Tucked away in Friary Hall off School Street sits the Open Gate Art Studio – a place where experienced and novice artists alike gather three times a week for some creativity and company.
It is a place where anybody can become an exhibiting artist, regardless of wealth, experience or skills.
The studio was established a year and a half ago by Dimitri Avtin, a professional artist who is originally from Uzbekistan. Along with local artist Kevin Ryan and former carpenter Tony Bergin, he now facilitates free painting and drawing sessions for members of the public. Local residents Deirdre and Edward Barker also help to oversee the classes.
Although the studio itself is hidden away, the efforts of those involved do not go unnoticed. Each participant is given the chance to put their work on display in their own exhibition which will run for a two week period.
‘Everyone gets the opportunity to put their art up for the very first time,’ explained Kilmore resident Tony Bergin, who facilitates one class a week. ‘This is to show people that the studio is a nice and a safe place that is not about judgement. I have no background in art at all but through the classes and exhibitions, we aim to prove to people that creativity can be brought out from within you.’
Tony’s own work and teaching style are inspired by the work of American artist Jackson Pollock, who incorporates a drip style into all of his paintings. Tony’s personal exhibition was on display in recent weeks and attracted plenty of attention from visitors and members of the classes.
However for Tony and his fellow facilitators, the studio is about more than sharing art and drawing attention from the public.
‘This was set up as a community facility that Wexford didn’t really have. We wanted to show people that there’s a place where they can come to meet new people and talk over a cup of tea,’ he said. ‘Just like with a book club, we wanted it to be a place where people come and talk and they share. And it’s definitely becoming what it’s meant to be: a community-based friendship centre.’
According to Tony, the classes are growing ‘at a fantastic rate’, with about 15 people in each class. He feels that the casual nature of the classes is what has helped to make it such a success.
‘With other classes, people are sometimes afraid of signing up as they can be expensive and if they don’t enjoy it, their money is gone. With us, you put in a small donation of a few euro to help pay for light, heating and materials,’ he explained. ‘Anyone can join. There are no rules.’
Owing to the positive response that the Open Gate Art Studio has received, Tony now hopes to use his experience as a carpenter to establish a men’s group in the area.
‘It is something that has been in my heart for a while and I am just getting the wheels in motion now. I was trained as a carpenter and so, have the skills to do things around the house,’ he said. ‘I have many friends who say I am fortunate to be able to do these things. I am fortunate. Some men aren’t able to change plugs and hang pictures. With this new group, I intend to incorporate art and home work.’
Through the group, Tony hopes to expand on what has been achieved by the studio and offer men a place where they can come together to chat and learn.
‘I hope to provide a caring safe place for men who are unaware of a facility that they can have access to should they want an ear to listen to them,’ he said.
In the meantime, Tony, Kevin and Dimitri will continue to run classes in Friary Hall and are inviting anyone with an interest in art or socialising to come along.
(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/wexfords-free-community-art-class-is-proving-as-successful-in-reality-as-it-is-on-paper-34663377.html)