Director Write Up

Gallery of Modern Art 

Jenna Whelan
Director, GOMA 

Located in the Viking triangle of Waterford City, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) aims to foster awareness, understanding and involvement in the visual arts through innovative programmes and inclusive policies.

We support visual artists at all career stages through exhibition programmes, subsidised studio spaces, residencies, technical facilities, training and skills development, paid opportunities and exchanges. In addition, our community outreach and education programme is geared towards cultural diversity, young people, those with disabilities and other socially disadvantaged groups.

Having previously lived in Limerick and Cork, I returned home to Waterford in 2013 at the end of the recession – a time when many people had left, in order to gain work, and the arts were struggling. Waterford’s sense of community, and the need to support artists at a difficult time informed my decision to move back.

I wanted to contribute to the growth of what is now a thriving arts environment in Waterford. Founding  GOMA in 2015 afforded artists the time, support and space to develop their practice. We are continuously seeking progressive ways of working with artists and the community, especially during what has been such a challenging year.

Despite our doors been shut during lockdown, we presented a range of online events, workshops, virtual exhibitions, zoom talks, recordings, wellbeing sessions and networking sessions. The team have worked hard to ensure a safe environment for our audiences and artists. This wouldn’t have been possible with the support of our Local Authority, the Arts Council, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media and our partners.

GOMA has approximately eight or nine exhibitions per year, with a programme of professional development workshops, networking events, community events, residencies, emerging artist awards, performance events and music events. GOMA’s mission is to provide both emerging and established artists with opportunities to present their work. Our 2021 programme includes Elaine Hoey, John Shinnors, Emmett Brickly and Ben Hennessy.

This October, GOMA will celebrate its fifth birthday. To mark this special milestone, the organisation will be strengthening and building relationships locally, nationally and internationally. The programme will include solo and group exhibitions, exhibition exchanges, residencies, studio exchanges, workshops and talks. We are delighted to say we have also increased our rates of pay for artists this year.

One specific project, formed as part of our COVID-19 support response, is called Connect 5. This pilot scheme has been developed in collaboration with several organisations throughout Ireland – Sample Studios (Cork), Engage Artists Studios (Galway), Wickham Street Studios (Limerick) and BKB (Dublin). We initiated a series of exhibition exchanges, providing a platform for artists to create and exhibit work and participate in a peer-led exchange process. Resident artists of each organisation are given a bursary as well as exhibition opportunities across the other venues. In addition, our Emerging Curator 2021 awardee, Valeria Ceregini, will be working with us on a paid residency this October, which is delivered in partnership with the Theatre Royal Waterford.

While GOMA is an art gallery with studio spaces and a support system for artists, it is also so much more for the local community. Coming from a socially disadvantaged background the importance of inclusion and seeing the arts as a safe place has always been evident in my practice and has certainly influenced GOMA’s evolution.

Our unique building and gardens are offered to the community and are accessible for projects. We understand the value of engagement and outreach to communities that may not have the opportunity to access such a space or resources. Throughout the year, we run projects with various groups, such as the Sudanese community (funded by Waterford Area Partnership), the Syrian community, Brothers of Charity and Shine Discovery, a mental health support organisation.

GOMA also runs a range of educational programmes, workshops and events tailored to the needs of young people of various ages and DEIS schools. These are carried out by qualified, vetted and paid facilitators, some of whom have participated in the Teacher Artist Partnership CPD residency programme. We were delighted to be able to continue such educational services throughout lockdowns, through online media or school visits, where appropriate. One schools project we are particularly proud of is Resilience and Isolation, run by print artist and facilitator, Anne McDonnell.

As the country continues to take tentative steps along the road to pandemic recovery, the arts across all sectors has particularly suffered. Here at GOMA, we believe that the values and ideals the originally build the gallery upon in 2015 will put us in good stead to meet those challenges ahead.