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Mary Moynihan
human rights arts festival

'The arts are really good for bringing people together to have difficult conversations'

A unique human rights arts festival run by Smashing Times takes place in Dublin this month.

THERE IS A major conversation ongoing at the moment about how Ireland treats its cultural spaces – particularly in the wake of the Bernard Shaw closure announcement.

With it being festival season, we’re seeing at the same time a range of festivals – like Dublin Fringe and the upcoming Dublin Theatre Festival – bringing art makers to the capital, and showing how the arts can be used to explore a range of topics. 

Also this month we’ll see a festival celebrating the work of human rights defenders, with an aim of bringing the arts and equality together across a series of events.

The festival is curated by Smashing Times, which has done a lot of work in Northern Ireland on peace and reconciliation through the arts. Working with Smashing Times on the festival are Front Line Defenders, Trinity College Dublin, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Trócaire and Fighting Words. 

Mary Moynihan, Curator of the Festival and a writer, theatre-maker, film-maker and artistic director of Smashing Times told that the idea of the festival “is to raise awareness of and celebrate human rights through the arts and explore stories that are happening in Ireland and around the world both in the past and today”.

The team want to make the event “a celebration”, showing “dignity and respect for people”. “You’re shining a light on the difficult areas or difficult things happening,” explained Moynihan. 

There are a lot of very technical definitions of human rights – for me it is about promoting dignity, fairness and respect for people. It’s about celebrating our humanity.

To Moynihan, the connection between arts and human rights is obvious. Both are about “exploring the world we live in and the human relationships and human connections”.

As an artist, she wants to tell stories that have a human impact. “The arts can be a way to bring people into the story on a more personal level,” she explains. “It’s an entry point for human rights in a way that is accessible. A way to embed human rights in society and to shine a light on what’s happening in a way that is accessible and reaches people.”


Smashing Times has long lived this truth – in 1991 they went to Northern Ireland to work on peacebuilding and reconciliation through the arts. They went on from there to work across Europe on a range of different projects, bringing the arts to people affected by the refugee crisis and conflict. 

“The arts are really good for bringing people together to have difficult conversations,” explained Moynihan. “If you go to the theatre you choose to go to listen to someone else’s story. Stepping into someone else’s shoes is very important part in theatre.” 

Their work in Northern Ireland was before the ceasefires, and focused on using drama to bring people together across the different religious and social divides.

“Storytelling became an important part of that,” explains Moynihan. “We went to hard to reach communities, using theatre to enable people to tell their stories and express what happened with them. But also to meet other groups and build a form of connection.”

The conversations started in the North in 1991 need to continue day, says Moynihan. “It’s absolutely essential we continue this dialogue,” she said. “What we’re hearing is there are still needs that have to be met on the ground for people who lived through the Troubles. It can’t be buried, it has to be explored.”

The conversation also goes beyond the Troubles, with Moynihan pointing out that the phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t just refer to conflicts. “Human rights are so important to Ireland – if you can’t get proper hospital care or get on a waiting list that is about human rights. If you can’t get a house to live in or your kids can’t afford to move out of home, that is human rights. There is obviously a scale of human rights, from having freedom denied and life taken away – it’s all part of the continuum.”

“I hope that we’re building connections between artists, audiences and people who are affected by working in the area of human rights,” says Moynihan of the festival. “And raising awareness of stories that aren’t being told.”

I hope that people will come together and help us celebrate that we need to speak out and stand up for the rights of people, particularly people who are different to us.

Dublin Arts and Human Rigths Festival  (1)

Event highlights: 

  • Escape routes and freedom trails: European Solidarity between nations. Performance, film, panel discussion and music. Thursday 19 September, 7.30 – 10pm at the Samuel Beckett Theatre.
  • Culture Night pop-up exhibition and talk: Women’s stories 1916 – 1923 and Women’s Stories of WWII. Friday 20 September 2 – 7pm at Samuel Beckett Theatre.
  • Silent by Pat Kinevane. Friday 20 September, 7.30 – 10pm at Samuel Beckett Theatre.
  • Special literary cabaret of new writing, drama, music and comedy. Sunday 22 September at Buswells Hotel, Molesworth St, 7.30pm – 10pm.
  • The Trial – visual art installation exploring healthcare and human rights in the Irish criminal justice system. 26 September – 3 November at Dublin Castle.
  • Righteous Verse – evening of spoken word and music. Saturday 28 September, 6.30 – 9pm, Kennedy’s Bar, 30 – 32 Westland Row.

The festival takes place from 19-29 September 2019.

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