Note: I was an arts columnist with the Limerick Leader newspaper, publishing interviews, reviews and features for a general audience. This article was originally published on 12/11/2015.

This Forever [together we raised some hell] is the latest exhibition by the Limerick based, non-profit, artist led organisation Occupy Space. The exhibition runs from Nov 12 to Nov 18, at 1 Chapel Court, Cathedral Place.

Originally founded in 2009 – following the crash of the boom – Occupy Space was one of many artist-led organisations that set up in Limerick around that time. Looking back, it was a golden-age of sorts. At the time though, things were understood in much simpler ways; creative people were eager and ambitious, and seeing a lack of opportunities they got busy creating their own. Yet, around 2012 things began to turn; many spaces began to lose funding and shut down, and Occupy Space lost their building on Thomas Street, and since then, have had to constantly seek out new spaces to hold exhibitions and events – a huge strain on the organisation. The last Occupy Space project was the Stigma Damages exhibition, curated by Michele Horrigan, in 2014. This exhibition, held in late 2015, is a welcome return.

The current exhibition, as described by the current directors of Occupy Space – Isabella Walsh and Ciaran Nash – is a form of thank you letter to the artists who have been involved with the group over the years. Occupy Space’s significant legacy in Limerick is at the heart of this exhibition. Coincidentally, also opening on Nov 12, is The Future is Self-Organised at the Limerick City Gallery of Art, curated by Pallas Projects. This exhibition also looks at the activities of artist-led organisations, yet more broadly, brings together archives from these kinds of artist-led initiatives across the country.

Yet, coincidence as it is, surprising? – Not even a little. The overlap was not unlikely; one of the things I love most about Limerick is this spirit of artist-led initiatives, and community within culture. With the advent of Limerick’s time as National City of Culture in 2014, the following conversations about the legacy of that time, and now, with attention paid forward to the 1916 centenary and the bid for the European City of Culture in 2020, there are a lot of conversations on-going about our history, as well as the role and potentials for culture.

The Occupy Space directors aren’t nostalgic or backward looking. In conversation, they were ambitious and clear in their vision for Occupy Spaces future:

Ciaran: Looking forward to the future, there’s a great amount of run in time if we want to apply for further funding down the road, so we can look at planning and regrouping; I think a bit of a recruitment would be warranted.

Isabella: There’s certainly a lot of enthusiasm from the people I bump into, there’s a lot of people who would like to get involved in creating something new. I think it’s really important when people are excited to get them involved in planning the next thing, to have something to take ownership over.

Ciaran: For me, it’s not about being Occupy Space, other things could come out of it. Maybe people could use the Occupy Space brand as a spring board; they could get involved with a couple of projects and then go off and do their own thing. It’s all about gaining experience, learning the field, learning the job.

Isabella: I think there’s a real opportunity in the city after 2014, to think about putting in place some structures to facilitate people’s projects and to help them start new things.

  • Chris Hayes is an Irish artist and art critic in London, with a background in technology and alternative spaces. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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