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Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Solstice Arts Instagram
# Culture Magazine
What To Know: Solstice Arts Centre in Navan is a haven for creative disciplines
The director of Navan’s Solstice Arts Centre details their expansive programme, community spirit and Ireland’s exciting art scene.

“WE BELIEVE THAT arts and culture illuminate our lives, and awaken possibility in everyone.” You’ll find this sentiment on the website for the Solstice Arts Centre, one of Ireland’s most ground-breaking and inspiring creative institutes. 

Since opening in 2006, this invaluable resource has facilitated countless workshops and classes for people of all ages across several creative disciplines. They’ve curated thought-provoking exhibitions and have provided a space for people to come and enjoy live music, theatre and cinema. 

_BAZ7942 Photo by: Barry Cronin Solstice team members (from L-R): Deirdre Rogers, Belinda Quirke and Paula Piotrowska Photo by: Barry Cronin

For 17 years, Belinda Quirke has enriched the space with her expertise and passion for the arts throughout her tenure as director of Solstice Arts Centre. As well as showcasing the wealth of talent across fine and visual arts, the centre has served as a venue for live music, welcoming some of Ireland’s finest acts including Ye Vagabonds and Declan O’Rourke.

Music has played an essential role in Quirke’s creative language from an early age. A classically trained vocalist, Quirke moved to Cork where she completed degrees in both Crawford Art College and the University College Cork’s Music Department. Today, she continues to perform and record music. Undoubtedly, her direct involvement in creating art and being part of a wider community of people contributing to all creative industries is crucial to the unique essence of the centre.

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Furthermore, the innovative design of Solstice Arts Centre, from the cafe to the auditoriums and exhibition rooms is simultaneously understated and spectacular. Designed by Shelley McNamara, co-founder and leading architect of the multi-award-winning Grafton Architects, Solstice Arts Centre feels and looks like a work of art. Located in Navan, Co Meath, the exterior of large glass panels and substantial stone roof feels otherworldly in the quaint town. Attractive and slightly mysterious; it beckons you to explore what’s inside. 

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Additional touches are currently in place to embellish the centre’s striking aesthetic, as Quirke told The Journal. “We’re very excited to be consulting with Algorithm, Grafton Architects and Meath County Council to develop a mapped permanent light projection programme on the façade of the building for use by the public and commissioned artists. That will be amazing.”

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Once you step inside Solstice, the attention to detail paid to its exterior is as consciously considered as the variety of events held throughout the year. The breadth and ambition displayed across Solstice’s programming are truly remarkable. Every year, the arts centre will have, on average, 500 different events planned spanning classes, live events and exhibitions. 

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Throughout Quirke’s career, there have been several memorable experiences for the work involved in running Solstice. “I don’t like thinking in highlights but rather in richness or breadth. The art that stays with you is the art that challenges you out of a known position, to elsewhere. I often think about the handmade smoked oak drums we commissioned by local craftsman John Lee that are sounding throughout the world with Swedish percussionist Peter Bernadalen or the moment of creation of another Solstice commission entitled “The Foundling Crib” by poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin.”

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A contributing factor to having such a diverse range of events and exhibitions in the space is simply to facilitate the surrounding community. To ensure that there is something for everyone to enjoy, Quirk says. “Communities are rhizomatic; constantly evolving. We work hard to develop lines of engagement with people around us. Throughout Covid, we continued to programme activities outdoors and online, and support creative work where we could. Now, in the café, you move from Syrian to Ukrainian, and Spanish, people with disabilities who meet daily at the centre. It’s been heart-warming to track young artists who commenced their art practice with local arts groups or at the centre, moving to professional arts careers.”

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For those taking the initial steps to forge a career in the arts, Quirke feels optimistic about the industry. Despite recent positive developments in supporting artists in Ireland, there’s still a lot to be done to ensure stability for future generations. “I think the Irish government is waking up to the cognitive importance of creativity to the identity and growth of our nation beyond lip service in speeches. The recent increase in arts funding is to be welcomed, as is the Basic Income for the Arts pilot. The Irish creative industry is a sure-fire venture that pays intergenerational dividends on a global scale, but it is meaningless unless the artist is properly paid for work produced and supported to develop that work where they live.”

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Quirke continues, “The decreasing monetary value of digital sound and arts through streaming platforms, particularly album sales, has led to an impossible dependency for artists on physical touring. Artist studios, and workspace infrastructure, remains a critical issue for artists in Ireland, as are production supports.”

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After a busy 2022, Quirke reveals that the Solstice programme for the first quarter of next year is already shaping up to be a busy one. “We begin the year with a community project called Dumbworld, directed by John Mcilduff in collaboration with composer Brian Irvine. We also have Sinead Ní Mhaonaigh presenting a significant new body of work in our galleries and an excellent theatre season scheduled featuring performances by Theatre Lovett, Druid, Tonic by Fionn Foley in association with Rough Magic. We’ll also have new work by Ukrainian sound artist Heinali and performances by Perlee, Karan Casey, and Banbha Quartet booked.” 

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Elsewhere, Quirke hopes to continue facilitating artists of all backgrounds and disciplines to ensure a vibrant and exciting arts scene in Ireland. “For the future, we want to keep thriving and serving the public and artists as best we can in the adverse conditions we all find ourselves in at the end of 2022.”

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