Sunday 18 March 2018

Love it or hate it... there's no ignoring Lesley's festival

Lesley Tully outlines the impressive scale of the Dublin Contemporary 2011 art exhibition to Andrea Byrne

Andrea Byrne

IT'S almost 40 minutes after Lesley Tully and I sit down for coffee that I actually turn on the tape recorder. Even her smoked salmon lunch and latte doesn't stop her flow of chat. We blather about everything from Geordie Shore to women golfers, before getting down to the reason for our meeting -- Dublin Contemporary 2011, where Lesley is project director.

For the uninitiated, Dublin Contemporary is a visual art exhibition on a scale never seen in Ireland before. Given that it was the first year of the initiative and the uncertain economical climate, some felt it was over-ambitious. "You don't do something historical and not create a few ripples," Lesley smiles confidently. "People are naturally cautious and sceptical but there was a lovely group of individuals and institutions that really supported us."

Showcasing the work of more than 100 Irish and international artists, Dublin Contemporary will run for two months and aims to be accessible, something art often isn't. As well as curated tours, there are street art installations and a funky bar for "art after dark". It's all very cool, young and vibrant, with most of the events happening in its Earlsfort Terrace exhibition site.

"You don't need to have studied art, or be very intellectual, you just come and enjoy it," Lesley says. "There is a lot of work people will hate and stuff people will love and that's great. The worst thing that can happen with anything in art is that people are indifferent; if nobody had an opinion that would be worse."

The event, which is curated by international artists Jota Castro and Christian Viveros-Faune, is 50 per cent Government funded, with the remainder raised through ticket sales and sponsorship. Dublin Contemporary is costing €4m to host but it is hoped that it will generate three times that amount.

"The art has blown me away," Lesley admits. "I wasn't expecting what I have seen. The goodwill, the people who have supported us, and who wanted to be involved have been incredible."

Tall, attractive with striking features, Lesley, who is in her early 30s, looks a lot like Grace Woodward, a judge from Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model. She's delighted with the comparison. From Pains-town in Meath, Lesley has inherited her father's business and organisational acumen and her painter mother's passion for art. Lesley's brother is a full-time artist working in New York, while her sister does animation, as an aside to her career as a teacher.

Lesley attended boarding school in Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham before deciding to study film at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire. "I did some short films, worked on some RTE stuff. Producing was my main thing. It's a hard industry in that if there isn't a film coming to town, you're not in work," she explains.

She moved to London briefly before returning home to take a job with Art Ireland, organising their art fairs. Lesley was then asked by Volta, one of the world's top art fairs to work for them -- which involved dividing her time between Frankfurt, Basel and New York. "It's interesting because you're part of a big team. You're in town for two months and it's full of energy. But it was a happy coincidence when this came up," she says of her appointment as project director of Dublin Contemporary, "because I wanted to move home -- my boyfriend is here, my family is here."

Once Dublin Contemporary comes to an end, Lesley hopes to take a holiday in Peru to recharge the batteries and think about the next visual art extravaganza, which she hopes will be a more national event and which will take place in 2016.

"The reason it's every five years is because of the gestation period for art in a community like Ireland. You need time to turn over the work. If you do it over two years, you would just be putting people in because you have to have the bodies. Art isn't fast. 2016 will have even more artists, interesting parallels and collaborative events, and look to get more partnerships and branch out regionally."

Dublin Contemporary 2011 Terrible Beauty: Art, Crisis, Change & The Office of Non-Compliance runs until October 31. To book see or call 01-6789116

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