Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

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Curators Hollie Kearns and Rosie Lynch developed this proposal during the 2014 Curatorial Intensive in New York.

Workhouse Union is a distinct, year-long programme of artist commissions, film screenings, public events, and active research at Callan Workhouse, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland in 2015. This project is co-curated by ICI Curatorial Intensive alumna Hollie Kearns and curator Rosie Lynch. Workhouse Union will support artists Bridget O’Gorman, Vagabond Reviews and Deirdre O’Mahony, researcher and writer Stephanie Feeney, curator Orlaith Treacy, and photographer Brian Cregan to undertake research and develop new work. The research and preparation of new work will be punctuated by ongoing public engagement with communities of interest and of place. This work will be presented to the public at a month-long exhibition in October 2015. Curator and filmmaker Katherine Waugh has been invited to expand this programme with a curated series of film screenings and critical discussion events.

Workhouse Union constitutes the next stage in the conception, development, and transformation of a semi-derelict wing of Callan Workhouse into a complex cultural hub with shared artistic and community facilities. Callan Workhouse has a significant and weighted history in our town. The Workhouse was built in 1840 under the Poor Law Union Act 1838, passed by parliament in Westminster, when 133 workhouses for the poor were built in Ireland in three years. These buildings were physically and psychologically monumental in comparison to buildings in small Irish towns at that time.

It was the famine in 1845 that compounded the legacy of the workhouse in Ireland with desperate poverty, disease, and overcrowding, and highlighted the injustices of a discriminatory colonial rule. However, in its early years, there were very few people who entered the workhouses. This was a first crude attempt by the state to deal with the most vulnerable in society, and the early social engineering project was coupled with intentional and systemic stigmatization. This law and policy attitude has continuing echoes in our current social welfare system in Ireland, lending Workhouse Union a critical contemporary urgency.

Since Callan Workhouse was closed in 1921 following Irish Independence, the history of the building has been layered with new uses and stories; it is currently a site of civic and residential use with county council offices, a fire station, social housing and a Camphill Community where people with a disability live and work in an inclusive environment, with an organic garden and livestock. In 2008, Endangered Artists Studios, a Kilkenny Arts Office initiative, began to use a semi-derelict wing of the workhouse.

Workhouse Union will begin in Spring 2015 with the launch of two new studio ‘pods’ and research space at Callan Workhouse, designed by LiD Architecture and developed with curator Etaoin Holahan. This launch will be a joint launch with Workhouse Assembly, a new publication that outlines the approach to a ‘slowed down’ community and artist-led development of Callan Workhouse, initiated in 2013 by the project curators.

In tandem with Workhouse Union, curators Hollie Kearns and Rosie Lynch will undertake a strategic residency with National Sculpture Factory in Cork, under the Im/Plants programme. This residency was proposed and awarded as a chance to develop an organizational and curatorial ethos at Callan Workhouse, which will constitute a collaborative approach to supporting art making communities in the 21st century through experimental spatial practice and artistic risk-taking. The residency will take place in Spring 2015, and will be an opportunity to collaborate with National Sculpture Factory as critical colleagues in the Callan Workhouse development.

Part of the impulse of the Callan Workhouse development is the continued de-monumentalisation of this building into a site of social inclusion and public access as promoted by Camphill Community Callan. Rather than one “top down” institution, there will be myriad community and public supports, with both public access and facilities for artists to make work in this context. We believe that a ‘slowed down’ and responsive approach to this development process will be most meaningful to the contributions of artists, designers, and researchers, as well as our various communities of interest and place, throughout this process. Workhouse Union is a programme that will bring our activity at Callan Workhouse to its most public presentation.

Workhouse Union is supported through an Arts Council of Ireland Project Award. The development of new studio spaces at Callan Workhouse is supported through a Kilkenny County Council Community and Cultural Facilities Capital Scheme 2014. The publication of Workhouse Assembly is funded through a Kilkenny Leader Partnership Analysis and Development Grant.

Hollie Kearns’s participation in the ICI Curatorial Intensive: Considering Publics and Contexts in March 2014 was supported through an Arts Council of Ireland Travel and Training Award.

Learn More

To learn more about this proposal please email Hollie Kearns at To learn more about the Curatorial Intensive email