Sparks – Collaborations from inside Vault Artist Studios

Sparks – Collaborations from inside Vault Artist Studios

This exhibition was curated by Rob Hilken and featured the work of: Helen Gomez, Leo Boyd, Neil Foster, Jonathan Brennan, Ruth Crothers, Laura Nelson, Conor McClure, Jamie Mason Harper, Sally O’Dowd, John Baucher, Rob Ireson, Ed Reynolds, Alana Barton, Wilhemina Covington, Benen Dillon, Hannah Smith, Rob Hilken, Robin Price, Tonya McMullan, Neal Campbell, Ursula Burns, John Macormac, Pete Brien, and Eoin McGinn.

There is something inherently risky about collaborating. This is especially true where creative partnerships are new; the process can be unpredictable as new working methods are established.

Can you let go of your own singular vision and be open to new ideas?

The collaborations in this exhibition reflect ideals that are central to Vault Artist Studios; generosity, sharing, experimentation, and trust. 100 artists came together and committed to building a community. In the first six months we have cooked many lunches, done yoga, rollerskated, played exquisite corpse, built a members bar to play pool and socialize, put on exhibitions and events, made new friends and forged new creative partnerships.

Collaborating is a part of who we are as a studio group: we take risks and embrace the unpredictable.

Vault Artist Studios began as the Belfast Bankers in late 2016. Adam Turkington received a mysterious email that contained an extraordinarily generous offer: would he be able to make use of an old Ulster Bank building in East Belfast for a year? ‘Yes’ was his immediate reply.

23 artists gathered together and set out to make as much happen as they could within the limited time they had been given. By design, the group was an eclectic mix of visual artists, musicians, performers, writers, and beekeepers that quickly became a tight-knit community with a shared purpose. From the outset, they had the vision to be highly public-facing and their low studio rents (priced to cover just the running costs of the building) would be accompanied by an obligation to give their time and skills to the community.

The ‘Bankers’, as they became known by word of mouth, secured charitable status in mid-2017 and by necessity became ‘Vault Artist Studios’ (the word ‘bank’ or variations of it being protected under company naming legislation).

Eventually, the day came when they had to leave the bank. After a couple of false starts, and generous offers of alternative buildings, the opportunity arose to take over the old Tower Street Campus of Belfast Met. Another temporary license to use the building meant that the fire to make something different and exciting happen was reignited.

They quickly doubled in size by inviting artists that had already become de facto Bankers to officially join them and subsequently, after an open call for applications, their number swelled to 99. Members were carefully selected to ensure the multi-disciplinary mix was maintained and again there was an understanding that non-financial contribution to the community was expected.

When you have so many talented artists working together in one building, it is inevitable that sparks will fly and new and unexpected work will be made. This exhibition at the Golden Thread Gallery shows several collaborations between Vault Artists during their first six months in Tower Street.

Supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council

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