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Uniting the Community Through Art - A Discussion with Cork Community Art Link

Cork Community Art Link is an art organization based in Cork, Ireland. They create several projects and works of art through collaborations of artists and people of the community. One of their biggest projects, The Big Wash Up, transformed the community of Shandon, a district on the north side of Cork. Content creator, Karrington Trice interviewed CCAL’s artistic director William Frode de la Fore​t to learn more about the organization and his thoughts on the art world today.

Rebel Streets 2021

Were there any challenges, working together as a community for The Big Wash Up in 2009?

“There are always challenges when working on a large project like this, especially being a small organization and having minimal funding. It was different working outdoors in the streets with techniques and styles we had not tried before. We explored the public space of Cork and worked with different communities through various projects. In 2006, we started to work with the community of Shandon, where we were based. We met many people within the community and did plenty of surveys to gather information. We identified that there was a lack of art projects and events on the Northside and plenty of people were wanting to see things happen, so we started there. By 2009 we had built a good relationship with people inside the community, and we decided to explore a bit of the past of the community. I met with a French artist who proposed that we do a project in Shandon because there were a few buildings that were interesting from an artistic perspective. We pushed to work on the history of the community through that project (The Big Wash Up). At first, we struggled a bit to find the materials, such as photographic memories from people of the area, but after 2 months we managed to gather quite a lot from different sources.

The technique we chose to work with is called ‘reverse graffiti’ and Phillipe Chevrinais, the artist

with whom we worked on this project, is its first exponent who started to work with this particular technique in the late ’90s. It consists of creating images on concrete walls by power washing images, taking out the pollution and grime from the walls. When we mentioned the word ‘graffiti’ some of the organizations within the community freaked out at first. They were like ‘Oh no, we can’t have that on there.’ Even though some of these buildings were neglected by the city, they were still felt by many people around as very important to their history. Even the murals were not something that you would have seen a lot of in Cork at the time. When we mentioned the term graffiti it was quite difficult to convince the people. But with some time and showing them how it would work, we convinced them. Now people ask when we can do another project like this. It is a project that we really loved because there was something poetic about it. The images created are like ghosts from the past that will slightly disappear under the bits of


It brought the community together. A lot of the time, with the history of a city we remember the buildings, not the people. A lot of the everyday people who really make the fabric of a city are totally forgotten. Several buildings that we used for the artwork were really attached to the everyday people within the community. Many of those people worked around those buildings and it all meant something for them. Also, it cost very, very little money. You just use water! There’s water pressure jets, some water, a little bit of electricity, and then some lining to hold your stencils and that’s it.”

What was the history of Public Art in Cork before CCAL started producing it?

“I suppose there was not a lot back then, but we are not leaders in terms of murals and other art like that. There are other organizations and individuals in the city. Many crews had been given a space in the city, a carpark, for years since the early 2000s. Before that, there was very little in that realm in terms of really proper, young, urban expression. We did a few murals in the ’90s but nothing really big. We started to work a lot in the streets with other means to show the creativity of the people. The art world was not very kind to the work of young people, homeless people, refugees, or people with disabilities. Very little was given to CCAL. For more than 10 years the organization was not funded. We started to do plenty of parades, street theater, and other art because that was a way for us to show the work, the energy and the interests for the arts, and the possibility of doing things together. By the early 2000s we started to do a lot more research and development of various projects in the public space through a program called ‘What if,’ and since then, we have done many series of projects.”

Abigail Denniston Photography - Dragon of Shandon

Looking at Cork Community’s archives section, there are so many visual projects done throughout the years. How important is visual art for both children and adults?

I think art is important to show people the possibilities of what they can achieve with it. And then there is the diversity, the quality of your facilitators, and the people you collaborate with. These factors help to show people that they all have their own talent, that they all can be part of something, and that together they can achieve incredible things. Visual arts and plenty of the arts are important. With our projects, we try to encompass a lot of different mediums. I never really cared for the separation between techniques or

disciplines. I’ve always considered myself an undisciplined artist, very undisciplined. For projects, we have worked with many people, and they all get involved in different ways. There are plenty of people who sketch costumes, paint props, or get involved with murals. People can try a little bit of everything and find what they are interested in. All of the arts are really important.”

How do you feel about the term “artist” applying to performers, entertainers, etc.?

“There’s always been a need for compartmentalization, mainly for academics. For studies and funding, it is easier when you put people into categories. I personally do not like compartmentalization. Art is three letters: A-R-T. It belongs to everybody, and you can do whatever you want with it. For many years I had a problem calling myself an ‘artist’ because I felt the art world was so based on profit and money. Once you put some passion into whatever you do, you build incredible things and you become an artist. It is all about the passion that you invest in it and the quality. It is about creating and offering something that is going to touch people.”

Nicollino Photography - Voices from Shandon

Do you believe art should be a required course in schools?

“Art is still not yet organized as something as important or on the same level as mathematics. It is time that we move to something like that because the starting point of creativity is with the arts. It is a great way of showing people how to experiment, how to play and discover more about themselves. It is very unfortunate that it is not considered as important, but I think this will evolve. I think it should definitely be part of the curriculum.

Collaborating with other people through the arts is enriching. Art is about the experience and when you start to understand that it can change your life for the better and give you so much strength, passion, and enthusiasm. You will see the world through different lenses. Art changed my life, and I can see the number of people that it has done that for as well. It is empowering. It is something that you can use to make your life better and the life of others.”

What advice would you give to other cities wanting to create murals?

“Give the voice to your people. Start programs because they don’t cost that much money. There are plenty of big companies who can assist. Use your imagination if you do not have money. I have friends in France who use techniques where they do not use traditional paint because it costs a lot of money. They create their own paint using dust, dirt and leaves, etc. Create beauty in your cities.

Also, there are two factors that have really changed the art world: street art and the internet. People are now able to communicate with each other in ways they were not able to connect with before the internet came. Those two factors contributing together have changed our cities in a really positive manner. Before, art was just locked into special places for special people, such as museums, galleries, and art schools. More art is being shared now and it is doing good for our young people, our old people, and everybody. Let’s do more.”

How do you think social media and the internet today are going to affect art going forward?

Abigail Denniston Photography- Dragon of Shandon

“I really dislike social media. I have never been on any of those apps. No Instagram, Facebook, none of that. I don’t have the time for it but there are pros and cons. I understand some people are creative online though. With the internet yes, it will continue to change the nature of art, because every generation finds ways to challenge techniques and the certain order that is imposed on us. Art is not only about decorating and putting beautiful pieces on the wall. It is about questioning, pushing boundaries, searching, and doubting. We have to trust the youth, and I think the youth has to challenge the opinions of the generation before.”

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