« OUT OF THE HORDE of visitors to Dublin's trendy Temple Bar district every night, few venture into the alleyways that sprout off like veins from its heart. If they did, however, they might well find themselves walking by massive wall paintings that reflect icons of Irish culture and history, a brightly coloured path that leads to a small shop front at the corner, sporting vivid drip-paint walls and a sign that reads "The Icon Factory: An Artist Co-operative".
The installation on Aston Place, between the rush of the quays and Temple Bar's buzzing core, is called the Icon Walk, and is an attempt on the part of the artists based in that quiet alley to simultaneously clean up the area and inspire interest in the artistic figures of Ireland's past.
The co-op at The Icon Factory is an amalgamation of local and immigrant artists, banded together to promote their cause: a non-profit gallery commited to "redesign the elements of our heritage to our own image". They encourage artists, local and abroad, to produce work that reflects this, and exhibit them in the gallery free of charge.
Dedicated artist Aga Szot and benefactor Barney Phair founded the gallery in 2010. Phair, always the idea man, came up with the mission. "The idea was to support artists," he saus, "The recession was well on the rise and there were limited opportunities for them."
The two met at an "art walk" where Szot's work was being shown, and formed an unbreakable alliance. "We started to work on the project and have exhibitions here," Szot recalls. "Then we started to realise that we were in a very bad place."
For 15 years before the Icon Factory opened its door, the alley and its adjoining narrow lanes were constantly littered with needles, excrement and general rubbish. The co-op decided that they needed to incite a drastic change.
"We're telling a story"
"Street art is very popular now," says Szot. "The exposure of art is moving just like the styles of art." So they reached out to the surrounding businesses, and applied for grants to help with the project. Though they received no financial support, Szot and Phair remained undeterred. Artists donated their art to the project, Phair wrote essays to accompany the pieces, and then provided thousands of euros to put the project together as a permanent installation.
"An idea is only as powerful as the support it gets," says Phair. "If the idea doesn't get executed and maintained, it just floats into the ether."
The artists dedicated massive amounts of their time and energy into maintaing the Icon Walk, and all for one specific, noble cause: the notion that art civilises.
"I've seen it happen all over the world,' says Phair, who elaborates on the idea that if someone brings art into any space, no matter how squalid, it can change the way people treat that space. The artists of the Icon Factory are thoroughly commited to this idea.
"The whole concept of the Icon Walk is to ask people to walk through," says Szot. "We're telling a story, to bring people into the lanes. We want people to make a movement here to create a more comfortable atmosphere."
As the Icon Walk gains traction, the Icon Factory looks towards bigger things, Szot tells Metro Eireann.
"We hope it will be possible in the next five years to expand. We want to do a screen-printing centre, so people can see the whole artistic process. It's a factory - let's produce knowledge!" ».