Fingal County Council appoints new Arts Officer

Padraig Conlon 12 Sep 2023
Sarah O’Neill, Chief Arts Officer, Fingal. Picture by Shane O’Neill, Coalesce.

Fingal County Council has appointed Sarah O’Neill as the new Fingal Arts Officer.

Chief Executive, AnnMarie Farrelly, announced the news at the monthly council meeting yesterday, September 11, after the councillors reconvened from their summer break.

Sarah is the second person to assume the role, following the retirement of longstanding Arts officer, Rory O’Byrne, after almost 30 years of service.

She has been the Deputy Arts Officer since 2007, having joined as Assistant Arts Officer in 2005 and has over 25 years’ experience in arts development.

A graduate of Edinburgh College of Art with a BA in photography, she holds a M.A in Arts Management & Cultural Policy from University College Dublin where she additionally completed a professional internship in Christies, New York and in 2014, Sarah completed the Common Purpose Leadership Programme.

Sarah O’Neill, Chief Arts Officer, Fingal.
Picture by Shane O’Neill, Coalesce.

Sarah previously worked as Publicity Officer and Head of Marketing and Development at the Edinburgh College of Art and worked for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Perrier Comedy Awards. She also taught on the photography degree programmes at the Edinburgh College of Art and Napier University. As an artist in her own right Sarah has exhibited her photographic work in the UK, USA and Italy.

Within the Arts Office, Sarah was co-author of the 2006-2010 and 2013-2017 Fingal Arts Plans, and lead author on the 2019-2025 Arts Plan.

These plans are the strategic framework documents for Arts development in Fingal.

The implementation of these plans has resulted in Fingal being recognised nationally as a leader of policy and practice.

Mayor of Fingal, Cllr. Adrian Henchy described the appointment as important, stating: “The arts play a key role in bringing communities together to foster creativity and have fun doing so. I am delighted to hear the news of Sarah’s appointment and want to take this opportunity to congratulate and wish her all the best in the future.”

Chief Executive of Fingal County Council, AnnMarie Farrelly commented: “Sarah has been a part of the Arts Office since 2005 and has done incredible work so far in advancing the arts infrastructure in Fingal.

“I have no doubt that her succession to the role will be seamless, and I look forward to seeing what she will achieve in her future here at Fingal.”

Sarah O’Neill said she was delighted with the appointment and added “I am proud to be a key driver and team leader of a pioneering and ambitious Arts office that has a unique and critical role to play in advancing the themes of sustainable development, social inclusion, healthy place-making, high quality design and climate action, as outlined in the 2023-2029 Fingal Development Plan.”

The Fingal Arts Office was established in 1994 to develop infrastructure for the arts in Fingal and has grown significantly since then. It involves a small team of dedicated workers, who strive to support Fingal residents in advancing their interest in the discipline.

In addition to the development of the framework documents, Sarah works on strategic development across all art forms and on the design and implementation of policies which support professional Fingal artists including the development of arts infrastructure.

Key projects which she has successfully devised and delivered include the introduction of a of a fully subsidised day studio, The Boathouse in Loughshinny, and the complete renovation of a residential studio, The Lodge in Malahide Demense.

Future artist studio development programmes will be delivered at Barrack Lane, Lusk and 4-6 Dublin Street, Balbriggan over the next 12 months.

Sarah established and implemented the first funding scheme for professional Fingal artists, ‘The Artist Support Scheme’. Since its establishment in 2014, the impact of this award has seen investment of €970,000 over a ten-year period with 639 awards funded.

“The scheme has fostered an environment that enables professional artists to live and work in Fingal and is aligned with Fingal County Council’s mission ‘to invest in and champion the arts in Fingal”.

Fingal is now admired locally and nationally for the Arts, and recognised as a vibrant, creative place, attractive for investment, enterprise and as a tourism proposition.

On behalf of Fingal, she has brokered and managed key partnerships with leading cultural organisations and established numerous awards and residencies for Fingal artists, providing access to peer support and opportunities for Fingal artists to develop practices within national institutional frameworks.

These negotiated relationships are promoting and sustaining a positive image and profile of Fingal. Partnerships include Royal Hibernian Academy Studio Award; Graphic Studio Award; MART Graduate Award; Childrens Books Ireland; Irish Writers Centre, Bealtaine; Tyrone Guthrie Centre. These initiatives have supported over 70 Fingal artists and influenced a culture of innovation and exemplary practice in Fingal.

“I have worked extremely hard to build and establish Fingal Arts Office’s reputation within Fingal and the greater arts industry and as the new County Arts Officer and I am not alone in this mission,” added Sarah O’Neill.

“Our core programmes of work is in the areas of Professional Arts, Youth & Education and Public Art and the professional profile of our Arts Centres, Draíocht, Seamus Ennis Centre and the soon to be realised Swords Cultural Quarter and The Arts Council’s Creative Places Programme as part of the  work of the Our Balbriggan programme.

“I take this role at a uniquely exciting time.

“I will continue to further our mission to ‘Bring Arts to Life in Fingal and Fingal to Life through the Arts’ while making our county nationally and internationally recognised for excellence, ambition and our commitment to placing art within every aspect of the valuable work of Fingal County Council.”

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