Desima on Laurel & Hardy, the Lark Ascending and Lyric FM
Desima Connolly is the Arts Service Development Manager for Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
This includes the overall management of two multi-disciplinary award-winning venues, Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart and Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre in Limavady, as well as supporting arts and cultural development and community arts across the Borough.
She studied Fine Arts and Museum Studies and has worked in the arts/cultural sector for over 20 years. Currently living in the Glens of Antrim with her menagerie of animals, she dabbles in visual arts, photography and writing when she finds the time.
Q. What is your favourite song/album and why?
A. These questions are going to be very difficult for me to answer as I really can’t choose a particular favourite of any art form. My love of music spans most genres as evident from my playlists which feature folk to classical to jazz to pop to ambient and are based on moods and seasons. Lyrics are important to me – I love artists including Nick Drake, Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, John Martyn, The Blue Nile and Kathryn Joseph to name a few. Blues and jazz, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Chet Baker.
Q. What is your favourite film and why?
A. Again, I can’t possibly choose and I think that as we move through our lives, our tastes change. When I was a teenager living in a small North Antrim coastal village, I watched a lot of European Art house films which Channel 4 used to screen and a whole world opened up. I developed a love of Wim Wenders, Krzysztof Kieslowski and French cinema. I don’t think any director has moved me as much as Kieslowski. His films are just sheer poetry in motion.
I also love old classics and comedy – Laurel and Hardy crack me up completely. One of the wonderful things about programming venues is you get to share creative works you’re passionate about. For example, years ago at Roe Valley Arts, I screened ‘Rainy Day Films’ on Saturday afternoons which included some Laurel and Hardy classics as well as fantastic old black and whites All About Eve, Sullivan’s Travels. I also did a midnight screening of the magnificent The Shining which must be one of the best horrors ever made to this day.
Q. What is your favourite piece of classical music and why?
A. I grew up listening to classical music in our own home and also my grandparents. I have a soft spot for Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending as it reminds me of my grandfather and our shared love of nature. I love Bach, particularly Concerto for Harpsichord No 5 F Minor and Concerto in D Minor Adagio. My uncle taught me a lot about classical music and particularly tenors such as Tino Rossi, Enrico Caruso and Richard Tauber. Everyone should listen to Rossi sing Romance de Nadir. There’s a reason my very vocal Jack Russell is called Tosca – it and Madame Butterfly are two of my favourite operas.
Q. Who is your favourite artist (eg van Gogh) and why?
A. My grandfather was the artist Charles McAuley and he was one of the most naturally gifted painters. He had a photographic memory and would recreate stunning landscapes and seascapes in oils and watercolours from a few seconds of ink sketching when he was out in the environment. He had a huge influence on me, both in character and creatively. When he passed away, The Irish Times described him as one of Ireland’s greatest colourists and a true gentleman.
The light and fluidity of nature which he captured still takes my breath away. I am so blessed to work with so many visual artists in organising and curating lots of exhibitions, including most recently Wexford-based artist Helen Merrigan Colfer who creates the most astounding crafted figurative sculptures. You can still view her exhibition Tribes and Tribulations on our website www.flowerfield.org. Irish artists Dorothy Cross, Alice Maher are favourites and I also love the work of Glens-based artists, painter Elizabeth Magill and the photography of James Hughes.
Q. What is your favourite play and why?
A. I know Beckett isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I adore Waiting for Godot. His conveying of the absurdity, poignancy and dark humour of this experience we call life resonates with me. The Tempest is also another favourite. I must also give a shout out to Big Telly Theatre, our resident theatre group at Flowerfield, for their recent virtual productions of Macbeth and The Machine Stops. Throughout COVID, they have never stopped creating and inventing.
Another shout out to a childhood friend, Francis Turnly. Also based in the Glens of Antrim, his riveting The Great Wave, about the historic abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea, was produced by The National Theatre, London in 2018. He is achieving such wonderful things.
Q. What is your favourite musical and why?
A. Well, this is easy as I don’t like musicals. I just have never ‘got’ them.
Q. What is your most special moment in the arts and why?
A. So many. My old office at Roe Valley Arts overlooked the gallery space which led on to the dance studio and workshop rooms. I would see children on their way to an activity, stop dead in their tracks, mesmerised by a particular artwork which they may not have been exposed to otherwise. It could have been anything from a painting by a local artist to a print by Louise Bourgeois or Matisse on tour from London.
My jobs in recent years seem to be either starting completely new initiatives, like setting up the Roe Valley Arts Centre, or tackling problematic venues or projects. It is hard graft and can be extremely challenging but the personal reward of seeing change for the better and working in the arts sector makes it all worthwhile. Arts venues belong to their communities.
Q. What ‘classic’ just doesn’t do it for you?
A. Jane Austen. Not for me.
Q. What have you been reading/watching/listening to/revisiting during the Coronavirus period?
A. I did a project called Articulate which invited people to share which creative works really spoke to them during lockdown 2020 for this very reason. We hear so many disparaging comments about the value of arts – COVID has reminded us, where would be without music, books, drama, art, film, dance, self-expression and creative therapy.
Personally, I tried to read poetry daily. There were certain poems which really helped, including Derek Mahon’s Everything will be alright and John O’Donohoe’s Time to be Slow but I also delved into Ted Hughes, Alice Oswald, James Dickey, Wendell Berry, Sean Hewitt and my fellow Council Arts Officer Elaine Gaston’s stunning collection The Lie of the Land, which just speaks so movingly of these home horizons.
I really enjoyed essays as a means of contemplation including those by Helen Macdonald and Rebecca Solnit. I have just acquired Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh and can’t wait to read after I finish The Art of Falling by another Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin.
I listened to a lot of Irish artists including Una Keane, A. Smyth, The Hedge Schools/Arrivalists, Lisa Hannigan (who performed at Roe Valley Arts a few years ago) and Arborist, who recently featured in our virtual Northern Lights Sessions. I’d be lost without RTÉ Radio One and Lyric FM – South Wind Blows, The Blue of the Night, Mystery Train and Vespertine are just sublime.