Westmeath arts officer proves her worth at council meeting

At least 165 Westmeath artists have managed to stay and work in the county over the last six years, thanks to the support of the county council, the Arts Officer revealed in her presentation to the chamber this week.

Playing with a working orchestra in the National Concert Hall, film-making and access to dance studios are just a few of the other opportunities the office has offered to the youth of the county in the last six years, according to Ms Catherine Kelly, Arts Officer for Westmeath County Council.

Ms Kelly was addressing the councillors as the county’s first six year arts plan (2003-09 ) comes to an end and she begins to prepare for the next one.

Westmeath got its first arts officer in 2002 in an effort to promote, inform and advise on the arts in the county, as well as issue grants to our arts community and manage the county’s collection.

“There were 92 objectives set in 2003 and all have been achieved,” said Ms Kelly.

“The next main objective is to enrich participation.”

Ms Kelly explained that 165 artists in the county were supported in order to allow them continue their work in the county and an additional 135 groups have benefited from the three month artist-in-residence scheme offered by the county.

Links have been forged with the All-Ireland Drama Festival and the Literary Festival in Athlone, and the upcoming Bealtaine festival to welcome next summer at the Hill of Uishneach,

Ms Kelly went on to explain how each subsequent year of her six-year programme had a separate focus.

In 2004, there was a musican-in-residence in Westmeath as well as an inaugural film project, organised in conjunction with the Garda juvenile liaison office.

In 2005, Moate was host to a dancer-in-residence, while transition year students in Athlone learnt a new freedom in contemporary dance.

2006 saw the “Architecture in Schools” scheme brought round the 13 secondary schools in the county “to help them question their built environment”, according to Ms Kelly.

That year also saw the launch of the quarterly Midlands Arts magazine, in conjunction with the arts offices in Offaly, Longford and Laois.

In 2007 the Westmeath County Council helped start the annual Youth Film Festival in Belvedere for 10-to 18- year olds. This returns again next month and details will appear on these and other pages.

Also in that year, the council assisted in the development of the Creative Communities Project - a scheme that used the arts to help young people address the difficulties of social exclusion with the elderly.

This project has been shortlisted for a national award, Ms Kelly proudly informed the gathered councillors.

Last year saw the start of the Midlands Youth Orchestra, with musicians from the four counties participating.

To date, they have played four times in the National Concert Hall.

Also in 2008 the arts office in Westmeath helped start a writing project for 14-18 year olds with Offaly County Council, based in Tullamore and Kilbeggan.

So far this year has seen the “C Both Sides” postcard exhibition, presently on display in the Market House in Mullingar, just up the stairs from Joe, and the Hilltown House Music Festival in Castlepollard.

Ms Kelly concluded her report with the news that, before the adoption of the 2010-16 Arts Plan by April next year, our arts office hopes to commission a new sculpture for the soon-to-be ready new entrance to Mullingar town park.

“We are very lucky to have someone the calibre of Ms Kelly,” offered Cllr Mick Dollard in tribute.

“All of the county, all of the villages have had the benefit of her imput.”


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