On Henrietta Street, Grab Great Art and Help the Homeless

Can art make a material difference? Evan Musgrave, organiser of “Where The Heart Is”, believes it can.

On Thursday 28 January, No. 12 Henrietta Street will open its doors to accommodate this pop-up art exhibition. Its aim is simple: to raise awareness about the ongoing homelessness crisis and raise funds for the grassroots group Irish Housing Network.

It has a great selling point for the short-of-cash but big-of-heart. It will include a variety of works from amateur dabblers and more established artists, and each will be for sale on the night with a modest price tag of between €10 and €40. All proceeds will go to the Irish Housing Network, Musgrave says.

The lowest ebb of the economic downturn saw the decimation of the art-buying public in Dublin. The James Gallery on Exchequer Street, Jorgensen Fine Art and The Apollo Gallery all shut up shop between 2009 and 2014.

As artists began to rent cheap studio space on vacant sites, the well-lit uniformity of the commercial gallery was supplemented with a community-based, survivalist ethos. Think Block T, Mabos or The Joinery.

The Where The Heart Is exhibition essentially takes the conventional model of the commercial, gallery-orientated show and injects it with a social conscience. It’s what might be called, in arty terms, social practice, encouraging local artistry while remaining conscious of the difference that an event like this can make.

In order to pull this off, Musgrave had the onerous task of asking for contributions from artists and amateurs for free. Unsure whether he’d get any response, let alone contributions, he was pleasantly surprised with the reaction.

“I really thought I’d have more difficulty getting works contributed,” says Musgrave. “We’re hoping, at this stage, to have about fifty to sixty works for sale on the night.”

Among the art on show and sale will be signed prints from well-established street artists Joe Caslin and Maser, and works by Irish artist Tracy O’Brien and Lebanese autodidact artist Kiki Bokassa.

Bokassa, an internationally established name working between Dublin and Beirut, is best known for her immersive art event entitled “72 hours”, which in 2009 picked up mentions in more than 60 media outlets worldwide.

For three days straight, Bokassa painted while confined behind a glass curtain. At the time, Lebanon was facing crucial elections and Bokassa decided literally to paint the country as one filled with art and culture rather than one of political instability and strife.

“When I first moved to Dublin four years ago, I found it difficult to find artistic communes and initiatives,” says Bokassa. “The city didn’t seem all that friendly to artists, though now it seems to be a more artist-friendly, socially aware space.”

Bokassa, who has worked with the UN helping survivors of the 2006 war, and completed graffiti projects in prisons across the Middle East, wants to see more of an effort to help those most in need.

“These humble initiatives often snowball,” she says. “These kinds of exhibitions aim to encourage creativity and create empathy amongst the public, and it would be great to see more like it because the heart is already big.”

The Space on Henrietta Street

On Henrietta Street, the exhibition space will fill two large living rooms and two hallways. Pared back and unadorned, these rooms allow Musgrave and his team the blank canvas they need to create their temporary gallery.

Built in 1730, No. 12 was once the residence of the Earl of Shannon, subsequently the headquarters of the Dublin Artillery Militia and then rescued from rack and ruin in 1985 by its current owner. It is now used regularly for performances, arts and environmental events.

Although prominent names feature in the exhibition, that wasn’t Musgrave’s intention when he first set out. “We wanted to encourage people who don’t normally exhibit,” he says. “We’re lucky to have these contributions, but this isn’t about ego or profile. It’s about art making a material difference within a communal space.”

Musgrave has encouraged contributions from anyone with a creative streak and an original work. There’s no fixed theme to the exhibition and the fundraising remains the crux of the event.

There’ll be paintings, poetry, photographs, prints, conceptual pieces and home-made dolls. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of local talent and artistry.

In order to keep the focus on the cause, Musgrave, in conjunction with the Irish Housing Network, decided to give several homeless people in the city cameras to capture their daily experience and potential artistry.

“A lot of fundraisers like this don’t include those they’re hoping to help,” says Musgrave. “We thought we’d give those we’re helping a chance to contribute in their own right, and to see the world through their eyes.”

These photographs will be on display at the event, with the contributors also in attendance. There will also be pre-sale speeches, music and refreshments. It seems a great place for a collector or eagle-eyed art-bibber to nab a few decent pieces.

The exhibition will run from 7pm to 10pm next Thursday at 12 Henrietta Street. Whether you’re in search of a steal or want to support local action, or both, pop along.

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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