21 Northern Ireland Creatives Scoop Arts Council ACES Award

ACES musicians, Brigid O’Neill and Fionnuala Fagan

21 artists from Northern Ireland have been announced at the latest recipients of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s ACES award 2015/16, a funding grant bestowed upon Northern Ireland’s most talented emerging artists to allow them to develop their professional artistic careers.

Awards under the Artists Career Enhancement Scheme (ACES) are made annually to professional artists working in music, visual arts, drama, dance, literature and participatory arts and are among the most prestigious awards bestowed by the Arts Council annually. The artists include four visual artists, three playwrights, five poets, three novelists, three musicians, a dance artist and two community artists.

ACES artists, Larry Cowan, Geraldine O’ Kane, Chelley McLear, Shannon Sickles, Lesley Richardson, Colin Dardis, Brigid O’Neill, Emma Heatherington, Fionnuala Fagan, Norma Beggs, Maria McManus and Shiro Masuyama

ACES artists, Larry Cowan, Geraldine O’ Kane, Chelley McLear, Shannon Sickles, Lesley Richardson, Colin Dardis, Brigid O’Neill, Emma Heatherington, Fionnuala Fagan, Norma Beggs, Maria McManus and Shiro Masuyama

In addition to receiving a bursary of up to £5,000 each, many of the 21 artists have been partnered with a professional organisation to help each of them to deliver a major new creative work. Those organisations include; Golden Thread Gallery, Sonic Arts Research Centre and Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, Replay Theatre, Panarts, Arts & Disability Forum, Maiden Voyage, CCA (Derry), Theatreofpluck, The MAC, Millennium Court Arts Centre (Portadown), Mark Devereux Projects (Manchester), Vital Exposure (London), Dad Festival (Liverpool) and The Performance Corporation (Ireland).

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “These 21 artists are already established and highly regarded in each of their fields.

“The awards are given in recognition of their work to date and to provide them with support to take their careers to that vital next level. The ACES programme has been running successfully now for six years and addresses the need for on-going training and skills development within the arts sector.”

CES artists Chelley McLear, Shannon Sickles, Emma Heatherington, Lesley Richardson, Geraldine O’Kane, Colin Dardis and Maria McManus

CES artists Chelley McLear, Shannon Sickles, Emma Heatherington, Lesley Richardson, Geraldine O’Kane, Colin Dardis and Maria McManus

The 21 artists include:

  • Fionnuala Kennedy, playwright and theatre-maker
  • Shannon Sickles, playwright
  • Helen Hall, dance artist
  • Miguel Martin, visual artist
  • Chelley McLear, poet and storyteller
  • Darren Anderson, novelist
  • Hilary McCollum, playwright
  • Jacqueline Wylie, visual artist
  • Norma Beggs, community artist
  • Emma Heatherington, novelist
  • Fionnuala Fagan, musician, composer and installation artist
  • Andrew Eaton, poet
  • Colin Dardis, poet
  • Leo Devlin, visual artist
  • Shiro Masuyama, visual artist
  • Larry Cowan, community artist
  • Brigid O’Neill, singer-songwriter
  • Geraldine O’Kane, poet
  • Lesley Richardson, novelist
  • Maria McManus, poet
  • Ciara O’Neill, singer-songwriter

The Artists Career Enhancement Programme (ACES) forms part of the wider Support for the Individual Artist Programme (SIAP) administered by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland annually. As part of its continuing commitment to supporting the development of individual artists, the Council made 155 SIAP awards to artists in 2015/16 totalling £353k. Since its establishment in 2010, 100 artists have been supported through ACES. Visit www.artscouncil-ni.org for information on all funding opportunities.

ACES musicians, Brigid O’Neill and Fionnuala Fagan

ACES musicians, Brigid O’Neill and Fionnuala Fagan



The Artists

1. Fionnuala Kennedy
ACES Project: Entitled

Fionnuala is a playwright and theatre-maker living and working in Belfast. Fionnuala will use her ACES grant to be mentored by Prime Cut Theatre Company, and develop her project ‘Entitled’. This project will explore the effects of welfare reform on women and families. Unnecessary cuts to vital benefits and financial support is indicative of attitudes to the poorest in our communities by the government. The play will be part of a cannon of work across the UK looking at welfare reform but will be unique in that it’s set in the context of Northern Ireland, a post-conflict society with complex needs and issues; and as politicians seem primarily focused on the suffocating Green and Orange politics, things are not going to improve anytime soon, with devastating impacts on communities. Fionnuala will interview a number of individuals affected by the cuts across Northern Ireland and this research will form the basis of “Entitled”.

