The Lavit Gallery is the great survivor of Cork City’s art galleries. Established in 1963 as a non-profit and charitable organization, it has adopted an artist membership system that has helped it weather all recessions for the past sixty or so years. The gallery originally occupied premises on Lavitt’s Quay before moving to Father Matthew St and then to its present location on Wandesford Quay. The setting could hardly be more appropriate; the same complex is also home to Backwater Artists and Cork Engravers.
Brian MacDomhnaill was appointed director of the Lavit Gallery in June, succeeding Aoife O’Connell. MacDomhnaill first trained as an architect, before embarking on artistic creation and administration. Most recently he worked at the Sirius Arts Center in Cobh, and before that at Backwater, where his duties included programming exhibitions at Gallery 12.
His appointment to Lavit brought new challenges and opportunities. “It’s a new role with a lot of agency, and it gave me the chance to direct,” he says. “The administration to date has been heavy, but the Lavit Board was also looking for someone to usher the gallery into its next era. I could see the potential for diversification and growth.
Traditionally, Lavit has depended on sales commissions as well as its membership model to survive. “But the sales market can be quite nerve-wracking. I want the Lavit to survive another 60 years as a dedicated space for buying and selling art, but I also see the potential for further support through philanthropy, funding and room rental. We have already tried a few events and would like to have them regularly.
The art market in Cork is notoriously small; over the past thirty years, shopping malls such as the Fenton and the Vangard have succeeded one another. “Both had a particularly stable appeal for a particular market,” says MacDomhnaill. “But the Lavit has a wider reach; we can always sell the small items when we can’t sell the bigger ones.
“Right now, half the plan is to get more people to the door. Younger people consume images faster, watching something every day at home may be a foreign concept. But hopefully that if they come in, the dime will drop that buying art is worth pursuing.MacDomhnaill pledges to uphold Lavit’s policy of hosting a summer and winter exhibition of the work of its members, as well as its collaboration with the Crawford College of Art and Design on two annual exhibitions; a Student of the Year exhibition each fall and a Graduate Exhibition later in the year.
“Every two years we also host a performance by artists from Backwater or Cork Printmakers,” he says. “Usually we have four more exhibition slots left, each lasting three and a half weeks. But I look to combine two for an ambitious funded project each year. An exhibit that we hope to do next year might be more of a museum-style exhibit, for example. I can’t say much more at the moment, except that its theme would be related to our 60th anniversary celebrations.
MacDomhnaill also hopes to celebrate the Lavit’s 60th anniversary in other ways. “We tackled the archives. There are tons of things; old programs and correspondence, and photographs of artists in front of their works. We would like to show at least some of it during our summer and winter exhibitions.
The Lavit is currently presenting the first exhibition of paintings by Bridget Flannery in Cork for twenty years. In the future, MacDomhnaill hopes the Lavit will host more small group exhibitions, with three or four running simultaneously.
“At the moment we have a mix of crafting and more affordable items for sale in the chests, but we are considering moving them to where the stash is at the back of the gallery. This would free up the chests, so we are going there let’s show one or two salable artists when there’s a less commercial project in the main space, and vice versa.
“I’m always open to suggestions. If artists send me what they have, I’ll at least put them in a folder and see if they’re suitable for a group show or a solo show or whatever. So many artists still adhere to the traditional model of creating work to exhibit and sell. A space like the Lavit is crucial for the survival of this model.