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Bringing Culture to the Countryside: Why Quality Arts Programming is a Must-Have in Rural Areas


Greywood Arts Centre in Killeagh, East Cork has been successful in its efforts to repurpose a 250-year-old coach house as part of a vibrant arts and creative hub. The centre has added four artist studios to the space, offering after-school classes, adult education workshops, literary readings, film screenings and musical performances. Sustainability is a central ethos in the continued progress of the centre, guiding much of the work around its refurbishment over the past two years. Jessica Bonenfant, Artistic Director of the arts centre in Killeagh, explains that the use of an old building rather than constructing something new underlines their focus on sustainability. Even within the building, there are a number of things that are upcycled, including a number of old chairs of wood and metal that date back to the Pope’s visit to Knock in 1979.

The Coach House redevelopment received €167,600 in funding under the LEADER Rural Development Programme 2014-2022 through Cork County Council’s South Cork LCDC, with implementing partner SECAD Partnership CLG. Funding donations from over 200 local people totalling €15,000 and a significant contribution by the charitable trust, Tomar Trust, also ensured that the project came to fruition. Bonenfant says, “We are so pleased to extend not just our facilities for artists, but to really extend our impact in the community, through creative programming, education and greater engagement with the creative process, enabling us to reflect on and understand the world around us, building empathy and ways to express ourselves. The Coach House is an important addition to East Cork on so many levels.”

Jessica Bonenfant, a native of New York, and her Wicklow-born husband Hughie founded Greywood Arts Centre in Killeagh village in 2017, taking on the restoration of this Georgian building that once operated as an RIC barracks and sawmill. With Hughie having experience in the arts sector and Jessica using her MA in choreography to run a dance company in New York, their arrival in Killeagh marked a new and challenging episode in both their careers. Bonenfant explains that it has been a demanding period to get to this point, and even starting the process of applying for the funding to renovate the building began in 2018. Support from the local community had also played an important role in bringing the centre to its present position. “Over the past five years we have experimented a lot with what we can offer, which was limited due to the small space, but we realised along the way that the social connection aspect is as important as the creative.”

The recent May Sunday Festival, which celebrated the history, creativity and ecology of the area, has long-established roots in the community going back 200 years. Originally staged in the village by the local landlord, much of the festival is now presented in Glenbower Woods, owned by the local community. Having co-ordinated the event, Bonenfant underlines the outpouring of creativity it prompted amongst the local population. “The festival went from the 1830s right up the foot-and-mouth situation in 2000, so it was alive in recent memory. We thought there was a great opportunity to get people on board. Reviving the festival was a celebration of everybody’s creativity, a celebration of place and tradition and connectedness. We were blown away by the creativity, not just from artists, but from members of the community.”

Many of the installations were created by artists responding to the Greywood Arts open call, including the sixth-class students at St Fergal’s national school, who created paper mâché orbs to hang over the wild garlic flowers in the woods. A feature batik piece created by Ukrainian and Irish women depicted the interconnectedness of the roots of trees, a metaphor for human connection displayed as a vertical panel within the woods. Bonenfant adds, “Those Ukrainian women are housed at Red Barn in Youghal, and it really was something very special, relating to displacement in a way that was so affecting.”

The Residency at Greywood Arts is an artist-run space in the iconic three-storey Georgian house. The Creative Process Residency is a signature self-directed option open to all visual, performing and literary arts disciplines, as well as curators, researchers, creatives and philosophers. While they have stopped accepting new applications for 2023, applications for March to November 2024 will re-open in June. Greywood also offers a ‘Mini Writers-Retreat for Carers Bursary’, which aims to support writers who, due to their role as carer, find it difficult to find time to write. Amongst the goals of Greywood Arts is supporting the creative processes of performing artists, visual artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, arts scholars and other creatives. It additionally aims to provide a site for education, dialogue and engagement, and to increase the community’s access to the arts. Bonenfant says, “We believe everyone has creative potential, and that rural areas deserve access to quality arts programming. By supporting the practices of professional artists, as well as developing opportunities for self-expression and social engagement, Greywood Arts will help shape the cultural landscape of East Cork.”

Greywood Arts Centre is receiving national interest for its Artist in Residence programmes, and many Irish artists include a residency in their applications for Arts Council funding. They are also building their network of artists that they bring in to work with community groups. Bonenfant concludes, “The issue of sustainability is on many peoples’ minds and certainly is the case amongst the artistic community. The artists we work with would be very sustainability-focused, and the use of an old building rather than constructing something new underlines that. Even within the building there are a number of things that are upcycled, including a number of old chairs of wood and metal that date back to the Pope’s visit to Knock in 1979.”

Thomas Lyons
Thomas Lyons
Thomas, the founder and chief editor at Top Rated, harbours a deep-seated passion for business, news, and product reviews. His thirst for knowledge and experience has led him on a journey across the length and breadth of the country, enabling him to garner a wealth of insight. At TopRated.ie, his sole aim is to deliver meticulously researched news and provide impartial reviews of fact checked Irish companies, thus helping readers make well-informed decisions.


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