2. Shannon Sickels
ACES Project: Reassembled, Slightly Askew Sustainability Development Planning.

Shannon is an award-winning playwright who has worked in NI since 2004. In 2008, she nearly died from a rare brain infection, and turned that harrowing experience into Reassembled, Slightly Askew, an immersive audio installation about her experience of acquired brain injury, created with a team of interdisciplinary artists from NI and her neurosurgical team. Reassembled… received a 5-star review in The Stage and won Shannon a Hospital Club 100 Theatre & Performance Award alongside talent such as Beverly Knight and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Shannon’s ACES project with the Arts & Disability Forum will support her to develop a sustainability plan for her (as a disabled artist) and ‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ to efficiently promote and protect her work by linking with other arts organisations in England (such as Vital Exposure (London) and Dada Festival (Liverpool) and the Republic of Ireland (The Performance Corporation). By linking into a network of support and expertise, Shannon looks forward to improving her skills in producing/promoting work nationally/internationally, the business of being a freelance artist, as well as best practice as an artist with a disability to manage.

3. Helen Hall
ACES Project: Reflective Moves – Exploring perceptions of movement and light.

As a registered blind dance artist Helen’s experience of dance, in all aspects, is quite different from many others. ‘Reflective Moves’ will investigate Helen’s experience of viewing dance performance, in which she experiences two juxtaposing viewpoints: either a blurred general impression or a zoomed-in (using binoculars) narrowly-focused area of detail; she can’t have both at once. This experience, along with research into how a ‘sighted’ dance audience views a performance, will be the starting point for choreographic investigation. Drawing on her strengths as a visual artist she also wants to investigate how the use of light can be integrated into the choreographic process – what is revealed or hidden from an audience. This award will allow Helen the opportunity to work alongside a lighting designer to begin these explorations as well as provide her with the opportunity to be mentored along the journey. Through the duration of the project Maiden Voyage will act as Helen’s supporting organisation, offering guidance, training and mentoring opportunities.

4. Miguel Martin
ACES Project: Beyond The Page.

Miguel Martin (b. 1985 Belfast, UK) holds a BA Fine and Applied Art from the University of Ulster, Belfast and currently lives in Belfast based at Platform Arts. Miguel will use the ACES grant to assist in raising his profile internationally by engaging and collaborating with galleries and arts organisations that could potentially expose his practice to a much wider audience. Miguel is also eager to bring the content of his drawings and research to life by experimenting with a range of innovative multi-disciplinary mediums. These include 3D printing at Belfast’s FAB LAB, sound manipulation and video editing at The Digital Arts Studios and an investigation into a new range of materials at his studio including magnetic ferrofluid, marble and light. These new mediums will challenge the format of drawing and the identity of a draftsman. Miguel will take part in frequent mentoring sessions with his partner organization at the CCA Derry/Londonderry.

5. Chelley McLear
ACES Project: Tea Cups and Razor Blades (working title).

Chelley McLear has been working in the arts in Belfast for twenty years. She has co-ordinated the Literature and Verbal Arts projects at Community Arts Partnership since 2006. Previously as a member of the performance group ‘Scream Blue Murmur’ Chelley has toured to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA, Sinagpore, Malaysia and across the UK, Ireland and continental Europe.

Chelley’s ACES project will enable her to develop a solo work incorporating poetry, storytelling and song. She will work with two mentors: performance poet Tony Walsh (UK) and writer/actress/director Candy Simmons (USA). Chelley’s project will primarily focus on the effects of teen mental health issues within the family.

