VAWF Closing Address

Originally presented at Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork, 24 June 2016, as part of VAWF 2016

The 2016 forum, presented and hosted by Lewis Glucksman Gallery, marked the final VAWF for the foreseeable future. Here follows a key address presented by VAWF co-founders Rachael Gilbourne and Tessa Giblin at that gathering in Cork.

When we first started the Forum it was with a spirit of hopeful solidarity; presenting problems as solutions and hearing about innovations that arose out of difficulties.

Providing a place where we could all speak to each other, across the many different types of ‘work’ that make up the sector, seemed like the pathway to become more ‘together’: mutually supportive and visible. These were the post-McCarthy Report days that gave rise to the National Campaign for the Arts, and also followed after Dublin Contemporary. Emma-Lucy O’Brien and Carrissa Farrell had invited a great cross-section of people to a conference at Visual in Carlow, and it was during this conference, and the train-ride home that the Forum idea was born.

Highlights for me over the years have always been the short and peppy inspiration stories that we’ve heard from around the country; the year that Mick Wilson gave language to the concept we all knew but hadn’t quite articulated – the reputational economy; and the final sessions – where heated exchanges take place brought on by the stimulation of the day. It’s here in these sessions though that the truth comes crashing down on us – amidst all the great ideas flung around is the constant awareness that these problems are no-one else’s to fix. It is we, gathered here today, and the many other committed visual arts workers who are unable to be here, who need to work to better our situation. This is not the place to make a list of our ailments – this is the place to create objectives: personal, perhaps collective, it’s really up to us.

It’s really up to us.

This is one of the key points that has arisen over the years at every forum. Issues are raised throughout the day and people look outside of themselves to other individuals, and to other organising bodies, to those they want to carry their issues forward and action them.

But the aim of the forum is to create a space that empowers the participants and the “audience” to act themselves – to find their own resolutions, and revolutions, whether they do so collectively or individually.

It’s the one urgent question that rings in my ears as each year’s forum draws to a close:

What has this day changed in the future actions of all who have attended?

It sounds simple but this sense of use-value is absolutely critical to the forum. If the day amounts to all of us politely hosting discussions over sandwiches and tea, to me, the day has been worthless.

My VAWF motto has become – if there’s a row then the day will have been worth it.

It’s not a row for argument’s sake. It’s a row that emerges because people trust one another enough to feel free to speak openly and to argue constructively. They feel supported enough to point out the most obvious, simplest things, for the sake of clarity.

To me, silence is a disaster for everyone. It’s an insult to why we’re here, our time, our passions, our potential for collective power.