Greengrass Bluegrass Newgrass in Ireland

Since 2002, artists from Ireland and Kentucky have been changing places and ideas...

Much has happened since the summer of 2002 when six artists from Kentucky converged on Belfast for a Trace Gallery exhibition organised by Deirdre Robb. These artists, with additional colleagues from Dublin, were simultaneously invited by Castlereagh Borough Council and the Greengrass Bluegrass Newgrass project in Belfast to work collaboratively with a select group of talented teenage artists from east Belfast.

Using the computer and art studio facilities of Castlereagh College, the artists provided the teenagers with the opportunity to work, hands on, side by side, during a weeklong project with international career professionals. After only a week in the studio, the completed works of art were installed in the lobby of the Waterfront Hall, Belfast. The participating artists were CJ Pressma working with Colin Davis, Maura O'Rourke with Marty Walsh, Joyce Garner and Ray Duncan, Ian Fleming with Tom Pfannerstill and Suzanne Mitchell teamed with Deirdre Robb. Susan Gorsen served as the photographer recording the entire project.

Having successfully completed three ambitious programs in less than six months, the group then discussed the many benefits and logistical challenges of these international studio and exhibition projects. Many were interested in taking part in future Greengrass Bluegrass Newgrass projects, and it was jointly decided these programmes needed to both continue and expand. Emphasis was placed on trying to include artists from other regions, as well as incorporating artists from other disciplines such as writers or musicians.

The biggest questions related to how this might be accomplished: the Belfast artists had very successfully formed the GBN Belfast project and were in a position to make formal applications to various funding groups; in Kentucky, however, funding opportunities for a grass roots artist driven initiative continued to look unpromising.

In Louisville, the Erin Devine Gallery mounted the fourth Irish Art Now exhibition in February 2003, featuring the work of Maura O'Rourke, Brian Haggerty and Caro Hopkins. By the summer of 2003 Ian Fleming and Maura O'Rourke were already planning an independent collaborative project of their own, involving the history and mythology of Tara, home of Ireland's ancient kings. This major 20 painting exhibition with full historical documentation opened in Louisville's PYRO Gallery early in January 2004.

Maura O'Rourke with administrative assistance from Ian Fleming, Erin Devine and Susan Gorsen then organised Encompass, a small works exhibition held in March 2004 at Ardgillan Castle in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Nearly 300 people attended the exhibition’s opening night.

Currently, there are two more Grasses projects in the pipeline. In association with the Belfast festival at Queen’s in November 2004, an assemblage of emailed images from 60 artists will be installed on the campus, with a video projected at Queen’s at night. This international cyber art project cleverly escapes the universal customs’ restrictions and expenses imposed on artists trying to establish an audience in a foreign country.

The second planned project involves artists from Kentucky and southern Indiana hosting artists from Ireland and Northern Ireland for approximately two weeks. The Mary Anderson Centre, a rural Indiana artists' residency and retreat facility, and the Fine Arts Department of Indiana University Southeast have offered their facilities to the artists, and the university’s Barr Gallery will also exhibit the completed project. Not only does this latest collaboration include a greater number of visual artists than ever before, but also encompasses writers and poets as integral partners in the creative venture, and it may actually be possible to generate some long overdue media coverage for the Grasses project in Louisville.

For further information on the Greengrass Bluegrass Newgrass project, please contact Susan Gorsen at sgorsen@win.net.

Susan Gorsen