6. Darran Anderson
ACES Project: Fata Morgana: A Travel Guide to Mythological Places

Darren is a writer from Derry and will be using his ACES award in order to write his next book Fata Morgana. Inspired by Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, Fata Morgana will be a travelogue to mythic places, from Cretan labyrinths to glowing Russian cities under frozen lakes. It will look at the hopes, fears, successes and failures of the waking world through the worlds we dream into (fictional) existence. The book will be the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed nonfiction book Imaginary Cities (Influx Press, 2015); “poetic, aphoristic and comprising a seeming infinity of quotable lines… a wonder cabinet” according to the Chicago Tribune.’

7. Hilary McCollum
ACES Project: Partnership with Theatre of pluck.

With the support of TheatreofplucK, Hilary will develop a satirical comedy-drama exploring the tensions between an increasingly visible and vocal LGBT community in Northern Ireland and traditional ideas of the family. The ACES grant will support Hilary in building her career as a writer with the current project being her second play. Hilary’s first play, Life and Love: Lesbian Style, was performed in Derry and Belfast in 2014 and was nominated for the best writing award at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Hilary’s first novel Golddigger, set between the Irish famine and California gold rush, was released earlier this year.

8. Jacqueline Wylie
ACES Project: Establishing a post-doctoral studio practice.

Jacqueline Wylie is a visual artist working with text, textiles and social media to explore how we place value on creativity. Originally from Moygashel in County Tyrone, Jacqueline has worked as an archaeologist and more recently as a visual artist based at Rogue Studios Manchester. She returned to Northern Ireland in 2012 to research the effects of social media on artists and is in the final stages of writing a PhD thesis at the Ulster of University, Belfast, with funding from a DEL scholarship.

For her ACEs application Jacqueline will create new ambitious art work in response to historic sites in Northern Ireland such as Moygashel Mills and Armagh Public Library. She will have a mentoring relationship with several arts organisations including Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, Arts & Disability Forum, Belfast and Mark Devereux Projects in Manchester.

Jacqueline added: “This will be an exciting and productive twelve months for me. The Arts Council ACEs funding will support me at a crucial time as I transition from student to full time artist, enabling me to re-evaluate my practice, to make new work, to travel and develop an international profile as an artist based in Northern Ireland.”

9. Norma Beggs
ACES project: The Space Between.

Norma Beggs is a Visual Artist who has been exhibiting since 1997.

The Space Between is a participatory photo-textile project engaging with rural & intercultural groups within the Ballymena Borough. This project seeks out the personal stories behind the headlines of ‘The Troubles’. Life, memory, art — they’re interconnected; with the artist having grown up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, The Space Between is inspired by all that happened behind the headlines. Through creative reminiscence, photographic images, artefacts & creative consultation, personal accounts of life will be triggered, recorded & inform new photo-textile pieces; to be created by the artist, for engagement by both local and international audiences. The project will present an alternative view of ‘The Troubles’ by celebrating the enduring human spirit via personal stories within two social groups: rural & intercultural.

10. Emma Heatherington
ACES Project: Who Cares For Scarecrows Anyhow? Children’s musical.

Emma Heatherington is a novelist and scriptwriter from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone. She is currently working on her 8th novel (her second with Harper Collins imprint Harper Impulse) as well as her first feature film script. Emma plans to use her ACES award to develop her children’s musical, ‘Who Cares For Scarecrows Anyhow?’ and will work closely with and learn from Replay Productions in Belfast during the course of the award.

Emma added: “I am thrilled to have been selected under the ACNI ACES scheme and look forward to using my grant to learn from specialised children’s theatre companies, in particularly Replay Productions, and to attend theatre festivals and performances throughout Ireland and the UK over the next 12 months. This script is a true labour of love and I look forward to it coming to fruition very soon, at least in pilot form. It will be a dream come true for me to see it develop further and finally emerge from the page to the stage! I’m really excited to get to this stage and would like to thank the Arts Council for their continuing support.”

11. Fionnuala Fegan
ACES Project: Vapour Trails.

Fionnuala Fagan is a musician, composer and installation artist. Her work has a great authenticity and beauty by being founded on the life-stories of real people; stories she has listened to with a musician’s ear, and which inspire songs and performances of compelling simplicity and power. In so doing she is concerned with documenting and sharing the life experience of “ordinary” people.

​For the project Vapour Trails Fionnuala will engage with the MACs Learning and Participation Department on an East Belfast community based song, sound and installation project that aims to document stories of people who worked for Belfast’s aviation industry. To date their personal experiences have been largely overlooked, even though they played a significant role in Belfast’s industrial past.

