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Business to Arts winners: taking creativity public during a pandemic

Accessing public art during lockdown was given particularly creative spins by Flogas with Galway International Arts Festival, and Iarnród Éireann with Christopher Steenson

Mirror Pavilion by John Gerrard at Galway International Arts Festival 2020

Mirror Pavilion by John Gerrard at Galway International Arts Festival 2020


Galway International Arts Festival and Flogas have won the Creativity in the Community Award supported by Irish Life, while Iarnród Éireann and sound artist Christopher Steenson were given the Creativity in the Workplace Award supported by ESB at the 2021 Business to Arts Awards.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the people of Galway were very much taken by the appearance of a large-scale structure, clad in highly reflective mirror panels and incorporating a high-resolution LED screen. This remarkable installation was Mirror Pavilion by John Gerrard, commissioned by the Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF) for Galway 2020, European Capital of Culture.

In 2020, the festival hosted a new artwork called Corn Work at the Claddagh Quay in Galway city and a second artwork, Leaf Work, at the 4,000-year-old Derrigimlagh Bog in Connemara in March 2021.

“Mirror Pavilion was a very striking structure situated in iconic locations,” says GIAF chief executive John Crumlish. “Viewers were looking at themselves reflected in the landscape while at the same time looking at cutting-edge technology delivering a hyper-realistic virtual version of the exact same landscape on a giant LED screen embedded in the structure.

“In addition, the artwork operated on a 24-hour cycle, so that the time on the artwork was always the same as for the viewer who was experiencing it, further pulling them into the same reality as was playing out on the screen.

Flogas committed to supporting Mirror Pavilion, which is the single biggest project the festival has ever been involved in

“This was an intriguing proposition when combined with the digitally created, very lifelike characters populating the piece, involved in never-ending performances relating to our escalating climate crisis. Overall, Mirror Pavilion made for a very different and engaging cultural experience. Over 120,000 people viewed the installation live while 27,303 viewed it digitally.”

The festival’s partnership with Flogas was hugely important to this project, Crumlish adds. “In addition to helping GIAF address the challenge of reducing its overall carbon footprint over the next number of years, Flogas committed to supporting Mirror Pavilion, which is the single biggest project the festival has ever been involved in. In particular, the company delivered a sustainable energy source to power the project, which was very appropriate given its focus.”

Overcoming adversity

For Business to Arts Awards judge Tony Lawless, Mirror Pavilion was special in terms of bringing creativity to the public during a pandemic in a number of ways. “I think the project had to overcome adversity to get it to completion, so the dogged determination and ability of John Gerrard, Galway International Arts Festival and Flogas to see it through without losing sight of the end vision is something to be commended,” says Lawless, who is head of Strategy Europe, Canada Life (Irish Life).

“Mirror Pavilion’s sustainability message was important and resonated with people, but I think accessibility was also important – it wasn’t tucked away in a gallery, or available to view on a ticket-only basis. It was there for everyone to access whenever they wanted to, and I think that is an important facet in bringing creativity to the wider community.”

If anything, Mirror Pavilion’s impact was somewhat enhanced because of the pandemic, he says. “I think people were crying out for something to lift their spirits and also to engage with the outdoors and get away from the online world. The fact that it was an outdoor installation with images reflected of nature I would hope gave some joy to the people of Galway.”

Natural connection

Every morning from November 16th-29th, 2020, between 8am and 9am the sounds of the spring dawn chorus were broadcast via Iarnród Éireann’s public address system in more than 65 train stations across Ireland. Called On Chorus, the concept was a direct response to the pandemic from Irish sound artist Christopher Steenson, quickly embraced by Iarnród Éireann and with input from Birdwatch Ireland. It was this innovative take that made the judges take notice for the Best Creativity in the Workplace Award supported by ESB.

On Chorus
Christopher Steenson recording On Chorus

“The recordings of birdsong that I made during the first lockdown were extremely unique to that period of time when there was very little noise pollution in and around inner-city Dublin,” says Steenson. “By presenting sounds of the recent past, I was hoping to remind the public of how different things were back then and to think of an alternative future – one where we make changes that allow more space for the natural environment.”

What makes this artwork special to Steenson is the fact that it could utilise existing public infrastructure for the new purpose of presenting art in public spaces. 

“If it weren’t for the pandemic, making this kind of artwork, and presenting it in this way, would never have occurred to me before,” he says. “With galleries closed, most artists and artistic institutions were migrating their programmes and exhibitions online. On Chorus was partly about figuring out how to present art in a way that didn’t solely exist online, while still working within existing restrictions.

“I think making people aware of nature is an important part of the artwork. But another idea I felt was particularly powerful was listening as a connecting act during times of physical separation. This was why I made the audio available online during the same hours that it played in the train stations so that people who couldn’t travel could still participate.”

Workplace wonder

A clear winner in its category, On Chorus resonated with the judges for several reasons, according to chief executive of Business to Arts Andrew Hetherington.

“We often think of the typical workplace as an office or enclosed space, and don’t necessarily associate it with the open air, a train station or a train,” he says. “This project challenged the traditional perception of a workplace and helped the public to understand that a workplace can be mobile.

Iarnród Éireann’s biodiversity officer informed the project and made valuable new connections with Birdwatch Ireland

“Many of the frontline workers travelling by train during Level 5 restrictions may have been apprehensive, and this project was an example of how art can be therapeutic and calming. Being agile and considering new ways to use existing infrastructure was at the heart of this project. Knowing that a speaker system can be used to bring wildlife to urban and industrial areas will inspire others to think about using their tech this way.”

On Chorus also engaged Iarnród Éireann employees in new ways, Hetherington adds. “As well as experiencing the artwork as audience members, they were involved in its manifestation and engagement with employees. The communications team delivered audio and video content on the project to other employees, and Iarnród Éireann’s biodiversity officer informed the project and made valuable new connections with Birdwatch Ireland.”

The Business to Arts Awards recognise businesses, philanthropists, artists and arts organisations that develop creative partnerships. Entrants focus on arts sponsorship, commissioning of artist, staff engagement and CSR initiatives, philanthropy and community engagement.