In Focus: Irish Arts Abroad | Irish Arts in California

Contemporary Irish Arts Center Los Angeles; Los Angeles

Francis Fay, A Knight of Mirrors, 2022, Live Performance; photograph by Matthew Nevin, courtesy the artist and CIACLA. Francis Fay, A Knight of Mirrors, 2022, Live Performance; photograph by Matthew Nevin, courtesy the artist and CIACLA.

Contemporary Irish Arts Center Los Angeles (CIACLA) is a non-profit arts organisation that supports and promotes contemporary Irish art and culture in Los Angeles County, California. The journey of CIACLA began in 2011 when myself and Ciara Scanlan of MART Gallery & Studios, Dublin, started curating exhibitions and events in Los Angeles. With my experience in the film and television industry in LA since 2005, and Ciara’s co-founding of MART in 2007, we embarked on a mission to produce annual exhibitions in the city. We started with a group exhibition, titled ‘Invite or Reject’, which included artists such as Sofie Loscher, James L Hayes, Ella Burke and Nicky Teegan, as part of the government’s Imagine Ireland initiative in 2011, supported by Culture Ireland. 

Over the next few years, we curated annual exhibitions promoting Irish and American artists while collaborating with LA galleries such as Hive, LACE, C4, CB1, DAC, and Arena 1. In 2018, we created a pop-up gallery on Hollywood Boulevard as part of Ireland Week, all while building a strong community of artists, creatives, Irish immigrants, and audiences eager to connect with contemporary Irish culture. 

In 2019, following eight years of successful exhibitions and events, Ciara and I, along with Director of Development Jennifer Minniti-Shippey, founded CIACLA as a California-based non-profit 501(c)(3) arts organisation with a goal to promote contemporary Irish culture. With the help of Jenn McGuirk and a fantastic team of volunteers and cultural advisors, we put together an exciting multidisciplinary programme of summer events at a pop-up gallery in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, including exhibitions by MASER and Amanda Coogan, theatrical productions by Lords of Strut and InHouse Theatre, a music event by Eímear Noone, a contemporary dance performance and residency with Luke Murphy, and the first year of CIACLA’s Irish Film Showcase which is now in its fourth year and growing.

Since its inception, CIACLA has been a bridge between the Irish and LA art scenes, providing a platform for artists from both regions to exchange ideas and exhibit their work. CIACLA’s ongoing programme includes a range of activities such as exhibitions, residencies, talks, workshops, and screenings. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, CIACLA thrived online, providing artists with a platform to engage with our audience. In 2022, we returned to in-person programming, partnering with local venues to support the growth and flourishing of theatre, music, literature, and visual arts, which included the inaugural ‘Irish Contemporaries’ exhibition, held at Building Bridges Arts Exchange in November 2022, with the second instalment happening this July. This year CIACLA will continue to produce multiple exhibitions, live performances, professional development Culture Chats, screenings and monthly Creative Network events.

CIACLA’s connection to the region is a crucial part of its identity. As an organisation that aims to foster dialogue, CIACLA recognises the importance of engaging with the local community. In addition, our partnerships with local organisations provide further opportunities for collaboration and outreach. The organisation’s connection to Ireland remains a vital aspect of its mission and continues to foster relations with Irish artists and organisations. These collaborations have included residencies for Irish artists, exhibitions featuring Irish artists, and partnerships with Irish cultural institutions.

CIACLA’s commitment to promoting contemporary Irish art in Los Angeles has resulted in vibrant programmes and opportunities that reflects the diversity and creativity of Irish art today and continues to play a vital role in fostering dialogue and exchange between the two regions. The organisation’s connection to the region and to Ireland underscores the importance of cultural exchange and collaboration in today’s globalised art world.

Matthew Nevin is the Executive Director of CIACLA and Co-Director of MART Gallery & Studios, Dublin.