12. Andrew Eaton
ACES Project: Two Camps

Andrew Deloss Eaton was born in 1981 in San Diego, California and raised throughout the United States. He attended Missouri State University and the University of St. Andrews before relocating to Northern Ireland where his wife is from. He earned a PhD for his thesis on the modern American elegy from the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry and has led writing workshops and seminars at the historic Ulster Hall in Belfast. His poems and poetry reviews appear in literary journals throughout the US and the UK, such as Crab Orchard Review, Edinburgh Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Magma, Narrative, Poetry Ireland Review and the Yellow Nib. He was the first emerging poet to read as part of the highly successful Lifeboat series of readings established in Belfast. In 2015, he was selected for the Introductions Series by Poetry Ireland and the Prebooked Introductions Series for the Cork Spring Poetry Festival, and his poetry has also been featured in the exhibition Sage Dawson & Mimi Czajka Graminski, Pratt Munson Williams Proctor School of Art, School of Art Gallery, New York, 2012. For his ACES project, he will be finalising his first collection, tentatively titled Two Camps, as well as seeking to attend writing residencies and beginning new work.

13. Colin Dardis
ACES Project: Development of a full length poetry manuscript.

Over the past few years, Colin been committed to helping poets in Northern Ireland find platforms and outlets for their work, through open mics, slams, readings, publishing and working with festivals and businesses. A lot of Colin’s work has been published in journals and anthologies, but the ACES grant will now afford him the time to balance work and writing more evenly, and focus on producing a solid full length collection. Colin has a history of depression and breakdowns, and believes in the importance of mental health advocacy, so his ACES collection will be themed around the idea of depression, survival and escapism. Colin will partner with The Crescent Arts Centre throughout his ACES project development, working with visiting poets, organising themed workshops and building relations with other artists.

14. Leo Devlin
ACES Project: Solo exhibition in Golden Thread Gallery Project space.

Leo Devlin (b.1983, Omagh) is a visual artist based at Flaxart studios, Belfast. He received a First class honours degree in Fine and Applied Arts from the University of Ulster in 2006.
Leo’s practice involves drawing, sculpture, video and performance. He has been exhibiting work since 2006 locally and internationally in Chile, Serbia, Poland, Finland and Germany and more recently at Atelierhaus Salzamt in Linz, Austria and Performance Space in London.
With the ACES award Leo will produce a body of new performances, drawings and videos created using a drone. The work will be based on a collection of archival audio recordings of historical figures and events. The new work will be shown in a solo exhibition at the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast in 2016.

15. Shiro Masuyama

Shiro is a Japanese artist and curator based in Belfast, who is a studio holder and co-director of Flax Art studios. The primary motivation behind his ACES Project is to create potential for commercial opportunity for his practice in Japan. As a Japanese artist working and living in Belfast, it is important for Shiro to keep links with Japan and to use its well-developed commercial market to platform his practice. The project will also involve developing links between Belfast/Northern Ireland and Japan. In order to meet these aims, the award will facilitate a two month residency in Japan to find a commercial Japanese outlet for his practice: developing a market for it and developing the potential for self-sustainability through sale of work. He will also develop his role as artist-curator, creating cultural links between Northern Ireland and Japan and creating the potential for opportunities for artists in both Japan and Northern Ireland.

16. Larry Cowan
ACES Project: St Pat’s To The Future
Larry Cowan is a community artist based in Belfast. For his ACES project Larry will be working with Down Community Arts and some rural older and young people’s groups.

Larry and the groups will be working with a mix of media to tell a story of Saint Patrick and what if he was alive today. Titled “St. Pats to The Future” the exhibition will open in time for Saint Patrick’s Day 2016.

17. Brigid O’Neill

Co. Down singer- songwriter Brigid O’Neill’s music is a mix of country blues and folk with a delicious dash of jazz. Brigid released ‘Arrivals and Departures‘ her debut EP of original songs, in September 2014 to much critical acclaim. – “A collection of lovingly crafted, beautifully performed original songs” Cherrie McIlwaine BBC Radio Ulster”; “Fantastic! Worth the wait” Ralph McLean BBC Radio Ulster.

