Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, Vicki Nash has been living in Newcastle West for nearly 50 years where she is one of the pillars of the arts community. Culture is a huge part of her life as she is both facilitator and organiser.
“I came here in January 1967.” Coming from a very cultured city, Pittsburgh has lots of museums, galleries, theatre, and live music. Vicki first got involved in the arts and culture scene in Newcastle West in 1980 with Michael Hartnett, the poet central to the Éigse festival. “He had started an arts committee a a few years earlier and he asked me in 1980 to join. Suddenly I got involved in a lot of other voluntary associations. We started a music school in Newcastle West which lasted to 2009/2010 supported by the VEC.” Unfortunately after the economic downturn the funding dried up but that did not stop Vicki and the Arts Committee in Newcastle West as they continued with more festivals, readings and exhibitions with support from the local library and others.
“Four or five years ago Claire and David Geary bought the old ACC building in Newcastle West and turned it into an art gallery. It’s a public building so they don’t charge us for the use of it and we hold about 8 exhibitions there every year. The exhibitions include everything from local artists to State Art collections and an exhibition of 14 Irish women artists of the 20th century; very prestigious. That’s another thing about the Red Door Gallery, we don’t have the hassle of owning a building but we organise and invigilate on a voluntary basis. The Red Door is situated between the two main banks in the Square and we find people who would never have dreamed of going into a gallery wander in and out. The Red Door has become central to the arts activities around Newcastle West.”
Of course Newcastle West’s biggest arts attraction is the Michael Hartnett Festival, Éigse. “In the early days it was mostly poetry and literature but it has broadened into the visual arts, theatre and music. It’s a fitting tribute to Michael as when he started the arts committee it wasn’t just about literature. This year with Éigse we did performance art in the street. We had the Stanzas poetry group and local performance artists setting the town abuzz reading Hartnett’s poetry and some of their own poetry. It really brought the whole Éigse thing to the masses. Everyone in the town is aware of Michael Hartnett but they might not go to a sit down reading.”
One of the most recent projects in Newcastle West is post-it art.
“I’m involved in the Tidy Towns as well and the judges make an issue about vacant premises so we put post-it art in these buildings and turned them into art installations. We were thrilled with the response. It’s a bit of fun as well. We are choosing different streets to do this on as well. It’s bringing art to the people; art isn’t just about privilege.” Vicki echoes some of the core principles of the Limerick2020 bid.
“We are also planning a public art project. The steps on the mass path joins the church to the first of the public housing estates in the town and it’s where Michael Hartnett lived for part of his life. We are planning to paint these steps and hoping to have a Michael Hartnett theme for that.”
Vicki is hopeful of a successful outcome of the Limerick2020 bid. “It has so much potential really. Limerick is coming. The European Capital of Culture designation would take it that step further to bring it along. The amalgamation of the city and county council is an important part of that and makes it more cohesive. Certainly all of us in Newcastle West want to see success and the team is working hard at it and we certainly would love to be involved in it in every shape and form.”