What does a regular day look like for you?
There’s no such thing as a regular day on Herstory. That’s why I love it! I was never a fan of 9–5, Monday to Friday gigs. Now I relish the freedom to plot and plan my days.
Some days I’m in the city meeting historians and creatives. Other days I’m in the garden on my beanbag tapping away on my laptop. I try to break up my days with long lazy walks on the beach. I’m a bit spoilt… I live with an artist and a writer in a cottage by the sea and there’s a creatively inspiring atmosphere. We spark off each other and bounce ideas around. It’s great craic. The right environment makes all the difference. Soon enough we will need an office in the city but for now I can work remotely. I love this lifestyle.
You are working on Herstory and the Heart of Ireland (HI) Festival, can you tell our readers a bit more about these projects?
The Heart of Ireland (HI) festival is a celebration of real people and the real Ireland. Working with my awesome mum, Maria Bourke, (such a treat!) Our objective is to make goodness cool.
The HI festival is the creative platform that gave rise to Herstory, a new cultural movement and a multi-disciplinary arts platform created to tell the lost stories of extraordinary Irish women from history and today. Adopting an experimental and collaborative approach, Herstory incorporates the worlds of music, comedy, theatre, fashion, dance, photography, poetry, graphics, film and more.
By infiltrating the arts and popular culture, we aim to eliminate the statement “I’ve never heard of her”. Herstory will culminate in a programme of performances, exhibitions and talks: nationally in 2016 and 2017, touring internationally with the Irish diaspora in 2018.
How did you kick-start your career as a creative director?
I was studying Mathematics & Philosophy in Trinity College Dublin when I saw “what women want” (before the Mad Men days) and decided to run off to art college to study creative advertising in the UK.
From the Cotswolds, I hopped on a train to London and got my break in the SoHo advertising scene. Then I was offered a dream job in Paris (the last place I ever imagined working as French was my worst subject in school!) At the notorious ad agency Fred & Farid. Next up it was Sidlee, a creative hot-shop who have a global partnership with Cirque du Soleil.
It’s a very interesting company. Their approach is non-linear and avant-garde. They taught me how to think bigger and bolder. So my journey has had many twists, turns and detours. I’m very intuitive so I just follow my gut. Sometimes it feels like it’s leading you off a cliff edge but it’s only when you leap that you get sight of land.
One aspect of Above the Fold that we’re attempting to convey is that Ireland is buzzing with creativity. How has your work impacted upon Ireland’s cultural landscape?
Both projects are in their infancy but I hope they will ripple out and have a positive impact. Having spent 7 years abroad, I love being back home in Ireland. It’s a really interesting time to be here. In this 1916 centenary year there’s a hunger for change, for brave new ideas and avant-garde creativity.
You can feel it! I’m really interested in building creative platforms that spark social and cultural change. The Marriage Equality Referendum proved that when Irish society is given a platform, they rise to it. That was a game changer. We just need to create more platforms.
What Irish artist or designer do you think people should know about?
All of our Herstory collaborators! They are such an eclectic, spirited bunch from all creative disciplines. Most importantly, they are talented but nice. I have huge respect for creative talent but I don’t have time for big egos. And Herstory is just not an egotistic project. If anything its very humbling to work on and it really brings out the best in everyone involved.
What encouraged you to bring Herstory to life?
Josephine Hart was a big inspiration for Herstory. When we were working on the heart of Ireland festival in March 2015, we invited Eleanor Carter, director of the Josephine Hart poetry foundation, to come to Mullingar to facilitate poetry therapy workshops with the local schools. We were surprised and saddened to learn that the children had never heard her name. They knew all about the Kardashians but nothing about our local heroine.
Then in November 2015 Josephine’s childhood home was demolished and turned into a carpark. To our utter shock and amazement, we witnessed an extraordinary Irish woman being bulldozed out of history in 2015. And so the seed was sown.
What do you hope members of the audience will take away from your talk at Above the Fold?
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs
If we are sitting here a year from now celebrating what a good year it’s been for you in this role, what did you achieve?
I’m particularly excited about the schools programme we are developing for Herstory. This time next year it would be great to see children and teenagers regaling friends with tales of their new heroines in the playground. That would be magical. It’s a big challenge.
How do you present a woman who died 300 years ago, who nobody’s ever heard of, as a role model for 13 year olds? I hope my experience working on millennial brands in the advertising industry will help. From talking to Herstorians, we know that the amnesia of women’s history is not an exclusively irish problem but a worldwide phenomenon. I would love to see ireland inspire other countries to celebrate their lost heroines.
We’re a small country with a big heart. In the words of one my greatest heroines, Mary Robinson:
An Irish voice can electrify and amplify.
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