Brigid’s ACES project will see her develop all the important skills necessary to build a successful and sustainable career in the music industry as a singer and a songwriter. She will be travelling to Nashville to co-write with established and highly successful Grammy award-winning songwriters, to meet and network with publishers and other influential people within the songwriting business and to explore new and varied outlets for her songs. At home, she will be focusing on solo songwriting and developing her skills in recording, guitar playing and performing through specific training. The output of her project will be a number of high profile performances and a body of work for her new album.

“Brigid has the heart of a poet and a voice that brings to mind the great female singers of the jazz age. It’s always a joy to share the stage with her.” Brendan Murphy, The 4 of Us

18. Geraldine O’Kane
ACES Project: What Are You Talking About?

Geraldine is a poet, creative writing facilitator, arts administrator and mental health advocate. She has been successfully writing and having poems published for years. She has recovered from mental health issues herself and cares for her mum who also has poor mental health. She currently works for the John Hewitt Society and has worked with Community Arts Partnership, Kids in Control and Artists Disability Forum (ADF), alongside many festivals. She is co-host of Purely Poetry a monthly poetry open mic night run in partnership with the Crescent Arts Centre open to all capabilities and backgrounds. She is delighted to have been asked to give a talk on poetry and mental health in this year’s TEDx Belfast. She is part of Poetry NI an online and in print platform offering news and opportunities for poets in Northern. She is working towards her first full collection of poetry and was awarded the Artist Career Enhancement Award by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to allow her time to bring the manuscript to fruition. Her poems are based around themes society would prefer about to talk and the collection will be built around the language of poor mental health and how we can use language to change attitudes from negative to positive.

19. Lesley Richardson
ACES Project: Completion of a second novel- The Possibilities of Elizabeth.

Lesley Richardson lives in Bangor with her teenage daughter. She is a freelance copywriter and the press officer for Open House Festival. Her first novel, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir, will be published in February 2016 by Bonnier’s new debut fiction imprint, Twenty7 Books. Set in a fictional seaside town in Northern Ireland, the novel is a heartbreaking tale of bullying and redemption which spans from the late 1970s to 2001. Spare, dark and often unrelenting, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is a story with universal appeal, which ultimately affirms the value of being different.

Lesley will be using her ACE award to complete her second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth, which examines loss, grief, and the long-term repercussions of split second decisions. Throughout her year, Lesley also plans to forge new relationships with other Northern Irish authors, read from her work at literary festivals and events, and promote her forthcoming novel. She is represented by The Feldstein Agency.

20. Maria McManus
ACES Project: Augury & Auspices: cirque des Oiseaux

Poet, Maria McManus, will use her ACES grant to produce,‘Cirque des Oiseaux’, an innovative poetry project resulting in a large-scale installation that is a synthesis of poetry, sound, music, visual art and film, for an exhibition at Down Arts Centre in October 2016. Maria is focusing on text and sound and will also be working with artists of other disciplines who will bring the visual art aspect of the project into reality . The broad theme is ‘Auguries and Auspices,’ the ancient art of interpreting the will of the gods through the flight patterns of birds. Maria is being supported by Dr. Simon Waters of SARC (Sonic Arts Research Centre) and artists including Liam de Frinse, Rosie McGurran and Irene Uhlemann. Maria will also work with the cellist and film-maker Tom Hughes with whom she has collaborated before.

21. Ciara O’Neill

Ciara O’Neill is a singer-songwriter from Craigavon. She released her debut EP ‘Primroses’ in 2014 and since then has performed many gigs including the 2015 Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. It was during that performance when the visiting Nashville based songwriters and publishers heard Ciara and were impressed with her voice and songwriting ability. They invited Ciara to Nashville to work with them for 3 months (March-June 2015), co-writing with grammy award-winning songwriters, performing live and having meetings with publishers.

Being granted the ACES award means that Ciara can now take the next step in furthering her music career. Ciara will partner with Panarts to release her debut album, ‘The Ebony Trail’, in March 2016 at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival and will release a series of music videos to promote the album. In addition to this, Ciara will return to Nashville in November 2015 for a month long trip to co-write with award winning songwriters, hold publishing meetings and perform live at the legendary Bluebird Cafe.