ABC Culture Conference

The New Cultural Geography of Smaller Places

The inaugural ABC Culture Conference took place on 1st February 2023. 1st February is Imbolc, the first day of the Celtic spring calendar, a day which brings promise of renewal and rebirth after long winters.  

The focus of the conference was The New Cultural Geography of Smaller Places. The event explored the relationship between creative process and place in small cities and rural regions like ours, hearing from a range of speakers working in inspirational ways across the UK, Ireland and Europe. 

We invited artists, activists, civic leaders, politicians, academics, and creative thinkers from far and near to join us in celebration, and to learn and exchange ideas.

We heard from voices such as:

Researcher, author, change maker Dr Cara Courage 

Designers and placemakers Islander Architects 

Experimental vocal ensemble HIVE Choir 

Co-design experts Workhouse Union 

Arts led development trust The Stove Network 

Artist Kevin Killen 

Architect and researcher Dr Aisling Rusk 

Senior Lecturer Dr Ali Fitzgibbon

European cultural strategist Neil Peterson 

Durham Place Labs: Alison Clark and Claire Tymon

Head of Economic Development, Community & Culture, Galway City Council Gary McMahon

Broadcaster and podcaster Marie Louise Muir

Turner Prize winners Array Collective  

Head of Arts at Arts & Business NI, Brona Whittaker

Photographer and filmmaker Joe Laverty and singer Ciara O’Neill, Whisper Project

Chair of Arts Council NI – Liam Hannaway

The full programme and details of speakers and contributors is available below.

ABC Culture Conference 2023 The New Cultural Geography of Smaller Places

Hosted by Marie-Louise Muir

*Timings are subject to change

Morning from 9.30

  • Registration
  • ABC and The New Cultural Geography of Smaller Places
    With welcome from Liam Hannaway, Chair, Arts Council of Northern Ireland
    Opening address by Roger Wilson, Chief Executive of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council

    Introduction to Whisper Project by Joe Laverty and screening of Ciara O’Neill in Armagh Gaol
  • Islander Architects: The Cultural Condition
    An interactive workshop mapping attendee experiences from the rural to the urban. Get ready to unleash your creativity!
  • Panel 1: What is the Transformational Power of Co-creating and Creative Placemaking?
    Cultivating a spirit of creativity in everything we do, we welcome photographer and videographer Joe Laverty, artist and writer Dan Thompson, artist Kevin Killen and architect Ailbhe Cunningham from Workhouse Union to share innovative approaches that drive deep-seated, positive change. Chaired by architect Dr Aisling Rusk.

Lunch from 12.35

  • We will celebrate Imbolc – the first day of Celtic spring – with a seasonal feast and an opportunity to reflect on our collective responses to the morning’s workshop.

Afternoon from 13.35

  • Keynote Speaker Dr Cara Courage: ABC and D of Armagh 2025: leading from outside of the centre
    In this keynote address, Cara will outline the exponential power of people in place and – in particular – that this power can be greater than the sum of its parts in places away from the obvious spotlight glare of the biggest cities. The edge of a place, whether city or region, is often where the most compelling work happens. Add the creative and cultural force of a City of Culture bid into the mix, and such places become holders of potent potential. ABC is in a pivotal place and time. Cara will reflect on what ABC and smaller places like this might need to do – the D of its ABC-D – to make the most of its now and tomorrow.

  • Panel 2: How can we Support Artists and Designers to Stay?Nurturing and investing in our cultural talent and infrastructure is vital for the creative health of our people and our place. We’re joined by Gary McMahon, Galway City Council, Emma Campbell, Array Collective and Studios and Chris Hobson and Klara Hamill from Southern Regional College to discuss thoughtful and engaging paths to progress. Chaired by Brona Whittaker.
  • Panel 3: What is the Regenerative Future of Creative Process in our Smaller Places?
    From daring to dream, to speaking up and stepping up, our panellists Alison Clark and Claire

    Tymon from Durham Place Labs, European cultural strategist Neil Peterson, and Katharine Wheeler, The Stove Network will explore the impacts of transformative cultural strategies in smaller places. Chaired by Dr Ali FitzGibbon.

The Last Word from 16.05

  • An opportunity to review ideas and intentions from the day, and to consider our future direction with a vision that revitalises the very purpose of our place.

Ends at 16.30

  • Plus, a surprise intervention from experimental vocal ensemble HIVE Choir when you are least expecting it