What do artists need to be creative? From time and space to hope, six tell us what makes them tick

Half a dozen figures from the arts world reveal what they require to realise their full potential as creators

If you listen to people who make a living telling us how to solve problems, make great breakthroughs and generally lead happier and more successful lives, they all tend to agree on one thing: creativity is vital. But what does creativity itself need to flourish? And what is holding its practice back in Ireland today? Artists and writers have some answers.

Aideen Barry, artist

If I were to really consider what fuels creativity, I think it is that absence of fear, and the space, time and correct fiscal structures to enable great art to be made. What would really support creativity for Irish art right now would be addressing the cost of living and the environmental crisis that is affecting everyone.

The best art I ever saw being made in Ireland was in the 1990s, during a time when artists were able to live in the inner cities, or have the opportunity to take up slack spaces to make interventions that were so artistically great that their legacy is still with us today. Some of our greatest artists were able to buy or rent old Georgian buildings or abandoned industrial spaces and turn them into spaces of hybridity where civic life and creativity coexisted. There was less litigation anxiety around the types of temporal installation art that was being made, so there was this type of fiscal and philosophical oxygen, and an optimism for the future that gave rise to the creativity of really great art.

If I were to ask for a troika of strategies to combat the problem that deters creativity today, it would be: rent security, housing rights and financial support for all citizens to afford to live anxiety-free through a universal basic income; radical cultural-welfare policies which could support creativity for all our citizens; and a green agenda rooted in socialism to help us navigate the disruptions that climate change is bringing, and will bring, to Ireland.


Aideen Barry’s project with Junk Ensemble, Powerful Trouble, is at the RHA as part of Dublin Theatre Festival from October 11th to 15th

Sophie Motley, artistic director

I need people. Human interaction is the key to a creative life. Interrogation, the tussling of minds and the reverberating of ideas is where the best work is made. I can’t think properly without another artist to bounce ideas off. This knowledge came from 10 years of working with the lighting designer Sarah Jane Shiels. We would Skype early in the morning, before anyone else was awake, and talk and talk and talk through our ideas. Through this rigour, ideas become better; then you can put them through their paces in rooms with more people – people with completely different skills and minds, who will have a unique insight on the how or the why of an idea.

This is why I love theatre and opera as a collaborative art form. It is about different people nurturing an idea over time until it becomes a visual representation. We need conversation to nurture creative practice. Now, part of my job as an artistic director is nurturing other artists. Listening to and interrogating their ideas, and suggesting people for them to talk to, or books and plays to read.

Sophie Motley is artistic director of the Everyman Theatre in Cork

Dagogo Hart, poet and playwright

I could write an epic on all the tangible and intangible things I need to be creative. From the feel and scent of a blank page to the music of busy lives seated in the corner of a local cafe. But nothing compares to a good sad song. The heaviness of words or the haunting feeling of nothing but string instruments. Just listening to the humming alone of Ben Howard on Depth Over Distance, my mind starts racing, connecting the dots of all my emotions.

I play music in the morning on my writing days, and also while writing. Tracy Chapman’s voice seems to slow down my heart rate and allow for interesting thoughts, or sometimes, and maybe even better still, the absence of thought altogether. I believe this is where my creativity lies, somewhere between a mosaic mind coming up with a rainbow of ideas and an empty one allowing my instrument to just flow, be it voice or pen. I guess in summary: a good sad song connects us to our emotions, allows for catharsis, reflection and connection with others. And what else is really required for artistic innovation and creativity?

Dagogo Hart’s most recent play, Mmanwu, was staged as part of this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival

Jane Clarke, poet

To be creative, I need a combination of solitude and companionship. The quiet time I carve out every day for writing is precious and there’s never enough of it. Good books and good conversation are vital. Being outside in the garden or on the hills awakens my senses and frees up my thinking and imagination. I remind myself to observe and listen intently to what’s around me. I’ve learned that creativity is fed by playfulness, curiosity, sadness and love. There’s an element of mystery to making a poem, but it is also as practical as making a cake.

I develop my craft by learning from other poets, and lots of trial and error at the laptop. Because self-doubt is inevitable and making a living is difficult, the network of supports for artists in Ireland is crucial: the Arts Council, Poetry Ireland, the Irish Writers Centre, arts offices, libraries, bookshops, newspapers, arts festivals, RTÉ and local radio stations have all assisted and motivated me. If I had to choose one word which encompasses all that helps my creativity, it would be “encouragement”, in the sense of what helps make the heart strong. Readers, fellow writers, publishers, family and friends give me courage daily.

Jane Clarke’s third poetry collection, A Change in the Air, is published by Bloodaxe Books

Dick Walsh, playwright and director

The campaign for housing is the campaign for the arts. Without having the certainty of a roof over our heads, it’s hard to create independent-minded art. Right now in Dublin, most artists I know are working full-time just to afford a few tired hours to work on their art. During the financial crisis, many independent arts scenes emerged in Dublin. Funding was cut, but accommodation was cheap, and there were plenty of empty spaces to run venues and events. By 2015 this had begun to change, and the arts community began to disappear.

What artists ultimately need is not individual. What we need is communal. An ecosystem that includes critics, curators, journalists, festival directors, volunteers, spaces to make work – and, just as importantly, spaces to hang out, discuss, argue, take stances, create factions and make friends. Most of us in this community are willing to live on very little and work very hard for just enough. But right now, with rampant food, fuel and rent inflation, not to mind inflation in insurance and other utilities, that just isn’t possible. Right now, I see only corporate art surviving and little else, sadly.

Dick Walsh’s most recent play, Drainage Scheme, was performed at the Abbey Theatre earlier this month as part of Dublin Fringe Festival

Conor Hanratty, theatre and opera director

What do artists need to be creative? Hope. Creativity is an act of hope. As artists we need to be wildly, provocatively hopeful. We hope that what we do matters. We hope people will watch, listen, laugh, be moved (and buy tickets!). At a deeper level, we hope that what we do might actually change the world. If even one audience member has a moment of revelation, relief or wonder – isn’t that amazing? The value of writers is currently under attack, and actors are striking in fear of being replicated by AI. But machines cannot simulate the joy of shared experience, of being present when something wonderful happens: being together as a community formed solely to share a moment of creativity.

A singer hits the perfect note. An actress delivers a line with perfect timing, distinctly attuned to that night’s audience. A company hits its stride and makes a classic breathe anew. A new writer’s voice emerges. A chorus nails its choreography in perfect sync with an orchestra. Perfection may be the enemy of the good – but it is a tiny miracle when everything works out. We strive for that transcendent alchemy. We live for it. And we always hope that maybe tonight is the night we’ll achieve it.

Conor Hanratty is directing a new production of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri at Wexford Festival Opera, which runs from October 24th until November 5th