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Merrion’s open-air artists persevere through Level 3

With Level 3 restrictions ordering galleries to close, Eibhin Kavanagh talks to the artists still able to display their work at the Merrion Square Open-Air Art Gallery.

Artists display their work at Merrion Square every Sunday from 10am until 5pm. Photo by Eibhin Kavanagh

With the introduction of Level 3 restrictions in Dublin last month, art galleries and other cultural institutions have been forced to close.

Despite this, the Merrion Square Open-Air Art Gallery has weathered Level 3 restrictions, and every Sunday artists gather in this Georgian garden square to sell their work and bring colour to Dublin City Centre.

Brendan Higgins has been displaying his art at Merrion Square for over ten years.  He talked to The City about the changes experienced since artists started exhibiting again in the Summer.

Brendan Higgins at Merrion Square with his artwork. Photo by Eibhin Kavanagh

“There was a huge drop in footfall,” he said. “It is a business area Monday-Friday and on the weekends, there were a lot of tourists.” he continued: “But business hasn’t been too bad, because people are coming in just to buy paintings.” 

In regard to the level 3 restrictions, Brendan said: “We’re one of the only open-air events, when the galleries were open as well, they were also attracting people, so the last three weeks with the galleries closed we did notice a drop in footfall.”

Kevin Sharkey, who has been exhibiting for around five years now, said: “An open-air art market is perfectly suited to deal with the coronavirus because it’s not close contact. I find most people are very relaxed about it when they’re outside and they have space.”

“The main thing I noticed was that people who before would’ve done things like go to the cinema or go for a meal or whatever, are instead looking for outdoor activities. Merrion Square suits this perfectly.”

“For the last lockdown, most people were doing two things. They were staying home, and they were decorating. You can only paint so many rooms in your house but at some stage when you want to finish off your design you think, ‘ah we need a nice painting.’ In Ireland, there’s very few places where you can see such a wide breadth of different artistic talents in one sitting, and that is something people who are looking for art want; choice,” Kevin said.

Artist Kevin Sharkey with his work. Taken by Eibhin Kavanagh

Peadar Sheerin, who has been displaying his work at Merrion Square for nine years now, said: “Since this is an open-air exhibition it is reasonably safe Covid-wise.”

Peadar also reflected on how the exhibition used to be: “I miss the American tourists, they were great customers. ‘I like those three honey. Wrap em up’. Also the Germans, French, Japanese, Chinese, and good ole UK, to mention a few.”

Councillor Cat O’Driscoll, chair of the City Council Arts, Culture, Recreation and Leisure Strategic Policy Committee commented on the importance of the open-air gallery with restrictions limiting arts and culture in Dublin City.  

“I’ve been inspired by how innovative so many have been to bring arts and culture to everyone safely,” Cat O’Driscoll said.

“The Merrion Square Open-Air Art Gallery is an institution and it is wonderful to have it while so many other spaces are closed.”

“It’s important we still get out and about in a safe way to keep well physically and mentally. Weather permitting, a social distanced stroll around the Merrion Square Gallery on a Sunday with a take away hot beverage is highly recommended.”

She also noted: “Don’t forget your mask.”

“With Merrion Square, you’re dealing with the artist directly. If I was going out to get a painting, I’d go to Merrion Square before I’d go to a gallery,” Brendan Higgins said.

“In Ireland there are very few things that you can bring your whole family to that doesn’t cost you anything,” Kevin Sharkey said.

The Merrion Square Open-Air Art Gallery takes place every Sunday from 10am until 5pm.

In December the artists will be exhibiting daily.

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