for the Arts, Kevin O'Dwyer, artistic director of Sculpture in the Parklands this week highlights some of the achievements of the ongoing programme at Lough Boora Parklands and the need for continued arts funding at local and national level.
O'Dwyer sees the project at Sculpture in the Parklands as a true collaboration between Bord na Mona, Offaly County Council, Lough Boora Parklands Group, the Arts Council, Fáilte Ireland, West Offaly Partnership and the Boora community; a unique partnership that has produced extraordinary works of art that can be enjoyed by the public on a daily basis.
The sculpture park has received national and international accolades including Business to Arts Awards (2003 and 2008), Local Government Arts Award (LAMA 2006) and has been featured as a "European Art Destination" by Thames and Hudson and International Sculpture Centre publications.
"This is one of the real success stories of visual art in Ireland," said Dr Paula Murphy, Professor of Art History at University College Dublin.
Boora has an extraordinary past. Some of the oldest traces of human activity in Ireland date from Lough Boora. In the 1970s, evidence was found of Mesolithic man, dating from 9,000 years ago. The site was excavated by Dr Michael Ryan and the artefacts were carbon dated to 6800-7000 BC.
In 1994, a group of Bord na Móna workers produced an integrated land use plan for the Boora cutaways, which embraced environmental and socio-economic concerns. From this initial concept Lough Boora Parklands was conceived.
In September 2002, Irish and international artists were invited to create large-scale works of art during an international sculpture symposium. The collaboration between artists and the Bord na Móna workforce created eight large-scale site-specific sculptures over three weeks. The success of the international sculpture symposium led to the formation of Sculpture in the Parklands, a 50-acre sculpture park, which continues to invite artists to create significant site- specific works of art during their Artist-in-Residency programme each year. Since the initial symposium, artists from Holland, Denmark, England, United States and Ireland have been invited to participate in the artist-in-residency programme.
Integration is an important aspect of the success of Sculpture in the Parklands. The development of the sculpture park has enriched the lives of the community by providing opportunities to access large-scale contemporary works of art which respond to their living and working environment. The Artist-in-Residence programme provides an opportunity for the community and the Bord na Móna workforce to meet with the resident artist on a daily basis. The sculpture park is a valuable educational resource for both primary and secondary schools in the surrounding area. Programmes such as the 'Young Persons Sculpture Symposium' and the Sculpture in the Parklands education programme provide primary school children with a hands-on experience.
Funding from Offaly County Council and the Arts Council is crucial to the growth of the programmes and to offer educational opportunities to primary and secondary schools. This is a rich educational resource, which provides children the opportunity to study contemporary art practice, environmental studies, geography, mathematics and the industrial heritage of Ireland.
Please add your support to Offaly's Campaign for the Arts by signing/obtaining a petition at Birr Theatre & Arts Centre Box Office or by joining the campaign on Facebook and/or Bebo and lobbying public representatives. The National Campaign for the Arts have launched an on-line petition, www.petitiononline.com/ncfa.petition.htm, if you wish to add your signature.