Sonya Kelly on why we need more studio spaces for artists

As the Dean Art Studios provides a welcome new space for creatives in the capital, acclaimed playwright Sonya Kelly writes for Culture about the urgent need for more studio spaces in Ireland.


“Writing? Yes, it’s a real job.”

Every time I have a show on, I can pretty much guarantee I will be asked the following question. “Oh my god, where do you get the time to write all those words?” The answer is simple. It’s my job. I get up every day, walk to work, sit at a desk and try to organise my thoughts into captivating dramas that people will want to buy tickets to.

As I walk to work, I plan my day. Where did I leave off yesterday? Who needs what from me soonest and what can wait? Where do I need to get to in my story by four o’clock and I have to go pick up the baby? It’s a crazy job but someone’s got to do it, otherwise our theatres would be empty – and if that long hard lockdown has proven anything, it’s that the live collective experience can never be replaced by a box set.

Sonya Kelly’s new play ‘The Last Return’ premiered at this year’s
Galway International Arts Festival

I have worked in theatre and the arts for twenty-five years, first as an actor and now as a writer. It’s been hard. It has taken time, patience and huge commitment to the development of skills to reach a certain standard. There have been many failures and the occasional triumph, but the one thing that remains constant is the sense of privilege I feel to have a vocation for writing and telling stories for theatre.

But here’s a great idea: not every building in our major cities needs to turn into a hotel.

I consider it an honour to live my life as a creative person, for the fruits of that creativity to pay my bills and feed my family. I believe that culture and theatre, the sector I work in is a vital component to a free society. Theatre is as old as democracy. Where would we be without either of them?

Artists (L-R) Karen Donnellan, Carla Rogers, Thais Muniz, Brian Teeling, Rafino Murphy,
Shane O’Reilly and Chinedum Muotto launch the Dean Art Studios

A brand new dedicated space at the Dean Arts Studios supplies me as an artist, the psychological cornerstone for a healthy relationship with my daily practice. Initiatives such as this are vital to the life blood of the arts and is an indication of a society that values culture. It takes time and space to allow creativity to flourish. Having that space around like-minded artists on similar journeys is an invaluable resource never to be taken for granted, particularly in a city where a scrap of real estate is so easily seen as ripe commercial fruit, ready for the picking.

But here’s a great idea: not every building in our major cities needs to turn into a hotel. Libraries are good. Art galleries, recording studios, theatres, creative spaces for children all have their vital role to play the rich tapestry of our city spaces. What is special about the Dean Arts Studio is that deep in the heart of Dublin city, there are painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, dancers and choreographers who are not trying to make art in their bedrooms. They are walking in and out to work every day to work in a vibrant creative hive on Chatham Row – because it’s their job, and if they didn’t do it, we would all be the poorer for it.

The Dean Art Studios will be officially launched on Thursday July 28, 2022. For further information on the studios and residents, go here.

Druid Theatre’s production of Sonya Kelly The Last Return is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh from 4 – 28 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Gate Theatre, Dublin from 13th October – 5th November 2022, as part of this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.

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